US closing embassy in Belarus, allows diplomats to leave Russia

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in a joint press availability with Fiji acting Prime Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyumduring
Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via Associated Press

The State Department said Monday it has suspended operations at its embassy in Belarus and authorized U.S. diplomats at the embassy in Russia to leave voluntarily.

The move came as tensions rose over Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine.

“We took these steps due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Monday morning.

“The Department of State continually adjusts its posture at embassies and consulates throughout the world in line with its mission, the local security environment, and the health situation,” Blinken continued. “We ultimately have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens, and that includes our U.S. government personnel and their dependents serving around the world.”

The State Department said that it had authorized the departure of “non-emergency” employees and their family members located at the embassy in Moscow.

The announcement came less than a week after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to conduct a “military operation” in Ukraine that was followed by a large-scale Russian invasion of the Eastern European country.

Putin on Sunday said he was putting deterrent forces, including Russia’s nuclear forces, on a heightened state of alert. The White House accused Putin of seeking to manufacture a threat.

The State Department also reissued travel advisories for Belarus and Russia on Monday, warning Americans not to travel to either country and urging U.S. citizens already there to depart immediately.  

The suspension of operations at the embassy in the Belarusian capital of Minsk comes amid reports that Belarus is preparing to send troops into Ukraine in support of the Russian invasion.

In addition to a raft of sanctions imposed on Russia, the Biden administration announced sanctions on Belarusian entities and individuals last week to penalize the country for supporting Russia’s invasion.

Asked about reports Belarus could join Russia’s invasion, a senior Biden administration official told reporters Monday morning that the administration is watching the situation “very closely” and threatened further sanctions on Belarus.

“To the extent Belarus continues to aid and abet Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, they will also face consequences,” the official said. “Those costs will continue to ratchet much higher.”  

Updated at 9:30 a.m.

Tags Antony Blinken Belarus embassy invasion Russia Russia-Ukraine conflict State Department Ukraine Vladimir Putin

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