The United States closed its embassy in the capital of Belarus, a neighbor of Ukraine, and all American staff have left the country, officials announced Feb. 28.
Belarus shares borders with Ukraine and Russia and has been letting the Russian military send troops through its space to bring attacks from additional fronts against Ukrainian forces, U.S. officials say.
“The Russians are clearly moving what they need to move inside their own country and in Belarus as they see fit,” a senior U.S. official told reporters over the weekend.
Julie Fisher, the U.S. special envoy for Belarus, said the move to close the embassy in Minsk came in part because of Belarus’s “complicity in Russia’s war against Ukraine.”
“Belarusian authorities have taken a series of hostile actions to limit [the embassy’s] ability to work with the Belarusian people and advance America’s interests, including forced staff reductions, closure of USAID Belarus and U.S. cultural center in Minsk,” she said, adding that the United States is still committed to the people of Belarus and will provide support from other diplomatic posts.
Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, said the closure and allowing non-emergency employees and family members to leave the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was “due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine.”
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and has streamed additional troops into the country since then.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed directly to Belarus on Sunday, reportedly saying in a message that Belarus allowing Russia to launch attacks from its territory was “a de facto referendum for you, Belarusians.”
Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said while voting Sunday that “the war should be ended today” that Belarus doesn’t “have a single soldier” in Ukraine.
Lukashenko will ensure that all troops stationed in his country will remain there for the duration of peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials that started in Gomel on Monday. Neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor Zelensky are present.
Vladimir Makei, the Belarusian foreign minister, told the officials who gathered that “you may feel absolutely safe” and that Lukashenko “hopes that during these talks today you will manage to find the solutions to all crucial issues.”