US closes embassy in Belarus, allows staff to leave Russia

Non-essential embassy staff can leave Russia, Secretary of State said

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Monday the full suspension of operations at the US embassy in Belarus. He also said US diplomats in Russia were authorized by the department to leave the country, with only essential personnel staying behind.

“We took these steps due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine,” the US official said.

The department said it had “no higher priority than the safety and security of US citizens,” including its employees and their families.

The embassy in Moscow earlier advised US citizens to “immediately” leave Russia citing an escalating transport decoupling between Russia and Western nations. The warning said Americans should not travel to Russia, citing “potential for harassment against US citizens” and the embassy’s limited ability to provide them assistance.

The EU announced on Sunday that it will not allow Russian passenger planes into its airspace. Some nations outside of the bloc like Britain imposed similar restrictions. Russia on Monday said it banned aircraft from 36 nations and foreign territories in tit-for-tat action.

The escalating tensions come amid a Russian military operation against Ukraine, which Moscow launched on Thursday. The country claimed it had to “demilitarize” and “denazify” its neighbor to ensure safety of breakaway Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk as well as Russia itself. Belarus, a military ally of Russia, provided its territory for the attack, but denied deploying its own troops, contrary to claims made by Ukraine.

Kiev and its Western supporters accuse Russia of aggression against Ukraine. They responded with unprecedentedly harsh sanctions meant to cripple the Russian economy and pledged to ramp up supplies of weapons to Kiev.

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