U.S. Shutters Embassy in Minsk as Belarus Backs Putin’s War

The State Department also authorizes nonessential personnel to leave the embassy in Moscow if they choose.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy, and , a former intern at Foreign Policy.
United States national flag flies behind white concrete embassy building.
United States national flag flies behind white concrete embassy building.
The U.S. flag flies behind a fence at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk on March 7, 2008. VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP via Getty Images

The United States is trimming its diplomatic ties with Russia and Belarus as Moscow continues its all-out assault on Ukraine, triggering massive Western sanctions and international condemnation. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Monday that Washington is closing its embassy in Belarus and authorizing the voluntary departure of nonessential staff from its embassy in Moscow. “We took these steps due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine,” Blinken said in a statement

The move came as Western officials warned that Belarus could join the war against Ukraine and following a constitutional referendum on Sunday that led Belarus to renouncing its nonnuclear status, paving the way for Russia to install nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil. Belarus is expected to deploy troops against Ukraine as soon as Monday, according to U.S. officials and new reports from Ukrainian intelligence. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has allowed Russian troops to use Belarusian territory as a launching pad to invade Ukraine from the north. Russian forces have already launched missiles from Belarus to strike targets in Ukraine, including airports, according to Ukrainian officials.

The United States is trimming its diplomatic ties with Russia and Belarus as Moscow continues its all-out assault on Ukraine, triggering massive Western sanctions and international condemnation. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Monday that Washington is closing its embassy in Belarus and authorizing the voluntary departure of nonessential staff from its embassy in Moscow. “We took these steps due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine,” Blinken said in a statement

The move came as Western officials warned that Belarus could join the war against Ukraine and following a constitutional referendum on Sunday that led Belarus to renouncing its nonnuclear status, paving the way for Russia to install nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil. Belarus is expected to deploy troops against Ukraine as soon as Monday, according to U.S. officials and new reports from Ukrainian intelligence. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has allowed Russian troops to use Belarusian territory as a launching pad to invade Ukraine from the north. Russian forces have already launched missiles from Belarus to strike targets in Ukraine, including airports, according to Ukrainian officials.

U.S. officials have ramped up their criticism of Lukashenko for enabling the Russian invasion from Belarus—the latest example in a stark shift in U.S.-Belarusian relations from several years ago, when top officials in the Trump administration were meeting with Lukashenko and trying to draw the autocratic country away from Russia’s orbit. Those efforts abruptly halted after Lukashenko unleashed a violent crackdown on massive pro-democracy protests in 2020 after a rigged election. The embattled Belarusian leader turned to Russian President Vladimir Putin to shore up his regime against what constituted the largest threat to his nearly three-decade rule. 

Now, U.S. officials believe that Lukashenko has ceded virtually all of Belarus’s authority to Moscow as it becomes the launchpad for Russia’s assault on Kyiv. “Belarus’ complicity in Russia’s war against Ukraine has shown the regime’s loss of sovereign decision-making,” Julie Fisher, the U.S. envoy to Belarus, said on Monday. (Fisher operates a diplomatic mission to Belarus from neighboring Lithuania, a NATO and European Union member country, after Belarus denied her entry.)

Fisher said Belarus has taken a “series of hostile actions to limit” the embassy’s effectiveness, including cutting the number of diplomats allowed at the embassy, forcing the closure of a U.S. cultural center in Minsk, and halting U.S. Agency for International Development operations in the country. “Our commitment to the people of Belarus endures. We will continue our support from Washington, [New York], Vienna, Vilnius, Warsaw and other diplomatic posts as we support those promoting democracy, the rule of law and accountability,” Fisher said

Russia has taken similar moves in the past year as relations with Washington deteriorated—even before it launched its invasion of Ukraine. Putin in 2021 cut the number of U.S. diplomats allowed in the country and forced the U.S. diplomatic mission to stop employing local Russians, forcing Washington to close several consulates and leaving the embassy in Moscow thinly staffed. 

U.S.-Russia relations have plummeted in the days since Russian forces launched assaults on major Ukrainian cities by land and air. U.S. officials said over the weekend that Russia has deployed at least two-thirds of its troops amassed near Ukraine into the country. 

Immediately following Russia’s attacks on Ukraine from multiple fronts last week, the United States and European governments responded with several waves of increasingly punishing sanctions targeting Russian banks, oil companies, and business elites, including Putin and members of his inner circle. Over the weekend and on Monday, Europe and the United States took aim at the Russian Central Bank, curtailing Moscow’s ability to tap its rainy day fund or prop up a ruble in freefall.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Mary Yang is a former intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @MaryRanYang

Join the Conversation

Commenting on this and other recent articles is just one benefit of a Foreign Policy subscription.

Already a subscriber? .

Join the Conversation

Join the conversation on this and other recent Foreign Policy articles when you subscribe now.

Not your account?

Join the Conversation

Please follow our comment guidelines, stay on topic, and be civil, courteous, and respectful of others’ beliefs.

You are commenting as .

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a commission on military-technical cooperation with foreign states in 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a commission on military-technical cooperation with foreign states in 2017.

What’s the Harm in Talking to Russia? A Lot, Actually.

Diplomacy is neither intrinsically moral nor always strategically wise.

Officers with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) wait outside an apartment in Kharkiv oblast, Ukraine.
Officers with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) wait outside an apartment in Kharkiv oblast, Ukraine.

Ukraine Has a Secret Resistance Operating Behind Russian Lines

Modern-day Ukrainian partisans are quietly working to undermine the occupation.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron wave as they visit the landmark Brandenburg Gate illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in Berlin on May 9, 2022.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron wave as they visit the landmark Brandenburg Gate illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in Berlin on May 9, 2022.

The Franco-German Motor Is on Fire

The war in Ukraine has turned Europe’s most powerful countries against each other like hardly ever before.

U.S. President Joe Biden holds a semiconductor during his remarks before signing an executive order on the economy in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a semiconductor during his remarks before signing an executive order on the economy in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.

How the U.S.-Chinese Technology War Is Changing the World

Washington’s crackdown on technology access is creating a new kind of global conflict.