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 and
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

Russia’s War in Ukraine

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. 

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

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