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1 Feb, 2022 09:37

Families of US diplomats ordered to leave Belarus

The State Department cited “unusual” Russian military activity in Belarus amid mounting tensions with Ukraine
Families of US diplomats ordered to leave Belarus

The families of US diplomatic staff have been told to evacuate Belarus, with the State Department warning of “concerning” Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine and heightened tensions in Eastern Europe.

“Do not travel to Belarus due to the arbitrary enforcement of laws, the risk of detention, and unusual and concerning Russian military buildup along Belarus’ border with Ukraine,” Washington officials said in an advisory on Monday, as they ordered the departure of the relatives of US government employees.

Responding to the news, Anatoly Glaz, a spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said the decision was “politicized” and insisted his country is “far safer and more hospitable than the US.” 

The move follows a similar decision last week when the State Department told the families of American diplomats in Ukraine to return home, citing the “continued threat of Russian military action.” US citizens were also strongly urged to avoid travel to the former Soviet Republic.

While US officials claim Russian military exercises in Belarus and close to the border with Ukraine could be a prelude to an invasion, Moscow has repeatedly denied it has any plans to launch an attack. At a United Nations Security Council meeting on Monday, Russian envoy Vassily Nebenzia instead accused Washington of looking to “provoke an escalation” over Ukraine, arguing that “talk about an impending war is provocative in itself.”

“It looks like you’re calling for this, wanting and waiting for it to happen. As if you want to make your allegations a reality,” he said.

Kiev has also played down the prospect of an imminent war breaking out, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky saying last week that his government has not seen “any greater escalation than it [did] before.” Zelensky’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov has argued much the same, suggesting that Western media reports have overstated the alleged threat, as “panic and fear are the most clickable.”

Nonetheless, US President Joe Biden has already moved ahead with a “lethal aid” package for Ukrainian forces, authorizing $200 million in anti-armor weapons, grenade launchers, artillery and small arms in December, while the UK has provided defensive weapons and light arms of its own.