US citizens warned not to visit Belarus
The US Department of State has told citizens not to travel to Belarus, citing risks of being targeted by local law enforcement, as well as the Russian military presence in the country, after Washington ordered the evacuation of staffers’ families from its Minsk embassy.
Officials published the notice online on Monday, writing, “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. Reconsider travel due to COVID-19 and related entry restrictions.”
The notice also advised Americans that “the US government’s ability to provide routine or emergency services to U.S. citizens in Belarus is already severely limited due to Belarusian government limitations on U.S. Embassy staffing.”
Washington also ordered the withdrawal of the families of diplomats in the country, one week after making a similar decision regarding its mission in Ukraine. Responding to the news of the evacuation from Belarus, Anatoly Glaz, a spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, called the decision “politicized,” and insisted his country is “far safer and more hospitable than the US.”
The Belarusian authorities have come under fire from international observers following a crackdown on the opposition following mass street protests that began in the wake of the disputed presidential election in 2020. Police have arrested hundreds of activists, and have reportedly targeted the family members of those who left the country due to fears of persecution.
On January 23, the State Department announced it was evacuating some staffers’ families from Kiev, writing, “there are reports Russia is planning significant military action against Ukraine.” Washington had previously put into place a ‘Do Not Travel’ advisory for Ukraine, citing Covid and “increased threats from Russia.”
The US also advises Americans not to travel to Russia, due to “ongoing tension along the border with Ukraine, the potential for harassment against US citizens, the embassy’s limited ability to assist US citizens in Russia, COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, harassment by Russian government security officials, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law.”
Western leaders have been warning for months that they fear Russia could be planning an invasion of Ukraine in the near future, which Moscow has repeatedly denied. As negotiators from the two sides have been holding discussions to try to de-escalate the situation, Russia has sent soldiers and military equipment into neighboring Belarus, a close ally, to conduct scheduled military drills.