Yesterday, the US State Department announced that it is recalling the families of US diplomats stationed in Belarus. The decision comes amid considerably heightened military and political tensions with Ukraine as Belarus has allowed Russia to transfer troops and advanced missile systems, mainly to Belarus' south-eastern border with Ukraine, which brings them very close to Kiev.
US State Department officials are worried that Russia is planning an invasion of Ukraine from Belarusian territory. During a UN Security Council meeting last Monday, January 31, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield claimed that Russia so far has 5,000 soldiers in Belarus and is planning to amass 30,000 soldiers along the Belarus-Ukraine border by early February.
The State Department has previously said that it has voiced these concerns to Belarusian officials in the UN, threatening heavy sanctions in case Belarus is compliant with a Russian invasion of Ukraine from its territory. A US State official has also previously said in a comment that active support of a Russian invasion of Ukraine could create discontent within the Belarusian elite.
In a travel advisory issued last Monday, the State Department warned US citizens, saying that "due to an increase in unusual and concerning Russian military activity near the border with Ukraine, US citizens located in or considering travel to Belarus should be aware that the situation is unpredictable and there is heightened tension in the region."
Due to this, "citizens are strongly advised against travelling to Belarus," said the advisory. It also noted that due to restrictions imposed by the Belarusian authorities "the US government's ability to provide routine or emergency services to US citizens in Belarus is already severely limited."
In August last year, the Belarusian government forced the US Embassy in Minsk to reduce the number of diplomats to five. In October, the embassy was forced to stop both its public diplomacy and the work of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as lay off over 20 Belarusian staff by late November. Moreover, the Belarusian government refuses to accredit the US ambassador to Belarus, Julie Fisher, who has instead been forced to serve in neighbouring Lithuania as "US Special Envoy to Belarus".