The United States shuttered its embassy in the capital of Belarus and allowed non-emergency employees and their family members to leave from its embassy in Moscow on the fifth day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement on Monday announced the suspension of operations at the Minsk embassy and the authorised departure from Moscow.
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“We took these steps due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine,” he said.
The latest evacuations come after Russian President Vladimir Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert on Sunday in the face of a barrage of reprisals by Western nations for his war on Ukraine.
Amid Russia’s deepening economic and political isolation after it invaded Ukraine last Thursday, ceasefire talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials began on the Belarusian border. Ukraine’s presidency said the aim of the talks should include a complete withdrawal of Russian forces.
A photo posted on Twitter by US ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher showed mission staff lowering the American flag.
“Belarus’ complicity in Russia’s war against Ukraine has shown the regime’s loss of sovereign decision-making,” Fisher said in a tweet.
“The United States of America has suspended operations of our embassy in Minsk. All American staff have departed Belarus,” she said.
1/4 The United States of America has suspended operations of our embassy in Minsk. All American staff have departed Belarus. pic.twitter.com/Og8iynLdi6
— Julie Fisher (@USAmbBelarus) February 28, 2022
The US had relocated its Ukraine embassy operations from the capital Kyiv to the western city of Lviv two weeks ago as Russian forces massed at Ukraine’s borders.
Also on Monday, the US blocked Americans from engaging in any transactions involving Russia’s central bank, dealing another blow to the country’s economy.
The sanctions are likely to jack up Russian inflation higher, cripple its purchasing power and drive down investments, US officials said.
Meanwhile, Russia on Monday barred airlines from 36 countries from using Russian airspace after European nations and Canada on Sunday moved to shut their airspace to Russian aircraft.
The US is considering similar action, but has yet to make a final decision, according to US officials. The US government over the weekend urged citizens to consider leaving Russia immediately on commercial flights amid the increasing flight cancellations.