The US will close its embassy in Minsk, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday, following reports that Belarus may join Russia’ invasion of Ukraine.
The US government is also warning Belarus that it could risk further sanctions if it helps Vladimir Putin continue his assault. Last week President Joe Biden announced sanctions against 24 Belarusian entities and individuals for its role in Russia’s attack.
Blinken also gave non-essential staff at the US embassy in Moscow the green light to go home, citing ‘security and safety issues’ brought on by Putin’s unprovoked attack on his neighbor.
When asked about the threat of Belarus joining the deadly fray, a White House official told CNN it was ‘watching those events very carefully.’
‘We’ve said to the extent Belarus continues to aid and abet Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, they will also face consequences,’ the official said.
‘We’ve already rolled out some of those measures. Those costs will continue to ratchet much higher.’
DailyMail.com has reached out to the White House for comment.
The announcements came while Kyiv officials representing President Volodymyr Zelensky and officials from the Kremlin hold potential peace talks at Ukraine’s border with Belarus.
A view of a wreckage after a missile hit buildings as Russian attacks continue in Ukrainian capital, Kyiv on February 28. The fighting has continued even as officials from Moscow and Kyiv meet for negotiations
Cars are stopped at a roadblock set by civil defensemen at a road leading to central Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Feb. 28
‘The US Department of State has suspended operations at our Embassy in Minsk, Belarus and authorized the voluntary departure (‘authorized departure’) of non-emergency employees and family members at our Embassy in Moscow, Russia,’ Blinken said in a statement.
‘We took these steps due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine.’
He added that his department ‘continually adjusts its posture’ at posts around the world ‘in line with its mission, the local security environment, and the health situation.’
‘We ultimately have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens, and that includes our US government personnel and their dependents serving around the world,’ Blinken said.
Heightened concerns that Belarus could join Putin’s war come after a referendum in the country on Sunday approved a new constitution that ditches the country’s non-nuclear status – meaning it could potentially host Russian weapons.
Belarus, which borders both Russia and Ukraine, is run by Alexander Lukashenko, who has closely allied himself with Putin.
Though it has not taken part in Russia’s war directly, Belarus has allowed Vladimir Putin to station troops within its borders and even conduct large-scale military exercises there, such as the one pictured from February 19 — days before the invasion of neighboring Ukraine
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said non-essential staff at the US embassy in Moscow could leave on Monday, citing Putin’s ‘unprovoked and unjustified’ actions in Ukraine
Blinken said the US would also close the US embassy in Belarus after reports that its strongman dictator Alexander Lukashenko may join Vladimir Putin’s war effort
The American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to the Washington Post, said that ‘it’s very clear [Belarus’ capital] Minsk is now an extension of the Kremlin.
No indication on how many troops nor where they would be deployed was given by the official.
The new constitution could see nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil for the first time since the country gave them up after the fall of the Soviet Union. On Sunday, speaking at a polling station, Lukashenko said he could ask Russia to return nuclear weapons to Belarus.
Belarus has been providing support for Russia’s war effort, but so far has not taken a direct part in the conflict. It’s allowed Moscow’s troops to station at its border with Ukraine and conduct large-scale military drills shortly before Putin personally ordered his troops to attack.
This revelation came hours after the Ukrainian state security service officially reported that a rocket attack on Zhytomyr Airport — located some 93 miles west of Kiev — was launched from the territory of Belarus.
Belarusian special forces were seen loading onto airplanes in preparation for an air assault on Kyiv in what could be a widening of the war, military sources stated.
Ukrainian intelligence has reportedly learned from within Belarus that ‘special ops’ troops have been spotted loading up planes for a major attack.
The West has already said it will not recognize the results of the referendum in Belarus, which is taking place against the background of a sweeping crackdown on domestic opponents of the government. According to human rights activists, as of Sunday, there were more than a thousand political prisoners in Belarus
Russian forces have encountered strong resistance from Ukraine defenders, and US officials say they believe the invasion has been more difficult, and slower, than the Kremlin envisioned, though that could change as Moscow adapts.
The American official, speaking with direct knowledge of current US intelligence assessments, says the decision to bring Belarus further into the war depends on talks between Russia and Ukraine happening in the coming days.
Lukashenko Sunday night issued a chilling threat that the West’s sanctions on Russia are pushing the Kremlin into a Third World War.
It follows Putin’s order to troops that morning to be on standby for potential nuclear warfare.
Lukashenko’s comments came as Kyiv and Moscow agreed to hold peace talks at the border with Belarus — though Zelensky admitted he wasn’t confident of a positive resolution, adding that he owed it to his people to at least try and engage.
The deployment could significantly affect those peace talks.
On Monday the US ratcheted up its economic penalties on Russia, as Ukraine’s military continues to put up an historic and unprecedented resistance effort against the Kremlin’s attacks.
The Treasury Department announced it is implementing sanctions against Russia’s central bank as well as investment funds
The move was described as the most ‘significant action’ that Treasury has taken against an economy of Russia’s size, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the sanctions on the condition of anonymity.
Biden administration officials said Germany, France, the UK, Italy, Japan, European Union and others will join the U.S. in targeting the Russian central bank.
‘The unprecedented action we are taking today will significantly limit Russia’s ability to use assets to finance its destabilizing activities, and target the funds Putin and his inner circle depend on to enable his invasion of Ukraine,’ Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
Treasury said the move effectively immobilizes any assets of the Russian Central Bank in the United States or held by Americans, and would severely limit Putin’s ability to mitigate the impact of previous sanctions.
The Biden administration estimated that the move could impact ‘hundreds of billions of dollars’ of Russia funding.