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U.S. tells Americans to leave Belarus immediately

The United States is urging Americans in Belarus to leave the country “immediately,” citing spillover risks from the war in Ukraine, including a buildup of Russian troops in Belarus.

The U.S. Embassy in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, said in an advisory on Monday that Americans should avoid traveling to Belarus because of the country’s “continued facilitation of Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, the buildup of Russian military forces in Belarus, the arbitrary enforcement of local laws” and the risk of detention and civil unrest.

It noted that Lithuania closed two border crossings last week, potentially limiting ways out of Belarus. Lithuania, Poland and Latvia — all members of the European Union — were considering closing more border crossings, the embassy warned.

Any Americans in Belarus should leave immediately, the embassy said, either through “the remaining border crossings” with Lithuania or Latvia, or by plane. It noted that U.S. citizens were unable to cross into Poland by land from Belarus.

With Wagner in Belarus, tension grows on northern Ukraine border

According to a recent Google Flights search, there were no direct or connecting flights from Minsk to the United States, while flights to London this week were selling for as much as $10,000 and included layovers in Azerbaijan. Some flights routed through Moscow, but the United States has also warned Americans against traveling to or though Russia, citing the risk of arbitrary arrests. It has also advised Americans against traveling to or through Ukraine, though transportation to Ukraine is already extremely limited.

The embassy warned that Americans’ travel plans should “not rely on U.S. government assistance,” and the advisory cited the embassy’s “limited ability to assist” Americans living in or traveling to Belarus.

Minsk has aligned itself closely with Moscow during the invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin has deployed nuclear weapons in Belarus, and Russian President Vladimir Putin allowed fighters from the Russia-affiliated Wagner Group to relocate there after their brief, dramatic mutiny in June.

Belarus is surrounded to the west and northwest by NATO members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, but its southern and eastern regions border Ukraine and Russia, positioning it geographically as a staging ground for Russian attacks on Ukraine from outside Russia’s borders. Tensions in the region have also raised concerns that Russia could target what’s known as the Suwalki Gap, the thin border between Poland and Lithuania that is surrounded to its north by the Russian satellite region of Kaliningrad and Belarus to its south.

How Kaliningrad, Russian land ringed by NATO, is tangled in Ukraine war

Ian Brzezinski, a former U.S. defense official who is now a senior fellow at the D.C.-based Atlantic Council, warned last week that “were Putin to seize the [the Suwalki Gap], the three Baltic states would effectively be cut off from the rest of NATO.”

He argued that NATO should conduct an exercise at the Suwalki Gap to “demonstrate and test operational readiness.”

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