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US allows voluntary departure of Moscow embassy staff

The United States announced on Monday that it was suspending operations at its embassy in Belarus and allowing the departure of non-emergency personnel from the American embassy in Moscow.

“We took these actions due to security and safety concerns resulting from the unprovoked and unwarranted attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Belarus is an ally of Russia which allowed its territory to be used as a staging ground for the attack on Ukraine.

In a referendum held on Sunday, Belarusians voted to allow the country to permanently harbor Russian nuclear weapons and forces, results showed Monday. It was part of a package of constitutional reforms that also extended the reign of ruler Alexander Lukashenko.

“Ultimately, we have no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens, and that includes our U.S. government personnel and their dependents serving around the world,” Blinken’s statement read. .

The United States has already closed its embassy in Kiev as Russia prepared for the invasion and for weeks called on American citizens in Ukraine to come out.

A small team of American diplomats handle embassy affairs from the western city of Lviv, near the border with Poland.

In mid-February, the US State Department also urged Americans in Belarus to leave that country.

US embassies in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, and Moscow were already operating at a reduced level due to the expulsions of tit-for-tat diplomats dating back several years.