The United States and France have called on their citizens to leave Russia and Belarus, respectively, both citing the invasion of Ukraine by Russia supported by the Belarusian regime.
These new travel advisories follow concerns that Russia is preparing for a large-scale offensive around the war’s first anniversary on February 24, 2023. The active involvement of Belarus in the invasion is feared.
US citizens advised to depart Russia
On February 13, 2023, the US Embassy in Moscow called on its citizens residing or traveling in Russia to leave immediately, citing the invasion of Ukraine and “the potential for harassment and the singling out of US citizens for detention by Russian government security officials.”
“Commercial flight options are extremely limited and are often unavailable on short notice. If you wish to depart Russia, you should make independent arrangements as soon as possible,” the embassy said in a statement. “The U.S. Embassy has severe limitations on its ability to assist U.S. citizens to depart the country and transportation options may suddenly become even more limited.”
Since March 2022, the United States has issued a Level 4 travel notice for Russia, already advising its citizens not to travel to the country and to depart from it immediately.
French nationals invited to leave Belarus
The same day, France issued an urgent travel advisory for its citizens to leave the territory of Belarus.
“In the context of the armed offensive launched by Russia against Ukraine and the closure of the airspace between Belarus and the Member States of the European Union, any travel to Belarus remains formally inadvisable,” the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. “French people in Belarus are reminded that they are invited to leave the country without delay by road, via the border crossing points with Lithuania, Poland, or Latvia. If necessary, passengers arriving by air must apply for an exit visa from the services of the Belarusian Ministry of the Interior.”
On February 10, 2023, Poland closed one of its three remaining crossing points with Belarus [against six in 2021 – ed. note] in Bobrowniki. This came a day after a Polish activist and journalist based in Belarus, Andrzej Poczobut, was given an eight-year sentence in a labor camp by a court in Minsk for allegedly threatening national security.
Since June 2, 2021, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has requested that member states tell their operators to “not conduct operations” in the Flight Information Region of Minsk, which covers the whole national territory of Belarus.
This follows the forced diversion of Ryanair flight FR4978 by the Belarus regime on May 23, 2021, leading to the arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich by the KGB, the Belarusian security services.
This notice was further reinforced by national advisory since the beginning of the war. On November 17, 2022, French operators were told not to enter the airspace of Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.
Will Belarus get involved in the invasion of Ukraine?
Ukraine and its western allies fear an offensive by Russian forces taking place with the support of Belarus. Since the beginning of the war, Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko has already let Russia use its territory as a staging ground to launch missile attacks on Ukraine from the north.
A constant buildup of Russian military presence in Belarus, accompanied by joint drills between the two forces, could hint at Minsk taking a more active part in the invasion.
Though the Belarusian regime has insisted that the nature of the exercises was only defensive in nature, Lukashenko claimed in October 2022 that Ukraine was planning an invasion of Belarus.
“Their owners are pushing them to start a war against Belarus to drag us there,” the leader of Belarus said at the time. “We have been preparing for this for decades. If necessary, we will respond.”