The United States has urgently advised its citizens to depart Belarus “immediately,” after Lithuania closed two out of six border crossings with the country, a move reflective of the mounting tension in the area.
The US Embassy in Belarus has issued a warning to its nationals, advising against travel to Belarus due to “Belarusian authorities’ continued facilitation of Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, the buildup of Russian military forces in Belarus, the arbitrary enforcement of local laws, the potential of civil unrest, the risk of detention, and the Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Belarus.”
Reminding them that entering Poland from Belarus was impossible, it also called on its citizens to leave the country immediately using either the remaining border crossing with Lithuania and Latvia or by plane.
However, following the forced diversion of Ryanair flight FR4978 and the arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega by Belarusian authorities in May 2021, Belarusian carriers are banned from the EASA airspace. Similarly, EU airlines were urged to avoid Belarusian territory.
The US and France had already called on their respective citizens to leave Russia and Belarus on February 24, 2023, following concerns that Russia and Belarus were preparing for a large-scale offensive around the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.
Mounting tensions between Belarus and its EU neighbors
On August 18, 2023, Lithuania announced it would close the Šumskas and Tverečius border checkpoints with Belarus.
“This decision is one of the preventive measures aimed at managing emerging threats to national security and possible provocations at the border,” Lithuanian Minister of the Interior, Agnė Bilotaitė explained. “It will enable border officers to redistribute their capacities at the border with Belarus and pay even larger attention to the protection of the state border.”
Four crossing points remain between Lithuania and Belarus, namely Medininkai, Lavoriškės, Raigardas and Šalčininkai.
The Belarusian border guard service described Lithuania’s actions as “unconstructive and unfriendly.”
Tensions have been escalating between the governments of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and the neighboring country of Belarus, especially since the Russian paramilitary group Wagner was invited to take refuge in the country after a failed mutiny against Moscow in June 2023.
Lithuania and Poland have mulled the complete closure of their border with Belarus. In August 2023, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak also announced plans to deploy 10,000 additional troops to the border with Belarus to deter any aggression.