On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Belarus issued an urgent warning to all American citizens in the country, calling on them to leave immediately and warning others against traveling there.
Just days prior on Aug. 18 the country of Lithuania closed two of its major border crossings with Belarus, following concerns about the Wagner group, a Russian mercenary organization that has established operations within the country.
“The Lithuanian government on August 18 closed two border crossings with Belarus at Tverecius/Vidzy and Sumskas/Losha,” the alert said. “The four border crossings at Lavoriskes/Kotlova, Medininkai/Kamenny, Raigardas/Privalka, and Salcininkai/Beniakoni are currently open.”
Poland, Lithuanian, and Latvian governments say that further border crossings may be closed between Belarus and their countries.
The U.S. State Department has advised Americans not to 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.”
Additionally, they warned that “U.S. citizens in Belarus should depart immediately. Consider departing via the remaining border crossings with Lithuania and Latvia, or by plane. U.S. citizens are not permitted to enter Poland overland from Belarus. Do not travel to Russia or to Ukraine.”
Wagner’s presence in Belarus comes after what appears to be a failed uprising sparked by the group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in late June.
Prigozhin reportedly agreed to exile himself to Belarus as part of a deal with the Kremlin to end the uprising. Wagner fighters joined him and reportedly began helping train the country’s military.
Belarus has been aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the war with Ukraine and is a major crossroads for portions of Europe, as it sits at the border of NATO countries such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia as well as Ukraine itself.
Their border includes the Suwalki Corridor, a strategically important 60-mile strip of land along the border of Poland and Lithuania, which sits between Belarus and the Russian region of Kaliningrad, a small section of land that, while disconnected from the Russian mainland, gives the country access to the Baltic sea and is the home of it’s Baltic Fleet.
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