Belarus Demand 'Unprecedented'

MINSK Belarus' demand that the United States cut its staffing at its Minsk embassy to five diplomats is "unprecedented and unwarranted," the embassy said Thursday.

The embassy released the statement a day after the top U.S. diplomat still in Belarus, Charge d'Affaires Jonathan Moore, was summoned by the Belarussian Foreign Ministry and ordered to give a list of the five diplomats that would remain at the Minsk embassy as of April 30.

"Mr. Moore protested this news and noted that there would be grave consequences as a result of this unprecedented and unwarranted step by the Belarussian authorities. He added that he would inform the U.S. Department of State in Washington and would provide a reply to the Belarussian requirement in due course," the statement said.

Relations between Minsk and Washington have spiraled downward in recent months, sparked mainly by the U.S. decision to impose sanctions on a state-controlled oil-processing and chemicals company, Belneftekhim.

As a result of the deepening dispute, the U.S. ambassador was forced to leave Belarus in March and the embassy was forced cut its staff from 35 to 17 to match similar cuts Belarus made at its embassy in Washington. The U.S. Embassy has largely stopped issuing visas, as well.