Belarusyesterday shut and welded the gate of the U.S. ambassador’s residence,locking out Ambassador Daniel Speckhardt and his family of four, who stoodoutside holding the American flag. The U.S. Embassy was given until June 10to vacate the premises it has used since 1992 in the Minsk residentialcompound of Drozdy, paying rent and making refurbishments at its ownexpense. The authorities threatened to close off the access path to themission in the event of noncompliance.
Approximately twenty foreign missions rent premises in the Drozdy complex.Last April the government of Belarus asked the missions to move out, on therationale that the buildings required repairs. Such moves would causeserious hardship, since decent office space in Minsk is both extremelyscarce and mostly occupied by CIS bureaucracies. Drozdy is located near toPresident Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s residence. The president has more thanonce stated that he can not tolerate being neighbors with Western missions,particularly that of the United States.
The government has now apparently chosen to precipitate a confrontation withWashington in order to intimidate the others. This may prove amiscalculation. Speckhardt held a news conference yesterday to warn that theU.S. mission would probably leave Belarus if evicted from Drozdy. Speckhardtasked the host government to change signals “by today or tomorrow,” lest itinflict further damage on its international relations. In Washington, theState Department’s chief spokesman James Rubin accused the Belarusgovernment of violating international conventions on the status ofdiplomatic missions, and warned that the U.S. would retaliate unless Minskbacks down. (AP, UPI, Reuter, June 8)
LUCINSCHI OUTLINES MILITARY REFORM PLAN.