This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy Minsk, Belarus.
The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Belarus at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Embassy in Minsk does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
Please review OSAC’s Belarus-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
There is minimal risk from crime in Minsk. The criminal threat in Minsk is comparable to that of other large capital cities in the region; pickpockets, car thefts, and burglaries remain a constant, although official statistics from the government show a decrease across the board. Petty criminal incidents can occur on public transport in Minsk, especially the metro system and in areas frequented by large groups of people. In 2018, there were no reported crimes against visiting U.S. officials or U.S. diplomatic personnel. Short-term visitors and tourists, who may not be familiar with local customs or fluent in Belarusian or Russian, remain more susceptible to street crime and confidence scams, and may be specifically targeted by criminals.
The Ministry of Interior (MOI) recorded 62,626 crimes from January through September 2018. This figure is 2,254 less than for the same period in 2017, a 3.6% decrease. MOI recorded just over 12,000 crimes in Minsk for that period, a 1% increase. Official MOI statistics indicated a change in some categories of violent and non-violent property crime: theft: 22,288 (-8.7%); robbery 1,137 (-0.9%); drug-related crimes: 3,812 (-10.9%); and robbery with extreme violence: 97 (-24.2%). It is not clear if these numbers reflect all crimes due to host-government definitions of criminal categories.
Violent crime directed against foreigners is relatively uncommon and not reported separately. Most violent crime figures decreased from 2017, except for intended infliction of grievous bodily harm. The MOI gave the following numbers and percentages: murder/attempted murder: 238 (-5.9%); intended infliction of grievous bodily harm: 565 (+6.2%); rape/attempted rape: 121 (-17.1%).
The economy is highly dependent on Russian subsidies, and extremely vulnerable to outside economic influences. The official unemployment rate of less than 1% is not accurate, with the actual rate many times higher, and labor migration to Russia and other countries common.
MOI recorded 2,469 corruption crimes (an increase from 1,885 in 2017) in 2018. These include the following: embezzlement by abuse of power of authority (574); laundering of material valuables (2); abuse of authority (196); administrative dereliction (11); exceeding the person’s authority (124); unlawful affiliation with an entrepreneurial business (1); acceptance of a bribe (1168); offering a bribe (355); complicity in bribery (5); and exceeding authority by a military official (33). In 2018, no U.S. organization reported targeting by organized crime to the Embassy.
Identity theft involving debit/credit card and internet fraud can happen, though Embassy received no such reports in 2018.
Though not attributed to any larger criminal intent, organized crime groups, or terrorism, several media unverified reports in 2018 indicated multiple incidents of attempted weapons smuggling from Ukraine into Belarus.
U.S. organizations should pay close attention to cybersecurity when establishing operations in Belarus, as a cybercrime threat does exist. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Cybersecurity Basics.
Marriage and dating scams via the Internet are common in the region, including in Belarus. Potential suitors in the United States lose thousands of dollars sending money to people they meet online. In some cases, the foreigner is invited to visit Belarus; the Belarusian “friend” collects money for lodging and transportation expenses, and then disappears. There have also been instances of U.S. citizens being extorted by Belarusian “fiancées” and their accomplices, losing thousands of dollars in elaborate scams.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Vehicles follow the same traffic pattern as those in the U.S.: the driver sits on the left side of the car and drives on the right side of the road. However, driving in Minsk may be a challenge to foreigners not familiar with street signage or traffic rules, which may not correspond to U.S./Western norms. Parking areas are normally clearly marked. Pedestrians, especially those walking with small children, should exercise caution. Drivers may stop in busy traffic lanes to pick-up/drop-off passengers; pedestrians sometimes cross busy streets outside the crosswalks without hesitation. Drivers should always be prepared to stop on short notice. Pedestrians have the right of way and drivers are obliged to yield to pedestrians. Defensive driving is fundamental.
Most of the major roads are well maintained, and traffic moves at normal highway speeds.
Traffic in Minsk is heavier on weekdays during commuting hours and limited on the weekend. Main thoroughfares may not be well illuminated, but are usually well maintained. Side streets and less commonly used avenues are not as well maintained, and can be impassable during the winter. Snow clearing is a well-established routine, even in small villages, although it may take some time if snowfall occurs over several days.
Due to local driving habits and heavier-than-normal traffic at rush hour, vehicle accidents are common. The perceived seriousness of the accident and its location (such as busy intersections or major thoroughfares) have a direct correlation to police response time. Recent changes to local law allow for insurance exchange in minor accidents with no injuries and damages under 400 Euro. Vehicles involved in even minor fender bender accidents must remain in place on the road until police arrive. This often causes sudden traffic jams, especially in intersections where minor accidents are more frequent.
For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There is minimal risk from terrorism in Minsk. This assessment takes into account historical data relevant to terrorist activities in Belarus and current and projected Belarusian law enforcement and security service anti-terrorist activities. There have been no recorded acts of transnational terrorism committed on Belarusian territory to date. However, Belarus's borders with Russia and Ukraine are porous, and transnational terrorist groups could potentially exploit them.
In June 2017, the Belarusian KGB (BKGB) reported that it had “apprehended eight terrorists this year” compared to 17 terrorists in 2016 and 21 in 2015. According to the BKGB, these individuals were involved in terrorist and extremist activities, were on international wanted lists, and/or had spent time in Syria.
Remain aware of the State Department's periodic Worldwide Caution announcement emphasizing the threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. travelers and interests overseas.
No anti-U.S. protests occurred in 2018. There have been no anti-U.S. protests at the Embassy during the last several years.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Minsk. By law, local authorities must approve in advance any demonstration, protest, or public gathering. If a demonstration does not support official government policy, approval is rarely given. However, some groups choose to stage protests without permission or necessary permits. Authorities closely monitor these unauthorized protests, and often arrest and charge participants for violating the law on mass events.
Although large, unauthorized protests are rare, a series of significant street protests against government policies occurred in 2017 in several cities, including Minsk. The demonstrators numbered from several hundred to several thousand at a given time. There were few such protests afterwards and no similar demonstrations in 2018. The government severely limits the right of free expression and assembly and, in the past, has cracked down violently on demonstrations by the democratic opposition.
Belarus is constructing a commercial nuclear reactor, with financing and technical support from Moscow, approximately 30 kilometers from the Lithuanian border. Belarus does have limited nuclear research capabilities, but no environmental or regulatory agencies consider those an ecological threat.
In 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, located in Ukraine 350 kilometers southeast of Minsk, experienced an explosion and fire, followed by an uncontrolled release of radiation. The accident resulted in the largest short-term, accidental release of radioactive materials ever recorded in the atmosphere. To this day, some areas still experience after-effects of the disaster and restrict access. The disaster affected an estimated 20% of the usable land in Belarus. The area’s food producers may not sell food that exceeds European norms for radiation. The government has an effective program of monitoring fresh foods and meats sold in local markets. Avoid street purchase of produce. Avoid wild berries, mushrooms, and wild fowl/game in the Chernobyl-affected areas, as these have been found to retain higher than average levels of radiation.
Personal Identity Concerns
There have been no significant reports of hate crimes in Belarus. In recent years, there have been an increasing number of unofficial reports of authorities targeting and harassing certain minority groups, such as meetings of LGBT groups. Harassment has included police invasion of parties and meetings, as well as recording the personal biographical identifying information of all attendees. Recent official statements have demonstrated low tolerance by some elements in the government for LGBT groups and individuals. For example, the Interior Minister commented about a rainbow flag displayed at the British Embassy on May 17, 2018, the International Day against Homophobia. The U.S. Embassy also displayed a rainbow flag the same day; Belarusian authorities requested that the Embassy remove it.
Belarus is not a major drug-producing country, and does not appear to be a major nexus for drug smuggling. Internal and external controls do not allow for a high volume of drug trafficking, and only small drug seizures have occurred. Whether the small size of these seizures is due to a lack of the country’s ability to detect and interdict this activity, or is indicative of a low volume of drug trafficking activity is unknown.
There are no known links to transnational terrorist and narcotics organizations; in 2018, there were no charges or allegations of corruption of senior public officials relating to drugs or drug trafficking. From January to September 2018, 3,812 drug-related crimes were reported (-10.9% from 2017).
Criminal activity remains a concern due to the lack of adequate police enforcement and response. In general, law enforcement agencies do not meet U.S./EU standards. Belarus uses law enforcement agencies for political reasons. Corruption within the police reportedly is a problem, though it appears to be less blatant or overt than in some neighboring countries. Law enforcement agencies can be part of the problem rather than a part of the solution. Inadequate training, poor working conditions, and shortages of basic equipment contribute greatly to deficits in effectiveness.
Police units rarely have English-language capability, even among officials working in units designated to combat crimes against foreign nationals. As a result, reporting a crime to the police can be a difficult, lengthy process. Subsequent follow-up to determine the status of a case often requires lengthy visits to police stations.
The U.S. Embassy recommends that you carry your passport at all times. Law enforcement may conduct identification checks, and have the authority to detain individuals in a police station for up to three hours while establishing or confirming one’s identity. No probable cause is required.
Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Report harassment or detention by police to the U.S. Embassy at +375 17 210-1283 as soon as possible. After detaining a U.S. citizen, authorities are required to notify the U.S. Embassy as soon as possible. If detained by police, immediately ask (and continue to ask) for access to the U.S. Embassy.
Crime Victim Assistance
The Embassy recommends that U.S. travelers report crimes both to the police and to the Embassy. In the event that police will not accept a report of crime, the Consular Section’s American Citizen Services staff can request assistance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in forwarding the complaint to the police. Reporting a crime to authorities is also advisable even if time has elapsed, as criminals often repeat the same crime within the same general locale. Finally, we strongly recommend obtaining a police report when an American passport has been lost or stolen. If you are a victim of a crime, you may contact the U.S. Embassy at +375 17 210-1283 for assistance 24 hours/7 days per week.
Use the following phone numbers for emergency assistance throughout Belarus: general fire emergency, 101; police emergency, 102; ambulance/ medical emergency, 103. When using a cell phone, call 112, which is a general emergency number.
Travelers with chronic medical conditions requiring specific medication should bring enough medicine to Belarus for their entire stay, since the same medication may not be readily available. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, Traveling with Medications.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
No hospitals in Belarus provide a level of medical care equal to that found in U.S. hospitals. For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.
Available Air Ambulance Services
The fastest way to secure Western-standard medical care remains medical evacuation to Western Europe. This can be a very expensive option, and support may not arrive until several hours after the need for care arises. Several U.S. and European firms provide private jet evacuations, though it is unknown to what extent these companies can operate within Belarus. Coordinate with these companies prior to the need arising.
SOS: 8-10-7-495-937-6477 (24/7 phone)
EURO FLITE: 8-10-358-20-510-1911 or 358-20-510-1900 (24/7 phone)
MEDEX Assistance Corporation: 8-10-1-410-453-6330 (24/7 phone)
TRICARE/SOS (for U.S. military): 8-10-44-20-8762-8133
No hospitals in Belarus accept U.S. health insurance plans for payment. Prior to travel, travelers should purchase insurance that covers air ambulance evacuation services or have access to substantial lines of credit to cover the cost of medical evacuation.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Belarus.
OSAC Country Council Information
There is no OSAC country council in Belarus. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions. The U.S. Embassy’s Regional Security Officer in Minsk covers security concerns in Belarus and is available for consultations with OSAC constituents.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Embassy Minsk
46 Starovilenskaya St., Minsk 220002
Embassy hours are Monday-Friday, 08:30-17:30; closed on American and Belarusian holidays.
Embassy Contact Numbers
Country Code: 375
Minsk City Code: 17
Embassy Minsk General Number: +375 (17) 210-1283
Duty Officer Telephone: +375 (29) 676 0134
The Embassy strongly recommends that all Americans visiting or residing in Belarus enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Registration allows the traveler to receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in the destination country and permits the Embassy to contact American citizens quickly in the event of an in-country emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency. Online registration for STEP is available at https://step.state.gov.
Belarus Country Information Sheet