Foreign policy and defense
The regime in Belarus (Belarus) is heavily
dependent on Russia, although relations have often been
turbulent. The relationship with the Western countries
has long been problematic, although Belarus' withdrawal
from Russia's annexation of Ukrainian Crimea in 2014 has
made it thaw somewhat.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in
1991, Belarus was one of the founders of the
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which brings
together 11 of the 15 former Soviet republics. The CIS
was established in Minsk and Belarus has been a strong
advocate for closer integration within the region.
Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Belarus for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
In 1999, a "union between Belarus and Russia" was
made. The text of the agreement, which is vague and
contradictory, states that the countries must be both
sovereign and integrated with each other. The parties
have in several settlements announced common defense,
foreign and foreign policy, but most have never been
implemented. Russian plans for a real union or merger
with Belarus have in practice been put on ice.
Belarus is heavily dependent on Russia for its trade.
A customs union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan
was formed in 2010 and reduced barriers to trade between
the countries. In 2015, the Euro-Asian Economic Union (EEU)
was established, consisting of Belarus, Kazakhstan,
Russia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. The Union includes,
among other things, free trade, coordination of
financial systems and close cooperation in the labor
Stronger tone between Moscow and Minsk
However, President Lukashenko does not want to submit
to Moscow, and when Belarus pursued an overly
independent policy, Russia has used trade as a means of
pressure, for example by raising prices for energy
supplies or boycotting Belarus goods. Russia several
times also stopped oil and gas deliveries. Like Ukraine,
Belarus is concerned by the Russian-built gas pipeline
through the Baltic Sea, which could reduce the revenue
of gas transit transit on land. Belarus has in recent
years sought new avenues to borrow money, enter into
trade agreements and attract investment. Cooperation has
been initiated with China, Iran and Venezuela, among
For Russia, it is primarily strategic motives that
make the cooperation interesting. Moscow wants to
continue to have military facilities in Belarus and use
it as a transit country for export to the West.
Belarus has refused to recognize the Russian
annexation of Crimea in 2014 and has maintained normal
relations with Ukraine. President Lukashenko protested
openly against Russia's actions and opened the door for
Ukrainian refugees. Belarus has not recognized the
outcome of the Crimean referendum and has not joined
Russia's boycott of Western imports, which followed the
Russian annexation of Crimea.
The tone between Russia and Belarus hardened again as
Belarus 2017 abolished short-term visa requirements for
80 countries. Russia saw free travel from Europe and the
United States to Belarus as a security risk and
therefore introduced enhanced surveillance at the
previously open border. Belarus then accused Russia of
"taking strikes" in the country. Since then, Belarus has
in many ways marked Moscow, notably by launching oil
imports from Norway and Saudi Arabia and through heated
diplomatic relations with the United States. Should a
formalized approach between Belarus and Russia again
begin to look likely, the Minsk regime has meanwhile
acquired a stronger negotiating position.
Relations with the EU and the US
From the West, since the 1990s, critical voices have
pointed to a lack of democracy and violations of human
rights in Belarus. The country is also accused of arms
sales to extremist groups in the Middle East and to
countries such as Syria, North Korea and Iran.
The EU and the US have, in turn, had entry
restrictions directed at Lukashenko and other government
members, as well as representatives of the judiciary and
the Election Commission. The reason is the lack of
respect for democratic rules of the game. The United
States has also imposed financial restrictions on
Lukashenko and other representatives of the regime, and
frozen state Belarusian assets in the United States.
Belarus responded in the spring of 2008 to expel US
diplomats from the embassy in Minsk. By 2020, under
President Trump's rule, relations had become so good
that they exchanged ambassadors again. In addition, the
US Secretary of State received Minsk, the first
high-level visit since 1994.
In 2008 and 2009, a thunderstorm occurred when
Belarus released political prisoners and gave the EU
Commission permission to open an office in Minsk, which
the EU has requested for several years. It helped to
ease the sanctions. However, the intensified repression
against the opposition following the 2010 presidential
election (see Modern History) extinguished all hope of
an imminent rapprochement between Belarus and the EU.
The sanctions were tightened and a diplomatic nerve war
ensued, with the parties expelling ambassadors. In 2014
and 2015, Belarus released most of the country's
political prisoners. As a result, in 2015, the EU
abolished almost all sanctions, as the Union felt that
the Belarusian regime had taken the first decisive steps
towards respecting the human rights of its citizens.
However, the undemocratic elections have continued to
attract EU criticism.
Relations with Poland are strained, mainly because
Poland accuses the Belarusian government of
discriminating against the Polish minority. Economic
ties make good relations with Lithuania and Latvia.
Belarus was a nuclear power when the country gained
independence in 1991, but Soviet nuclear weapons were
soon moved to Russia. Belarus then committed itself to
being nuclear-free. Military cooperation with Russia has
continued. The neighboring country has three military
facilities in Belarus.
The country's own defense force has gradually lost
weight from close to 243,000 men after independence to
about 48,000 men in 2016. The plans are for the defense
to move from military service to professional army.
Belarus has been a member of NATO's Partnership for
Peace (PFF) cooperation program since 1995 and in the
Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC).
READING TIPS - read more about
Belarusian foreign policy in the UI's online magazine
magazine Belarus wants to distinguish
itself from powerful neighbor Russia (2017-09-28)
FACTS - DEFENSE
16,500 men (2017)
The air Force
15,000 men (2017)
Military expenditure's share of GDP
1.2 percent (2017)
Military spending's share of the state budget
25.3 percent (2017)