Economy, energy and environment
Belarus has inherited from U rss a generally developed industrial infrastructure, with a good production capacity. Most of it is heavy industry and related to the defense sector. Agriculture still accounts for around 9% of GDP, although 20% of the land is still damaged today by the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. About 70% of the toxic materials released by the Ukrainian plant spilled into Belarusian territory. Lukashenko’s attempt to lead Belarus on the path of market socialism resulted in an abrupt halt to the privatization program, which should have characterized the post-Soviet economic transition. According to indexdotcom, the economy is largely under state control and this limits the influx of foreign investments, imposing a significant brake on national economic development. At a strategic level, the characterizing factor of the Belarusian economy is the total energy dependence on Russia, especially for natural gas. This disadvantage is balanced by the fact that Belarus is one of the main transit territories for Russian hydrocarbons to the markets of Central and Western Europe. The threat of the raising of gas prices – granted to Belarus at a lower price than the market price – and the progressive Belarusian indebtedness to Moscow have traditionally been important tools for the achievement of broader foreign and economic policy objectives. One of these – control of Belarusian energy assets – was completed in November 2011 with the acquisition of Beltransgaz, operator of the network national energy, by the Russian ‘energy champion’ Gazprom, in exchange for an agreement for the purchase of gas at a price 60% lower than that practiced on European markets. To cope with the difficulties in supporting payments for Russian gas, Belarus has entered into some contracts for the transfer of oil from Venezuela in exchange for supplies in the defense sector; it also develops joint projects with Poland in the liquefied natural gas sector and with Russia in the nuclear sector.
Defense and security
In the field of security and defense policies, Belarus is also closely linked to Russia, which hosts numerous military bases. For Moscow, the country is a kind of natural barrier against NATO’s eastward expansion. Despite having participated in various cooperation mechanisms with the Atlantic Alliance, Belarus remains one of the few former Soviet republics to have never applied for admission to the organization.
Belarus is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led security cooperation mechanism, which also includes Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The defense sector is one of the most productive for the country’s industry and this generates considerable dynamism in exports. In this regard, Belarus is accused by U know and the ‘ Eu to transfer weapons to countries that have strained relations with the West, such as Venezuela, Syria and Iran. In the latter two cases, Minsk would also appear to act as an intermediary for Russian arms exports.
Between the Baltic and the steppes
White Russia, or Belarus, is a land that lies between the natural environments of central-northern Europe and those of Russia; also its history and its population testify close contacts with both. Recently independent (1991), White Russia tries to maintain its traditional economic and cultural relations, and at the same time aims to develop better living conditions for its residents
At the gates of Russia
White Russia (or Belarus) occupies part of the great plain of northern Europe, barely enlivened by groups of hills. Rich in waters, crossed by the Western Dvina to the north, the Dnieper to the east and many of its tributaries, including the Pripyat (which forms vast marshes) to the south, the territory has a continental climate.
The population includes a strong minority of Russians and then Poles, Ukrainians and Latvians and speaks Belarusian, a Slavic language related to Russian and Polish. Most of the residents live in the city: in the capital Minsk (1,713,000 residents) and in other much less populous ones (Homel´, Mahilëy, Vicebsk).
Although poor in minerals, White Russia has a solid (mechanical) industry that imports raw materials and energy from Russia. The agricultural sector is very productive (cereals, beets) and so is the farming and exploitation of forests, which cover a third of the country. The most recent development aims to preserve the close and traditional relations with Russia, expanding those with Western Europe.
A bridge between Western and Eastern Europe
The territory of present-day White Russia was inhabited starting from the 6th century by populations of Slavic origin. Attracted into the orbit of the Grand Duchy of Kiev (10th century), which at that time represented the political center of Slavic culture, this territory was later annexed to Lithuania when the Grand Duchy was defeated by the Mongols (13th century). United to Poland towards the end of the 14th century, it became from that moment the object of a conflict between the latter and Russia, which took possession of it during the 18th century, when the Polish territory was divided between Russia, Austria and Prussia.
The forced Russification of the Belarusian people – that is, the imposition of Russian culture, language and traditions – dates back to this period, a process that experienced a further intensification in the twentieth century with the birth of the Soviet Union.
White Russia was occupied by the Germans during the First World War. After the collapse of the Tsarist Empire in 1917 (Russian revolutions) the birth of the independent state of the Belarusian Republic was proclaimed, which however was soon subdued by revolutionary Russia. Having lost the westernmost regions, occupied by Poland (Treaty of Riga, 1921), in 1922 the Belarusian Republic participated in the constitution of the Soviet Union, whose political events followed ever since. Occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, the western regions annexed by Poland in 1921 were returned to it at the end of the conflict.
In the late 1980s, coinciding with the crisis of the Soviet Union, a nationalist trend emerged in White Russia which a few months before the collapse of the Soviet regime led to the declaration of independence of the Republic (August 1991). In the course of the 1990s and towards the end of the 21st century, ties with neighboring countries were strengthened and in particular with Russia, with which contrasts initially prevailed. The authoritarian imprint of the regime has not been reduced.