Foreign policy and defense
Belarus is a nation in Eastern Europe. Its capital city is Minsk. 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.
- Countryaah: 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 markets.
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 others.
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 Foreign
magazine Belarus wants to distinguish itself from powerful neighbor Russia (2017-09-28)
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 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)