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Belarus - Foreign Relations (Notes)

Under an arrangement with the former U.S.S.R., Belarus was an original member of the United Nations. It also is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS--a group of 12 former Soviet republics) and its customs union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Partnership for Peace, the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.

Following the recognition of Belarus as an independent state in December 1991 by the European Community, EU-Belarus relations initially experienced a steady progression. The signature of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in 1995 signaled a commitment to political, economic, and trade cooperation. Significant assistance was provided to Belarus within the framework of the TACIS technical assistance program and also through various aid programs and loans. However, progress in EU-Belarus relations stalled in 1996 after serious setbacks to the development of democracy. The EU did not recognize the 1996 constitution, which replaced the 1994 constitution. Neither the PCA nor its trade-related elements were implemented, and Belarus was not invited to join the EU's Neighborhood Policy. Belarusian membership in the Council of Europe was not supported; bilateral relations at the ministerial level were suspended; and EU technical assistance programs were frozen. In 1998, relations were further worsened when President Lukashenko evicted several western ambassadors from their homes in the Drozdy area of Minsk. In 2004, the Council of Europe adopted a report written by special rapporteur Christos Pourgourides calling on Belarusian authorities to suspend various high-level officials in conducting a thorough investigation of the cases of several prominent Belarusian political figures who have disappeared and remain unaccounted for. In parallel with the U.S., the EU spoke out strongly about the government's conduct of the 2006 election, noting that additional restrictive measures would be imposed against those officials responsible for abuses. After the election, the U.S. and EU imposed travel restrictions and financial sanctions against those responsible for abuses. The EU also launched a two-year, 2 million Euro project to support Belarusian access to independent information, also in complement to U.S. assistance programs. In June 2007, the EU announced the withdrawal of GSP trade preferences for Belarus, following an assessment by the International Labor Organization that Belarus had not acted to ensure the protection of labor rights and freedom of association.

Acknowledging the lack of progress in relation to bilateral relations and the internal situation following the position adopted in 1997, the EU adopted a benchmark approach in 1999, whereby relations would be gradually improved upon fulfillment of the four benchmarks set by the OSCE. In 2000, some moderately positive developments toward the implementation of recommendations made by the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) were observed but were not sufficient in the realm of access to fair and free elections. The Belarusian Government, objecting to the OSCE AMG's activities, forced its shutdown by failing to renew visas or extend accreditation of professional staff. The Belarus Government agreed to a successor OSCE presence after 14 EU member countries and the U.S. imposed visa restrictions on the travel of high-ranking Belarusian officials. The OSCE Office in Minsk formally came into existence on January 1, 2003 with a mandate to 'assist the Belarusian Government in further promoting institution-building, in further consolidating the Rule of Law and in developing relations with civil society, in accordance with OSCE principles and commitments.'

Russia is the largest partner for Belarus in the economic and political fields. In terms of trade, over one-third of Belarusian exports go to Russia, although this reflects a decline in 2005 from previous levels, resulting from a January 2005 restructuring of the value-added tax (VAT) in bilateral trade. Due to the structure of Belarusian industry, Belarus relies heavily on other CIS countries and Russia in particular both for export markets and for the supply of raw materials, subsidized energy, and components. The 2007 steep increase in the price of natural gas and higher tariffs on Russian-sourced oil and oil products have contributed to a crisis in the Belarusian economy, forcing the regime to cut popular subsidies and request a stabilization loan from Russia. The introduction of free trade between Russia and Belarus in mid-1995 led to a spectacular growth in bilateral trade. The framework for the Russia-Belarusian Union was set out in the Treaty on the Formation of a Community of Russia and Belarus (1996), the Treaty on Russia-Belarus Union, the Union Charter (1997), and the Treaty of the Formation of a Union State (1999). The integration treaties contain commitments to monetary union, equal rights, single citizenship, and a common foreign and defense policy. They also have established a range of institutions modeled after the EU. After protracted disputes and setbacks, the two countries' customs duties were unified as of March 2001. Belarus has made progress in monetary stabilization in the context of ongoing negotiation with the Russian Central Bank on monetary union. However, Belarus has repeatedly pushed back the date for implementing monetary union. It was reported in 2005 that a bilateral working group had developed a draft union constitutional act, to be ratified by a referendum held in both countries, but no dates for the referendum have been proposed. A dispute with Russia in late 2006 and early 2007 over gas prices and oil import duties raised further doubts about the future of the union.

Facts at a Glance: Geography - People - Government - Economy - Communications - Transportation - Military - Climate - Current Time - Ranking Positions - Belarusian Rouble Exchange Rates
Notes and Commentary: Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.

Facts at a Glance
Current Time
Ranking Positions
Belarusian Rouble Exchange Rates

Notes and Commentary
Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
Foreign Relations
Relations with U.S.

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