Belarus - Foreign Relations
Belarus's declaration of independence on August 25, 1991, did not stem from long-held political aspirations but from reactions to domestic and foreign events. Moscow's slow response both to the accident at the Chornobyl' power plant and to the discovery of mass graves of Stalin's victims at Kurapaty led to demands for government accountability and reform. Ukraine's declaration of independence, in particular, led the Belorussian SSR to realize that the Soviet Union would not last long.
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), the Belarusian and Russian Union State, the Customs Union (CU) and its successor, the Single Economic Space (SES) with Russia and Kazakhstan, the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), 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 Non-Aligned Movement, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.
Relations with Russia continue to be the main foreign policy priority. Belarus is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) established when the USSR broke up in 1991. In January 1995, Russia and Belarus established a Union State. At the same time, the two states signed an agreement on military cooperation which allowed Russia to lease several military facilities in Belarus for 25 years.
Although the bilateral relationship soured following the break up of the Soviet Union as Russia pursued an increasingly assertive line toward all the CIS countries, the Belarus-Russia relationship has improved in recent years, particularly following the Eurasian Economic Community’s decision to lend US$3bn to Belarus in 2011. Belarus became part of a customs union with Russian and Kazakhstan in 2010 and in November 2011 the presidents of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan signed an agreement to create a single economic space.
In February 1993, Belarus acceded to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I). In 1996, it fulfilled its undertaking to become a nuclear-free state. Tactical nuclear warheads were withdrawn from the country in May 1992 and the last strategic missiles left Belarus for Russia in November 1996. Belarus complies with the CFE Treaty. In January 1995, Belarus signed NATO's Partnership for Peace Agreement. However, Lukashenko is a critic of NATO enlargement. Relations with large parts of the international community have soured since the flawed Presidential election in December 2010 and the brutal dispersal of people peacefully protesting against the results.
Relations with the EU are poor, and have deteriorated since the flawed presidential elections of 19 December 2010, Member States agreed at the Foreign Affairs Council on 31 January 2011 to impose sanctions in the form of travel bans and asset freezes to those involved in the crackdown following the 2010 elections. In June 2011, further sanctions were introduced: an arms embargo and export ban on materials that might be used for internal repression; an asset freeze on three companies linked to the regime; and the addition of more names to the travel ban list. Further targeted economic sanctions were imposed in February and March 2012.
Diplomatic relations were established in 1991, and a small mission opened in Minsk in May 1993. The British Embassy in Minsk was opened in July 1995 The present Head of Mission, Bruce Bucknell, arrived in Belarus in July 2012. The Defence Attaché resident in Moscow covers defence relations. Belarus established a Consulate in London in June 1993 and upgraded to an Embassy in May 1994.
Belarus implemented a number of reforms in recent years in an effort to seek rapprochement with the West. The country was seeking a possible $3 billion (2.7 billion-euro) loan from the International Monetary Fund. Political prisoners were released in 2015r, prompting the EU to lift nearly all of its sanctions and the US to partially scrap its trade restrictions imposed over a perceived lack of democracy.
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