The Republic of Belarus is a landlocked country of some 207,600 square kilometres, 40% of which is forested. Its population of 9,503,807 is divided into Belarusians (83.7%), Russians (8.3%), Poles (3.1%), Ukrainians (1.7%) and others (3.2%). It has two official languages Russian and Belarusian with Russian being the main language and used by 72% of the people. 60% of the population consider themselves to be religious with 82% choosing Orthodoxy in one form or another. Over 99% of Belarusians aged 15 and older are literate.
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Belarus became a founding constituent republic of the Soviet Union and was renamed as the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR). Belarus declared itself sovereign on 27th July 1990 by issuing the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. The country's name was changed to the Republic of Belarus on 25th August 1991. A national constitution was adopted in March 1994 and two rounds of elections for the presidency catapulted Alexander Lukashenko into national prominence. He gained 45% of the vote in the first round and 80% in the second. In 2000, Belarus and Russia signed a treaty for greater co-operation, with it being a founding member of the Customs Union in 2010. Lukashenko was re-elected in 2001, 2006 and again in 2010.
Belarus is governed by the President and the National Assembly. the National Assembly is a bicameral parliament comprising the 110 member House of Representatives (the lower house) and the 64 member Council of the Republic (the upper house). The House of Representatives has the power to appoint the Prime Minister, make constitutional amendments and influence foreign and domestic policy. The Council of the Republic selects various government officials and accept or reject the bills passed by the House of Representatives. Each chamber has the ability to veto any law passed by local officials if it is contrary to the constitution. the government includes a Council of ministers, headed by the Prime Minister and five deputy prime ministers. The members of this council need not be members of the legislature and are appointed by the President.
Belarus has been a close diplomatic ally of Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union and also has trade agreements with several European Union member states. Although it has seen Sino-Belarusian relations also improve over recent years, there remains political friction between Belarus and USA, due to both pursuing policies designed to cause inconvenience to each other. However the two countries do co-operate on intellectual property protection, prevention of human trafficking, technology crime and disaster relief.
Belarus is boardered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. It is divided into six regions which are named after the cities that serve as their administrative centres. Each region has a provincial legislative authority called a region council, which is directly elected, and provincial executive authority called a region administration, whose chairman is appointed by the President. Regions are further subdivided into raions or districts. Each raion has its own directly elected legislative authority and an executive authority or raion administration appointed by the executive. The city of Minsk is split into nine districts and enjoys special status as the nation's capital. It is run by an executive committee and has been granted a charter of self-rule.
Most of the Belarusian economy remains state controlled and therefore 51.2% of Belarusians are employed by state controlled companies, 47.4% are employed by private companies (of which 5.7% are partially foreign owned), and 1.4% are employed by foreign companies.
In 1994, Belarus's main exports included heavy machinery, agricultural and energy products. Historically, textiles and wood processing constituted a large part of the industrial activity. Belarus's largest trading partner is Russia, accounting for nearly half of total trade, and the European Union the next largest with almost one third of foreign trade. It is dependent on Russia for imports of raw materials and in particular petroleum, as well as for its export market. At the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus was one of the world's most industrially developed states, by percentage of GDP as well as the richest CIS member state. In the 1990's however, industrial production plunged due to decreases in imports, investment and demand for Belarusian products from its trading partners. GDP began to rise again in 1996 and the country was the fastest recovering former Soviet republic in terms of its economy. Belarus's natural resources include peat deposits, small quantities of oil and natural gas, granite, dolomite, marl, chalk, sand, gravel and clay.