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The United States recalled its ambassador to Minsk in after the former Soviet state ordered a reduction of diplomatic staff at the US Embassy in response to sanctions leveled by Washington against Belarus over its human rights record. But Lukashenko has sought to build better relations with the United States and European Union as he seeks to manage relations with Russia while easing its isolation in the West. Washington and the European Union eased sanctions on Minsk in The year-old Lukashenko is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he has sought to preserve Belarus' sovereignty and independence at a time Russia is pressing for even closer ties between the two sides.

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Hale said the United States was not asking Belarus "to choose between East and West" and respected the country's desire to "chart its own course. Zapad, which means "west" in Russian, is a joint military drill conducted by the Russian and Belarussian armies along Russia's northwestern border with Europe, which is also NATO territory.

The EBRD in Belarus

The exercise, which takes place from September 14 to 20, is one of Russia's four annually rotating regional training operations that tests military strategy and troop preparedness by simulating war. The Zapad games originated in the Soviet Union and the last exercises took place in and In the aftermath of those drills, NATO accused Russia of secretly using them to prepare tactics for its subsequent military invasions of Georgia in and Crimea and east Ukraine in NATO also accused Russia of ending both years' drills with hypothetical nuclear strikes on European nations.

According to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's OSCE Vienna Document, a nation must allow other states to observe its military drill if more than 13, troops are involved. Russia has said only 12, troops will take part. However, western security analysts have pegged the number as high as , Russia has denied NATO's allegations that Zapad will mobilize troops in violation of international agreements; it insists it is being fully transparent in its preparations and operations. While NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has welcomed Russia's troop disclosure, he also has said that the Western military alliance with roots in the Cold War has "every reason to believe it may be substantially more troops participating than the official reported numbers" based on previous drills.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen also claimed Russia will deploy "over ," troops in the Zapad games.

Moscow Has Limited Options in Belarus

Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, is also uneasy about the Russian war games. Politicians are not the only ones voicing concern over Zapad One week ahead of the maneuvers' start, around Belarusians hit the streets of the capital, Minsk, to protest the military drills. Some 7, Belarusian troops will participate, Russia has said, and military exercises will be concentrated in the nation with close ties to Russia. A protest banner reads "For peaceful Belarus. He is currently constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive term in , but serving as leader of a new, unified Belarusian and Russian state could be a way to skirt that limitation.

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Every evening, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here. For 25 years, Belarus has been ruled by autocrat Alexander Lukashenko.

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The man once deemed "Europe's last dictator" has softened on the West somewhat, but his biggest political challenge may still lie ahead. The rally was held on the th anniversary of Belarus' independence from Russia. June 8, March 28, Signature Reports Freedom in the World. Freedom on the Net. Freedom of the Press.

Nations in Transit. Special Reports. Programs Europe and Eurasia programs. The police cracked down on the demonstrations and arrested dozens.

The EBRD in Belarus

The U. Despite the close ties of Russia and Belarus, the two countries clashed over imported Russian gas in early In Dec. In response, Belarus imposed a tax on Russian gas in Jan.

Russia then shut off an oil export pipeline to Europe which spelled trouble for Europe, since half of all European exports of Russian gas are transported through Belarus. By mid-January, Russia agreed to cut its oil duty and Belarus agreed to cut its tax.

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In September , President Alyaksandr Lukashenka won all seats in parliamentary elections, but European monitors criticized the flawed counting system in Belarus. On December 19, , Alyaksandr Lukashenka, president since , was reelected. According to government officials, he won by Andrey Sannikau was his closest challenger with 2. On the day of the election, two presidential candidates were beaten by police while attending different opposition rallies.

One of the candidates, Uladzimir Niaklajeu, was taken to a hospital where he was treated for a head injury. While in intensive care, he was abducted by Belarusian authorities. On the night of the election, ten thousand opposition protesters attempted to storm the government building of Belarus, smashing windows before police pushed them back. The next day, Lukashenka named Mikhail Myasnikovich as prime minister.

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The European Union along with the United States imposed sanctions on Belarus officials after the election and promised aid to opposition groups seeking to oust Lukashenka. Lukashenka has been referred to as Europe's last dictator.

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Grodno Oblast — 1. Economic output declined for several years following the break-up of the Soviet Union, but revived in the mids. For the other countries, the date given may not represent "independence" in the strict sense, but rather some significant nationhood event such as the traditional founding date or the date of unification, federation, confederation, establishment, fundamental change in the form of government, or state succession. This is the population pyramid for Belarus. At the same time, Freedom House strives to bring the discussion about human rights closer to ordinary Belarusians, helping to build strong popular support for human rights defenders and their challenging work. Added to your calendar. The runway s may be paved concrete or asphalt surfaces or unpaved grass, earth, sand, or gravel surfaces and may include closed or abandoned installations.

In April , a bomb exploded in a subway station next to Lukashenka's office. The explosion killed 12 people, wounded others and strained an already tense political situation.

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Belarus officially the Republic of Belarus formerly known by its Russian name Byelorussia or Belorussia (Russian: Белоруссия), is a landlocked country in. Start here for your complete introduction to the Republic of Belarus, a fascinating country with a rich cultural heritage and extraordinary landscapes.

No one claimed responsibility for the bomb. Lukashenka reported two days later that two suspects had confessed to the crime, but no other details were given.

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In exchange for the loan, Russian officials demanded that Belarus sell its factories to Russian companies, thus privatizing much of its state-owned industries. In return, Belarus gave full control of Yamal-Europe, its natural gas pipeline, which runs to Europe, to Gazprom, a Russian energy company. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the deal and Gazprom's control of the pipeline from Siberia to the border of Poland will "ease relations with Belarus for years to come.

In March , members of the European Union removed their ambassadors from Belarus and imposed a ban on travel for the country's top officials. In retaliation, Lukashenka barred several political opponents, journalists and human rights workers from leaving Belarus.