The Byelorussian SSR was one of the two Soviet republics that joined the United Nations along with the Ukrainian SSR as one of the original 51 members in 1945. Belarus and Russia have been close trading partners and diplomatic allies since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Belarus is dependent on Russia for imports of raw materials and for its export market.
The union of Russia and Belarus, a supranational confederation, was established in a 1996–99 series of treaties that called for monetary union, equal rights, single citizenship, and a common foreign and defense policy. However, the future of the union has been placed in doubt because of Belarus’s repeated delays of monetary union, the lack of a referendum date for the draft constitution, and a dispute over the petroleum trade. Belarus was a founding member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Belarus has trade agreements with several European Union member states (despite other member states’ travel ban on Lukashenko and top officials), including neighboring Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. Travel bans imposed by the European Union have been lifted in the past in order to allow Lukashenko to attend diplomatic meetings and also to engage his government and opposition groups in dialogue.
Bilateral relations with the United States are strained; the United States had not had an ambassador in Minsk since 2007 and Belarus never had an ambassador in Washington since 2008. Diplomatic relations remained tense, and in 2004, the United States passed the Belarus Democracy Act, which authorized funding for anti-government Belarusian NGOs, and prohibited loans to the Belarusian government, except for humanitarian purposes. Sino-Belarusian relations have improved, strengthened by the visit of President Lukashenko to China in October 2005. Belarus also has strong ties with Syria, considered a key partner in the Middle East. In addition to the CIS, Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Community, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, the international Non-Aligned Movement since 1998, and the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As an OSCE member state, Belarus’s international commitments are subject to monitoring under the mandate of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Belarus is included in the European Union’s European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) which aims at bringing the EU and its neighbours closer in economic and geopolitical terms.