Belarus country profile
The present borders of Belarus were established during the turmoil of the Second World War.
The former Soviet republic was occupied by the Nazis between 1941 and 1944, when it lost 2.2 million people, including almost all of its large Jewish population.
Belarus has been ruled with an iron fist since 1994 by President Alexander Lukashenko. Opposition figures are subjected to harsh penalties for organising protests. In 2005, Belarus was listed by the US as Europe's only remaining "outpost of tyranny".
In the Soviet post-war years, Belarus became one of the most prosperous parts of the USSR, but with independence came economic decline. President Lukashenko has steadfastly opposed the privatisation of state enterprises, and the country is heavily dependent on Russia for its energy supplies.
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Republic of Belarus
Population 9.5 million
Area 207,595 sq km (80,153 sq miles)
Major languages Russian, Belarussian (both official)
Major religion Christianity
Life expectancy 65 years (men), 76 years (women)
Currency Belarussian rouble
President: Alexander Lukashenko
Alexander Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe's last dictator, won a fifth term as president in October 2015, with no significant opposition candidate allowed to stand.
Observers from the OSCE European security body said the election fell far short of the country's democratic commitments.
Mr Lukashenko's win in December 2010 was followed by violent confrontations in the capital Minsk between the security forces and thousands of opposition demonstrators protesting about alleged vote-rigging.
A former state farm director, Mr Lukashenko was first elected president in 1994, following his energetic performance as chairman of the parliamentary anti-corruption committee.
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Belarus has been heavily criticised by rights bodies for suppressing free speech, muzzling the press and denying the opposition access to state media.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Belarus 157th out of 180 countries in its 2015 World Press Freedom Index.
Freedom House says the "state-dominated mainstream media consistently glorify [President] Lukashenko and vilify the political opposition".
TV is the main news source. The eight national channels are state-controlled. Their main competitors are Russian networks. Most Russian bulletins are not rebroadcast live, allowing censors to remove content.
Newspapers owned by the state vastly outnumber those in private hands. Private titles include embattled pro-opposition paper Narodnaya Volya.
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Some key dates in the history of Belarus:
1918 - Towards the end of the First World War, Belarus proclaims its independence as the Belarusian National Republic. But, with the end of the war, these aspirations are short-lived. The Red Army invades.
1919 - The Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic is proclaimed.
1921 - The Treaty of Riga divides Belarus between Poland and Soviet Russia.
1922 - The Belarusian SSR becomes founding member of the USSR.
1941-45 - Nazi Germany invades during the course of the Second World War. More than one million people are killed during the occupation, including many Jews. In 1944 the Soviet Red Army drives the Germans out, and at the end of the war, much of western Belarus - previously part of Poland - is amalgamated into the Soviet Republic.
1986 - Belarus is heavily affected by the fall-out from the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl in neighbouring Ukraine.
1991 - Belarus declares its independence as the Soviet Union breaks up. Minsk becomes the headquarters of the successor to the Soviet Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States.
1994 - Alexander Lukashenko becomes president. He introduces policies designed to strengthen ties with Russia.
2001 - President Lukashenko re-elected to serve second term. Opposition and Western observers say elections were unfair and undemocratic.
2006 - EU imposes visa ban on President Lukashenko and numerous ministers and officials.
2010 - Presidential elections. President Lukashenko declared winner. Opposition and western observers allege vote rigging. Mass protests in Minsk are broken up by force, with 600 arrests.
2011 - President Lukashenko is inaugurated for a fourth term in office. The EU reinstates a travel ban on him and freezes his assets, while the US imposes stricter financial controls and widens its travel bans on senior officials.
2015 - President Lukashenko wins fifth presidential term. No significant opposition candidate was allowed to stand.