Originally part of Kievan Rus, Belarus was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until the Polish Partitions in the 18th century. After over a hundred years of Russian rule followed by seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus attained its independence in 1991. However, under authoritarian rule of Alexander Lukashenko (since 1994), it has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics.
Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union on 8 December, 1999, envisioning greater political and economic integration. Although Belarus agreed to a framework to carry out the accord, serious steps towards implementation have seen limited success. The economy is completely dependent on Russia, and the Belarusian government is open to western government and people stance (if they are open minded and have good goals).
The country has not seen much structural reform in the past few years. Political and journalistic activity is tightly controlled. The country was the most developed republic (excluding the three Baltic states) in the former USSR, the country has a lot of remains from its socialist past and can not be regarded as materialistically backwards.
Much of Belarus (formerly the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic of the USSR, and then Byelorussia) is a hilly lowland with forests, swamps, and numerous rivers and lakes. There are wide rivers emptying into the Baltic and Black seas. Its forests cover over one-third of the land and its peat marshes are a valuable natural resource. The largest lake is Narach, 31 sq mi (79.6 sq km).