The Republic of Belarus (Belarus) is located in the eastern part of Europe. In the West it borders on Poland, in the North – West – Lithuania, in the North – Latvia, in the North – East and East – Russia, in the South – Ukraine. Belarus is divided into six regions (oblast): Brest oblast, Vitebsk oblast, Gomel oblast, Grodno oblast, Minsk oblast and Mogilev oblast. The capital of Belarus is the city of Minsk, which is the biggest political, economic, scientific and cultural centre of the country. After seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus attained its independence in 1991. 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 but, to date, neither side has actively sought to implement the accord.
The territory of Belarus is 207.6 thousand square kilometers. It is a compact country. The longest distance, 650 km, is from West to East, and 560 km from North to South. By the size of its territory, the Republic occupies the 13th place among the European countries and the 6th among the CIS countries (following Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan). The Belarusian territory in Europe is slightly smaller than that of Great Britain and Romania, and more than 2.2 times bigger than Portugal and Hungary. On 01.01.2000, the population of Belarus constituted 10,018 thousand people. More than 100 nationalities live in Belarus. The majority of the population are Belarusians. Significant numbers of Russians, Poles, Ukrainians and other nationalities live in Belarus.
The climate of Belarus is moderately continental with mild and humid winter, warm summer and wet autumn. The average temperature in January is from -40C in the South-West to -80C in the North-east of the country. The average temperature of July is +17-190C. The average vegetation period is 184-208 days. The climatic conditions in Belarus are favorable for growing staple grain crops, vegetables, fruit trees and bushes which are common for moderate climate zones of East Europe, especially for cultivating potatoes, flax, annual grass and fodder root crops.
There are more than 20 thousand rivers and streams in Belarus with the total length of 91 thousand kilometers, and about 11 thousand lakes, including 470 lakes with the area exceeding 0.5 km2 each. Naroch is the largest lake in Belarus (79.2 km2, the deepest point about 25 m).
The terrain of Belarus is predominantly low hilly flat land. The average height above the sea level is 160 meters. Agricultural lands occupy 45% of the territory, forests account for 36% of the territory. There are more than 20 thousand rivers and creeks and about 11 thousand lakes in Belarus. The biggest lake is Naroch (about 80 square kilometres).
There are three National Parks in Belarus: “Belovezhskaya Pushcha”, “Braslav Lakes” and “Narochansky”. The flora of Belarus occupies about 70% of the Republic’s territory. There are about 12 thousand species of plants. The forests of Belarus are rich in valuable species of trees: pine tree, spruce, oak, birch tree, aspen, alder. More than 200 species of plants are protected by the State.The fauna of Belarus counts 457 species of vertebrates (including 73 species of mammals, 290 species of birds, about 60 species of fish) and more than 20 thousand invertebrates. Such game as fox, marten, hare, otter, ferret, ermine, elk and wild boar have a high economic value. More than 180 species of animals are protected by the State.
About 30 kinds of mineral raw materials have been prospected in Belarus (more than 4 thousand deposits and fields of natural resources).The most significant are potassium salts, the reserves of which in the country occupy one of the leading places in Europe. The reserves of rock salt are virtually inexhaustible.The country is rich in rock products such as granites, dolomites and dolomite limestone, marl, chalk, fusible and refractory clay, loam, sand and gravel. There are vast reserves of peat. The deposits of oil are insignificant. There are more than 60 sources of mineral water on the territory of the Republic.