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The region was settled by Baltic tribes who were overrun by Slavs in the 5th century. Around 900 AD it became part of the Slav state of Kievan Rus which disintegrated in the 12th century under attack from Mongols.
The region was then absorbed into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1250, merging with Poland in 1386 and eventually forming the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569. This union ended in 1795 and Belarus was acquired by Russia.
The region declared independence at the end of World War I when occupied by Germany but was immediately divided by its neighbours, losing half of its land to Poland with the Russian part forming the Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia in 1922.
The SSR was industrialised in the 1930s and in 1939 the Polish lands were reintegrated after the Soviet invasion of Poland. After World War 2, during which the country was devastated by Nazi occupation, it was re-developed as a manufacturing centre. It finally declared independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Still allied closely to Russia, large sections of the economy are state-owned and political opposition is suppressed.
Land-locked Belarus is relatively flat and contains large areas of marshes and forests. The highest point is Dzyarzhynskaya Hara at just 345m with an average elevation of 160m.
The country contains extensive peat deposits but only small quantities of oil and gas. Oil production began in 1965 and comes entirely from the Pripyat Graben in the south of the country.
This geological area is linked to the productive Dnieper-Donetz Graben in Ukraine further south. Production has declined from a peak in 1975 although the rate of decline was arrested during the period immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Globalshift believes that there are probably few prospects left to drill and the existing fields are almost exhausted. All gas from the region is associated with oil. Belarus has no offshore waters.
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Land area (sq kms)
Oil prod (000s b/d)
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Oil cons (000s b/d)
Gas cons (bcm/yr)
Belarus is a presidential republic. The president is head of state. The National Assembly is a bicameral parliament comprising a 110-member House of Representatives (the lower house) and a 64-member Council of the Republic (the upper house).
The government includes a Council of Ministers, headed by the prime minister and five deputy prime ministers. The members of this council are appointed by the president.
The Ministry of Energy oversees the oil and gas industry. Belorusneft is the state-owned integrated petroleum company established in 1966 by presidential decree. It has over 40 subdivisions for oilfield services, engineering, design, gas processing, and petroleum product sales.
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