WHEN BELARUS BEcame independent, it faced several obstacles to developing a coherent foreign policy. A major problem was its leader's lack of a clear idea about the sovereign republic's place in international affairs. That was compounded by a shortage of trained diplomats in the Foreign Ministry. Under such circumstances, it was obvious that foreign policy would be driven by outside forces and not shaped by Belarus's own agenda. External economic factors have thus far had the greatest influence on the country's foreign policy. Since Russia was Belarus's largest trading partner, the relationship between the two countries became the priority in foreign policy. At the same time, Western European trade barriers with the East decreased that region's significance for Belarus. Financial constraints have also discouraged Belarus from becoming active in international organizations such as the United Nations.

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