Updated at 17:59,18-10-2018

Is Belarus looking east or west?

Euronews



It sits in Europe, shares borders with three European member states but is not part of the European Union.

And yet lately, this former Russian satellite has been showing signs it wants to draw closer to the EU.

Belarus started keeping its distances from Russia after the latter annexed Crimea in 2014.

Belarus is also trying to soften its political stance.

This year it allowed citizens to officially celebrate Freedom Day for the first time.

The government also officially scrapped a controversial, Soviet-like law forcing unemployed people to pay a so-called parasite tax after protesters had taken to the streets.

Earlier, Belarus also released political prisoners which led the EU to lift most sanctions in 2016.

Selected quotas on Belarusian exports were also removed and a package of economic incentives and access to financing put in place.

Still Belarus maintains a strict control on political opponents, severely restricts the freedom of the press and is the last country in Europe to enforce the death penalty.

Relations with Russia, although perhaps not as close as before, are still strong.

The country is part of the Russia-helmed Collective Security Treaty Organization and Eurasian Economic Union.

Belarus is oil and gas-dependent and heavily relies on Russia which is also its main trading partner, Europe comes only second.

So is Belarus looking east or west? Is it slowly transitioning towards more democracy or keeping with its autocratic ways under the iron-fist, 22-year long rule of president Lukashenko?

Our Insiders reporter Valerie Gauriat had rare access to political opponents, rights activists and official voices in Belarus.