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How to cite:
Kasyanenka, A. (2024): Country Profile of Belarus. Hannover. = ARL Country Profiles. https://www.arl-international.com/knowledge/country-profiles/belarus/rev/4129. (date of access).


The Republic of Belarus (Республика Беларусь) is located in Eastern Europe. It is a medium-sized European state. Belarus is the 13th largest country among 44 continental European states. The total area is 207,600 km2, or about 2% of the total area of Europe. 

The total length of the state border is 3,617 km. Belarus shares a border with five countries: Poland (398 km) to the west, Lithuania (679 km) to the northwest, Latvia (173 km) and the Russian Federation (1,283 km) to the north, and Ukraine (1,084 km) to the south. The total border with the European Union is 1,250 km.

The distance between the capital – Minsk City – and the closest capital cities of the neighbouring countries are: Vilnius (Lithuania) – 215 km, Riga (Latvia) – 470 km, Warsaw (Poland) – 550 km, Kiev (Ukraine) – 580 km, Moscow (Russia) – 700 km.

Belarus has a strategic location within the European transport infrastructure. It is crossed by the major transit routes of the entire continent, including one of Eurasia’s main transport corridors from southwest to northeast. The shortest transport links connecting the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea also run through Belarus. With its strategic location, Belarus is positioned to take advantage of international trade and transport routes, connecting different regions of the world (MFA 2023).

Belarus is an important part of the European ecological system. The country boasts a significant portion of forests and natural protected areas that make up a total of 36% of its territory.

‘One of the most serious industrial and environmental disasters in the 20th century was the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant catastrophe in Ukraine. About 70% of the radioactive fallout fell on Belarus, contaminating 23% of the country’s territory.’  Today, half of the 118 districts of Belarus are still affected by the disaster, 21 to a major degree. The consequences of the catastrophe have not yet been completely overcome, and negatively affect the socio-demographic and economic situation in urban and rural settlements in the affected areas. The country’s environmental problems after Chernobyl are caused primarily by cesium-137 contamination – this accounts for more than 90% of the population’s radiation exposure. The main concentration of cesium-137 contamination is in the Gomel and Mogilev regions; in the Brest, Grodno, and Minsk regions, the proportion of polluted areas is small. Practical work to overcome the effects of the disaster is carried out by state programmes and international cooperation projects (UNECE 2019). The proportion of areas contaminated by cesium-137 had decreased to 12.3% by 2023 (Belta 2023).

While Belarus is a landlocked country with no access to the sea, it is home to nearly 21,000 rivers that span a combined length of 90,600 km. The three largest rivers in the country are the Dnieper, the Western Dvina, and the Neman. In addition, Belarus has close to 11,000 lakes scattered throughout the country, many of which are popular destinations for recreation and leisure. 

Belarus has a total of 201 urban settlements, comprising 115 cities and 86 urban-type settlements. Additionally, there are more than 23,000 rural settlements throughout the country. The current population of Belarus is estimated to be around 9.2 million, of which 78% reside in urban areas, and 22% live in rural areas (Belstat 2022).One particularity of the settlement system in Belarus is the quantitative prevalence of medium and small towns, which comprise more than 90% of the settlements. However, about 65% of the urban population lives in large cities. 

The rural settlements retain a small, dispersed structure by virtue of historical and natural features. Two-thirds of villages have fewer than 100 inhabitants and the trend towards rural depopulation is increasing (UNECE 2019).

Minsk, the capital of Belarus, lies geographically in the middle of the country. It has a population of 2 million inhabitants (22% of the country’s total population). The population density of the city exceeds 5,700 people per km2. It is the largest political, economic, scientific and cultural centre in the republic. Minsk is an independent administrative unit with special metropolitan status. 

In the urban settlement system, there is increasing development of the Minsk agglomeration, which includes Minsk and its suburban areas. The master plan of Minsk City connects the capital with smaller suburban towns, which are being developed as ‘satellite towns’ of the capital. The Minsk agglomeration includes 11 different administrative districts and occupies 9,200 km2, with a population of over 540,000 inhabitants (UNECE 2019).

Ethnic Belarusians make up more than 80% of the population. The main minority groups are: Russians (7.5%), Poles (3.1%), Ukrainians (1.7%), Jews (0.1%). 

Other significant minority groups in Belarus include Tatars, Roma, Lithuanians, and Letts (Belarus 2023). Belarus has two official languages: Belarusian and Russian. Other languages such as Polish, Ukrainian, and Hebrew are spoken within local communities.

The Republic of Belarus is a unitary state in the shape of a presidential system, and became independent in 1991, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. According to the Constitution of Belarus (Конституция Республики Беларусь), which was adopted in 1994, the state authority in the republic is exercised on the basis of the separation of powers into legislative, executive, and judicial branches (Article 6). There are two levels of state governance: national and local. 

Since 1991, Belarus has been a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a regional intergovernmental organisation focused on cooperation between a number of former Soviet republics on political, economic, environmental, humanitarian, cultural, and other issues. In 1999, the Agreement on the Establishment of the Union State of Belarus and Russia was signed, which set up a legal basis for integration between the two countries. Since 2015, Belarus has been a member of the Eurasian Economic Union, an international organisation of regional economic integration with international legal personality (MFA 2023). 

Belarus is not a member of the European Union. Diplomatic relations between Belarus and the EU were established in 1992. In January 2020, Belarus and the EU signed the Visa Facilitation and Readmission agreements, which aimed to improve relations between the two sides and facilitate travel between them. These agreements provided for the easing of visa requirements for Belarusian citizens travelling to the EU, as well as for the improvement of cooperation in relation to border control (MFA 2023).


General information

Capital Minsk
Population of the capital (2020) 2,064,733 (EUROSTAT)
Surface area (km2) 207610 (World Bank)
Total population (2020) 9379352 (World Bank)
Total population (2010) 9483836 (World Bank)
Population density (2020) (inh./km2) 45,18064 (World Bank)
Degree of urbanisation (2015) 49,95% (European Commission)
Human development index (2021) 0,808 (HDI)
GDP Current data can be found here: World Bank
Unemployment rate (2019) 4,17% (World Bank)
Land use Current data can be found here: European Environment Agency
Sectoral structure Current data can be found here: CIA The World Factbook

To ensure comparability between all Country Profiles, the tables were prepared by the ARL.

Administrative structure and system of governance

In 1994, Parliament enacted a new Constitution, the basic law of the state, which proclaimed Belarus to be a sovereign, democratic, socially-oriented, and law-abiding state. This constitutional definition incorporated to the fullest the principle of sovereignty, manifested in the ability and responsibility of the state to conduct its own domestic and foreign policies and protect its independence and territorial integrity (Constitution, Chapter 1, Article 1-9). It also lays out the rules for the system of government and the fundamental rights of citizens. The Republic of Belarus is a unitary non-federal state presidential republic. 

According to the Constitution (Chapter IV-V) the system of the state power bodies include:

  • the President of the Republic of Belarus (Президент Республики Беларусь);
  • the Belarusian People’s Congress (Всебелорусское народное собрание) (not to be confused with the Parliament);
  • the bicameral Parliament – the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus (Национальное собрание Республики Беларусь);
  • the Government – the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus (Совет министров Республики Беларусь);
  • the Courts (Суды);
  • local government and self-government (Местное управление и самоуправление).

The state authority in the Republic of Belarus is exercised on the basis of the separation of powers into legislative, executive, and judicial branches. These branches are independent within their powers, and they interact with each other on the basis of mutual checks and balances (Constitution, Article 6). 

In terms of public administration and governance, the country is divided into two levels of governance: national or republican (республика) and local (местный). 

The local level has three sub-levels: regional, basic, and primary. 

  • the regional sub-level includes six regions (область) and the capital city of Minsk (столица); 
  • the basic sub-level includes 118 administrative districts (район) and 10 cities of oblast subordination (город областного подчинения); 
  • the primary sub-level (can be considered ‘municipal’), includes 104 towns of district subordination, 1,140 villages, 86 urban-type settlements. 

National level of administration

The national level of administration is represented by the government – the Council of Ministers, the key executive and administrative body.

In 2023, it administered the system of 24 subordinate ministries, seven state committees and other organisations, as well as local executive and administrative bodies. 

The government is headed by the prime minister and consists of the deputy prime ministers and ministers, and may also include heads of other national state administration authorities. The prime minister and the government are appointed and dismissed by the President. 

The government’s mandate covers national budget control, domestic and foreign policy, economic and social development programmes, national security, defence, etc. It issues regulations that are binding on the entire country. It is accountable to the President and responsible to the Parliament in its activities (President 2023). 

Local level of administration

The local level of administration is represented by the system of local government. It includes Executive Committees (Исполнительный комитет), which are local executive and administrative bodies. 

The system of local government is represented on the regional level by Regional Executive Committees, on the basic level by the Executive Committees of cities of regional subordination and administrative districts, and on the primary level by the Executive Committees of rural and urban settlements, and towns of district subordination.

The Law on Local Government and Self-government (2010) stipulates centralised procedures for forming executive committees and appointing their chairperson. The heads of Executive Committees at the regional level and the City of Minsk are appointed and dismissed by the President and approved by the Council of Deputies of the same level in an open vote. The heads of other administrative areas are appointed by the higher-level Executive Committees. Thus, the heads of administrative districts and city Executive Committees are appointed by the head of the relevant regional Executive Committee. The approval of the President and relevant local council is required as well.

Executive Committees of all levels hold a broad range of powers that include: 

  • drafting programmes for spatial development, housing, roads, social services, and the environment; 
  • drafting and implementing the local budget; 
  • defining the legal regime for local property;
  • managing and exercising control over the use of land, subsoil assets, forests and other natural resources; 
  • organising the construction and upkeep of housing, public utilities, and service facilities; 
  • providing tax benefits; 
  • protecting civic rights and freedoms; etc.

In practice, higher-level Executive Committees coordinate the activities of the lower-level body, thus Executive Committees at the regional level play the dominant role in the system of local governance.

The government is headed by the prime minister and consists of the deputy prime ministers and ministers, and may also include heads of other national state administration authorities. The prime minister and the government are appointed and dismissed by the President. 

The government’s mandate covers national budget control, domestic and foreign policy, economic and social development programmes, national security, defence, etc. It issues regulations that are binding on the entire country. It is accountable to the President and responsible to the Parliament in its activities (President 2023). 

System of Governance

National level of governance

The President is the head of state and is directly elected by citizens for a five-year term with a maximum of two consecutive terms (Constitution, Article 81). The President holds a special place within the state mechanism and the system of power division because they are independent of the three branches of power and incur no political liability before those branches. The President does not belong to a political party. The President has vast authority which is formalised by the Constitution (Article 84). For example, the President appoints the members of the government; issues decrees and resolutions; signs bills into law; represents Belarus in the international arena; acts as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces; protects the country’s sovereignty and national security; appoints key personnel, etc. 

The President submits proposals to the Belarusian People’s Congress on the election and dismissal of the Chairperson and members of the Central Election Commission, and appoints and dismisses the Prosecutor General, the Chairperson of the State Control Committee, the Chairperson and members of the Board of the National Bank of Belarus with the prior consent of the Council of the Republic on grounds provided by law (President 2023). 

The highest representative body of the people’s power is the Belarusian People’s Congress (the Congress), which became a constitutional body by virtue of amendments to the Constitution adopted by a national referendum on 27 February 2022. The Congress determines the strategic development of society and the state ensures the inviolability of the constitutional system and civil accord (Constitution, Article 89). The body is endowed with broad powers, some of which, in the old version of the Constitution, belonged to the President and to Parliament, as well as some new powers which have been specially granted. The delegates to the Congress include the President and former president; representatives of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches; representatives of local Councils of Deputies; and representatives of civil society. The maximum number of Congressional delegates is 1,200 people. The Congress runs for a term of five years and meets at least once a year.

The main national representative and legislative body is the bicameral Parliament – the National Assembly (Constitution, Article 90). 

The lower house of Parliament is the House of Representatives, and the upper is the Council of the Republic. Their term of office is four years. Both chambers of Parliament are authorised to draft and adopt laws, which are then approved by the President. 

The House of Representatives consists of 110 deputies elected by constituencies and representing the interests of citizens. 

The Council of the Republic has 64 members which represent constituencies as follows: eight members are elected from each region and the City of Minsk by secret ballot at meetings of local Councils of Deputies of the corresponding administrative areas, and the remaining eight members of the Council of the Republic are appointed by the President.

In Belarus, the right to legislative initiative belongs to several entities, including the President, Parliament, the government, and also to groups of at least 50,000 people eligible to vote, who can exercise this right through the House of Representatives. The President has the right to initiate legislation and is empowered to sign or reject laws in interaction with the legislature (President 2023).


Local level of governance

According to the Constitution ‘Citizens shall exercise local government and self-government through local councils of deputies, executive and administrative bodies, bodies of public self-government, local referenda, assemblies, and other forms of direct participation in state and public affairs’ (Article 117). ‘Local councils of deputies and executive and administrative bodies shall, within the limits of their powers, resolve issues of local significance, proceeding from national interests and the interests of the people who reside in the relevant territory, and implement the decisions of higher state bodies’ (Article 120). 

Local-level representative bodies form a system of self–government consisting of local Councils of Deputies (Совет Депутатов) which are elected by the citizens of the relevant administrative area for a five-year term. They have the exclusive power of approving economic and social development programmes, local budgets and accounts, and setting local taxes and duties. The Council of Deputies (the Councils) govern the management and disposal of municipal property, approve the spatial plans of the local administrative areas, and can call local referenda. The Councils are subject to legal control by the President and Parliament and may be dissolved by a parliamentary decision. The higher-level Councils of Deputies coordinate the activities of the lower-level Councils, regulate their budgets and may overturn any of their decisions if they contradict legislation.

Similar to the system of local government, the Councils of Deputies have three administrative levels: regional, basic, and primary. 

The regional level is represented by Regional Councils of Deputies and Minsk City Council of Deputies. They are superior to the Councils at the basic and primary levels. They perform tasks related to the economic, social, and sustainable development of the region, including planning and managing the regional budget. They also have a role in the implementation of national laws, policies, and programmes that affect the regional level. 

The basic level includes the Councils of Deputies of urban settlements (cities of regional subordination) and administrative districts. They are superior to the primary level Councils.

Councils of Deputies at the primary level, which are often referred to as ‘municipal’ councils, are elected in towns of district subordination, villages, and urban-type settlements. They approve plans for the development of districts, master plans for cities of district subordination and for other settlements.

Judicial power 

The judicial power belongs to the courts. The system of courts is based on the principles of territoriality and specialisation. The judiciary consists of the Constitutional Court and the system of courts of general jurisdiction. 

The Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus are national bodies of judicial power. 

The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Belarus reviews the constitutionality of normative legal acts in the state by means of constitutional proceedings in order to protect the constitutional order of the country, the rights and freedoms of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution, and to ensure the supremacy of the Constitution and its direct effect throughout the republic.

The Constitutional Court is formed of 12 judges who are highly-qualified legal experts. The Chairperson, the Deputy Chairperson, and judges of the Constitutional Court are elected and dismissed by the Belarusian People’s Congress. The judges’ term of office is 11 years. 

Judgments and decisions of the Constitutional Court are final and cannot be appealed or protested (Constitutional Court 2019). 

The Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus is at the helm of the system of courts of general jurisdiction and is the highest judicial body that administers justice in civil, criminal, administrative and economic cases, oversees the judicial performance of the courts of general jurisdiction, and exercises other powers in accordance with legislation. The Chairperson, the Deputy Chairperson and judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected from among the judges. They are approved and dismissed from office by the Belarusian People’s Congress (Supreme Court 2023). 

The local level of judicial power is represented by the regional and Minsk City courts; the regional and Minsk City economic courts; and the city district courts.

Figure 1: Administrative Structure of Belarus

Figure 1: Administrative Structure of Belarus

Figure 2: System of Powers of Belarus

Figure 2: System of Powers of Belarus

Spatial planning system

Brief outline of the historical development of the planning system (since the Second World War)

Before the Second World War Belarus was an agricultural country. In 1940, there were only 173 urban settlements. The rate of urbanisation was 21%. In 1950, the process of industrialisation started that led to a growth in urbanisation (Piterski and Ivlichev 2002). 

Spatial planning in Belarus was developed within the planning system of the USSR until the 1990s. That period was characterised by the predominance of national over local interests, and centralised systems of spatial planning and governance with two main actors: the state and large state-owned industrial enterprises. The procedure for public participation in the spatial and urban planning process was quite formal (National Report 2016).

From its independence in 1991, Belarus embarked on a transition to a market economy. New approaches were introduced in the development of planning documentation which ensured not only the interests of the state and of inhabitants, but also those of private business and investors. Belarus is one of the few countries that have preserved the Soviet tradition of integrated spatial planning, supplementing it with modern approaches and methodologies (UNECE 2019).


Legal basis/constitutional framework of spatial planning

Spatial planning and development in Belarus are regulated by national laws, the decrees of the President, the resolutions of the Council of Ministers, and the decisions of local government executive bodies. 

Since 2004, the process of spatial planning in Belarus has been governed by the Law on Architectural, Urban Planning and Building Activities in the Republic of Belarus (‘the Law’). The Law regulates the relationships between the state, the population, and legal entities in the fields of spatial planning, architecture, and construction and sets out the procedures for public participation in the urban planning process (Pravo 2023a). 

In July 2023, a new Code On Architectural, Urban Planning and Building Activities in the Republic of Belarus[1] (‘the Code’) was adopted (Pravo 2023b). It has replaced the above-mentioned Law and a number of existing legislative and normative documents issued over the past 20-25 years. The goal is to reduce administrative effort and government intervention in spatial and urban planning and development, while maintaining the key principles set out in the Law. Chapters related to spatial planning in the Code correspond to the general provisions of the Law. 

A significant change enacted in the Code is the transfer of power within the spatial planning sphere in Belarus. This involved shifting the responsibilities for approving regional spatial plans from the President to the Council of Ministers, and also shifting the approval of administrative district plans from the Council of Ministers to local governments at the regional level. This process can be viewed as a move towards decentralisation, allowing regional governments more authority in the management and approvals of spatial plans. 

There are also numerous sectoral legal acts that regulate specific aspects of spatial planning. The Law on the Administrative Structure of the Republic of Belarus (1998) is one such example, which sets out the framework for the division of the country into administrative areas. The Land Code is the central legal document for the strategic development of agricultural, industrial, residential, and recreational land as well as for creating suitable infrastructure. Other documents which are significant for the spatial planning process are the Forest Code, Water Code, Code on Internal Mineral Resources, and laws on special protection areas and on nature protection. They play an important role in ensuring that spatial plans are environmentally sustainable and aligned with the principles of integrated spatial planning.



[1] Provisions cited henceforth in the text are from the Code on Architectural, Urban Planning and Building Activities in the Republic of Belarus
(N 289-З of 17 July 2023).


Spatial planning authorities responsible for spatial planning at each administrative level

The state regulation of spatial planning activity is exercised by the President, the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Architecture and Construction, and local authorities such asCouncils of Deputies, local executive and administrative committees, and other state bodies. 

National spatial planning authorities

The President approves the main directions of the national spatial development policy of the Republic of Belarus and National Plan for the Spatial Development of the Republic of Belarus (NPSD). 

The Government ensures the implementation of the main directions of the National Spatial Development Policy of the Republic of Belarus; makes decisions on the elaboration of the NPSD and submits these to the President for approval; approves regional spatial development plans and the master plans of Minsk City, five regional centres, and satellite towns.

The Ministry of Architecture and Construction is a governmental body authorised to carry out spatial and urban planning. It elaborates and implements national spatial development policy, and acts as a contracting authority for the development of comprehensive plans and special planning projects at the national level. The Ministry is responsible for managing the urban planning cadastre. 

The influence of national authorities in planning on all levels is quite strong because of the centralised system of governance. 

Local spatial planning authorities

Regional Executive Committees:

  • act as a contracting authority for the development of plans for administrative and territorial units (except regions and administrative districts), master plans for cities (except regional centres, the City of Minsk, cities of regional subordination and satellite towns of regional centres), special planning projects on the local level, and detailed plans;
  • approve spatial development plans for administrative and territorial units (except regions), special planning projects on the local level, and detailed plans;
  • organise and hold public hearings (discussions). 

Minsk City Executive Committee is a contracting authority for the Minsk master plan development. 

Executive Committees have area-based architecture and urban planning sections which are responsible for developing and implementing the strategic urban development objectives, communicating the spatial development policy to the public, studying the dynamics of urban processes, and organising the participation of stakeholders in public consultations for the design of urban development projects. 

Local Councils of Deputies at the regional level approve the master plans of the cities of regional subordination.

Local Councils of Deputies at the basic level approve the master plans of cities of district subordination and other settlements located within the catchment area.

The main spatial planning instruments

According to legislation, spatial planning in the Republic of Belarus is divided into comprehensive, special, and detailed planning. 

Comprehensive planning (общее планирование) shapes the structure of settlements, outlines an area’s use and stipulates limitations, and specifies the development of social, industrial, transport, and engineering infrastructures. The boundaries of areas subject to comprehensive planning usually coincide with the boundaries of the administrative area. Comprehensive plans are implemented on the national, regional and local levels. 

Comprehensive spatial plans comprise: 

  • the NPSD; 
  • regional spatial development plans; spatial development plans for administrative districts;
  • master plans for cities and other settlements. 

The creation of a comprehensive spatial plan is initiated by the state authority of the administrative level in question. 

Comprehensive plans are binding for all public bodies and institutions in the administrative area.

All plans are subject to mandatory coordination and harmonisation with the relevant sectoral ministries and departments (Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, Ministry of Emergency Situations, Ministry of Health Care, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Committee of State Security, etc.), regional or local authorities according to the subordinate level as well as with state bodies of areas adjoining that covered by the plan, as well as with other state institutions specified by the Ministry of Architecture and Construction.

Special planning (специальное планирование) details and specifies aspects of the comprehensive plan and imposes particular terms and requirements to enable concrete decisions to be made about the development of the area in question. Special plans are implemented on the national and local levels. The relevant administrative body or a private organisation may initiate the development of a special plan. 

Detailed planning (детальное планирование) is implemented at the local level. The aim of the detailed plan is to regulate the investment process in terms of land use requirements and the subsequent development in the area. 

The decision as to which planning projects are to enter the development phase within the next financial year is annually approved by the Council of Ministers based on suggestions from the Regional Executive Committees.

Plans are in place at all levels of spatial planning in Belarus. The ‘Urban planning projects and comprehensive, detailed and special planning’ (2021) set of building regulations establishes the structure and content of spatial plans.

There are three levels of spatial planning in Belarus:

1. National planning covers the entire country, or at least two or more regions.

2. Regional planning covers a region or a group of administrative districts.

3. Local planning covers an administrative district or part of one, or a settlement or part of one (with or without a suburban area).

National spatial planning instruments

The strategy, main directions, objectives, and mechanisms for the balanced development of settlement systems in Belarus is determined by the National Urban Development Policy for 2016-2020 which was adopted by a decree of the President in 2016 (Pravo 2023c).

The strategic goal of the policy is the development and improvement of the living environment by harnessing the potential of regions, cities, and rural settlements in an integrated, efficient manner. 

The Urban Development Policy emphasises four primary objectives:

  1. Balanced development of regions and settlements by enhancing the sustainable settlement pattern;
  2. Comprehensive development of the living environment and provision of high standards for quality of life;
  3. Enhancement of regional and urban transport systems, and modernisation of the engineering infrastructure;
  4. Harmonious development of the architectural and planning structure of settlements which preserves and makes efficient use of historical/cultural heritage. 

The National Plan for the Spatial Development of the Republic of Belarus (NPSD) is the main planning document for the country. Decisions on the development of the NPSD rest with the government. The elaboration of the plan is to be financed from the national budget. The NPSD is to be approved by the President, and has a binding character.

The goal of the NPSD is to define a comprehensive strategy for improving the spatial structure of the country and its various parts, taking into account geopolitical conditions, national resources, and socio-economic potential. This strategy is based on an analysis of the current situation and an understanding of the future potential of the country’s regions. The objective of this approach is to ensure that the country’s spatial structure is optimised for sustainable development and can support the long-term economic, environmental, and social well-being of the nation. The last version of the NPSD was approved in 2000, and defined the state policy for the country’s spatial organisation for a 15-year period up to 2015. Concepts and spatial development programmes of the EU, the Baltic and CIS countries, as well as the priorities of the VASAB 2010+ initiative were taken into account (NPSD 2001). 

The NPSD serves as the basis for the elaboration of regional and local planning projects, sectoral national and regional programmes, schemes and projects for the development of engineering, transport infrastructure, nature protection schemes, and other urban planning documents. A new version of the NPSD is under development now.

Special plans at the national levelinclude spatial development schemes, forecasts, and programmes for bordering regions; the development of the areas along international and the main national communications corridors; the development of contaminated zones; the development of special protected areas; etc. The elaboration of the plan is to be financed from the national budget. The plans are binding for the public bodies which took part in preparing them. 

Regional spatial planning instruments

The regional spatial development plan has a particular role in integrating national and regional objectives, and coordinating national interests and local initiatives at the regional level. All six regions (Brest, Grodno, Mogilev, Minsk, and Vitebsk) have such a plan. 

The regional plan seeks to:

  • define goals and strategies for the development of the region; 
  • create an optimal settlement system and prospective land use; 
  • develop the regional system of public services, transport, and engineering infrastructures; 
  • adapt national objectives and the initiatives of local authorities for spatial development in light of the region’s particular situation. 

In the regional plan, national interests are addressed by setting up zones of special state regulation as well as specifying and amending adopted planning decisions related to the settlement system, spatial zoning, and infrastructure development at the international and national levels. 

The regional plan has a 15-20 year term, with the first stage of planning for 7-10 years. The scale of the plan is 1:200,000. The plan’s development is financed from the national budget, approved by the Council of Ministers, and binding for implementation.

The administrative district spatial development plan defines the strategy and main directions of spatial upgrowth as well as the development of the settlement system; the social, industrial, transport, and engineering infrastructures; and approaches to environmental protection for the district. There are 118 administrative districts in Belarus, all of which should be provided with a spatial plan. Each plan should take into account the approved NPSD, any previously approved regional plan, master plans for settlements located within the boundaries of the district as well as relevant national and regional socio-economic programmes and forecasts. This plan has a 15-20 year term, with the first stage of planning for 7-10 years. The scale of the plan is 1:50,000. The elaboration of the plan is to be financed from the national budget. The plan is to be approved by the relevant Executive Committee and is binding for all public bodies and institutions within the area in question.

Local spatial planning instruments

master plan is elaborated for cities and other settlements, areas with rural councils and other local areas. A master plan determines the overall strategic spatial concept of the city, and sets priorities, goals, and strategies for integrated urban development. The focus is on the development of areas adjacent to settlement borders, the planning structure, functional zoning, and land use norms, and the main parameters for construction. In addition, there are plans for engineering, transport, and social infrastructure. A master plan has a term of 15-20 years, with the first phase of planning for five years. The scales used for master plans are: 1:5,000; 1:10,000; 1:25,000. The development of the master plans for regional centres (Brest, Grodno, Gomel, Mogilev, and Vitebsk) and for cities of regional subordination and their satellite towns (except the satellite towns of Minsk) is financed from the national or local budgets and is to be approved by the national government of the relevant Council of Deputies depending on the status of the city. A master plan is binding for all public bodies and institutions in that area.

A detailed plan is developed for built-up or undeveloped areas (residential areas, micro-districts, and other units within the planning structure). It is a legal document that allocates land use. A detailed plan, based on the approved master plan, indicates and prescribes the main functions of areas, building rights or building efficiency ratios, the number of floors or building heights, other functional aspects and aspects related to building quality and urban design. Scale is 1:1000, 1:2000. A detailed plan is legally binding and forms the basis for issuing building permits. The development of the plan is financed from local budgets and is to be approved by the relevant Executive Committee.

Detailed urban plans are usually developed by regional planning institutions and local architectural firms, which have the relevant certificates of conformity to carry out such activity.

Special plans at the local level can be detailed plans for particular areas; plans for the border areas of suburban zones; or plans and schemes for social, industrial, transport, or engineering infrastructures, etc. The creation of local special plans is funded from the local budget.

Instead of each local authority having their own well-resourced urban planning department, they are customers of specialised certified institutions or private firms. Local governments oversee the work of the external planning specialists involved in the spatial planning process, with a view to aligning plans with the local strategic vision and national policies. 

The primary elaborator of spatial planning documents such as comprehensive and special plans is the Institute for Regional and Urban Planning (IRUP). It has state certificates of conformity for the elaboration of such plans, and reports to the Ministry of Architecture and Construction. Minskgrado, a public institute, is responsible for developing the Minsk City master plan, and reports to the Minsk City Executive Committee. This situation continues to reflect a Soviet tradition, as it has arisen owing to a lack of private firms and consultancies.


Public hearings (discussions) of spatial and urban planning projects must be carried out before the plans are submitted to the State for examination and review. Such public hearings are organised by the relevant executive committees and the local administrations of city districts. Private project investors are also required to hold a public discussion.

The ‘Regulations on the procedure for conducting public consultations for architectural, city planning and construction activities’ approved by the Council of Ministers (N 687, 1 July 2011) establish the procedure for public hearings. The regulations prescribe posting information on the relevant regional and local official websites, publishing notices for comment in the local mass media, and staging project exhibitions in publicly accessible premises. Other methods of public engagement in the development of spatial plans, such as preliminary surveys of public opinion or other forms of consultation, are not prohibited by the legislation but are not commonly used by local authorities. 

Although the public has the opportunity to discuss urban development plans, this is not a formal requirement at all stages of the planning process. For example, the public is not involved in defining a common vision for a given area or in determining the priorities for urban development projects.

According to the regulations, public hearings must be held for:

  • comprehensive planning projects (excluding the NPSD and special planning projects);
  • detailed planning projects;
  • architectural and planning concepts for construction sites (in the absence of approved urban planning projects for detailed planning).

However, it should be recognised that the practice of consulting the public, community organisations, and the business community is not fully regulated. This has often led to conflicts during public hearings for master or detailed plans which have already been elaborated, as conflicts can arise between local authorities, designers and the public, particularly when it comes to questions of the consolidation of buildings, road building, reducing green areas, or demolishing individual houses (UNECE 2019). 

Civil society is not involved in the development of urban development plans – the responsibility for this lies with local executive bodies. Nonetheless, on occasion proposals on these issues are submitted by target groups in the manner prescribed by law. Proposals from the public for amending city planning documents of various types and levels are received by the government, the Ministry of Architecture and Construction, local authorities, as well as design institutes.

After all agreements and public hearings have wrapped up, the spatial plan is approved by the authority that initiated its creation, but subject to any obligatory state approvals or oversight. Once it has been approved, a spatial plan must be implemented. The approval of the spatial plan is registered in the state spatial planning cadastre of the Ministry of Architecture and Construction. 

Interdependencies between planning levels

When a spatial plan is being developed, the provisions of any relevant superordinate comprehensive plan should be taken into consideration. Thus, master plans must not conflict with the superordinate regional plan. Detailed plans, in turn, must comply with master plans. The horizons of implementation of comprehensive plans must be coordinated with the terms of implementation of national programmes and forecasts for the social and economic development of Belarus and its administrative and territorial units. In cases where the local executive and the administrative authorities in a given area disagree on spatial development issues, a binding decision is made by the Council of Ministers. 

Use of ‘soft planning’ such as informal (non-statutory) planning

Soft planning is not generally used in Belarus because of the top-down approach to planning, hence soft planning documents are few and far between.

On a grassroots level, Local Agendas 21 can be considered examples of soft planning. Local Agendas 21 were first implemented in the late 1990s with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the European Union. More than 30 such documents have been developed for various cities, districts, and village councils. However, not all of them have legal force or are fully implemented in practice. A prerequisite for this is that they are harmonised with the national/regional strategies for sustainable development, as well as with spatial plans and socio-economic development plans.   

The most recent example of soft plans at the local level are the Green Urban Development Plans (GUDP), which were elaborated within the UNDP-GEF project ‘Belarus: Supporting Green Urban Planning in Small and Medium Cities’ (Green Cities) implemented in 2017-2021. The project introduced a new practice for Belarus to develop a strategic document, specifically with the active participation of the population and other stakeholders. The GUDPs were developed for seven cities in different regions and approved by the local councils. The plans focus on the creation of green spaces, the development of smart and energy-efficient buildings, the promotion of active transport, and the development of sustainable transport systems based on existing urban development plans. 
These plans analyse the potential of cities, identify ‘growth points’ and describe the activities necessary for sustainable and green development. 

One more example is a voluntary document called the Sustainable Development Strategy for a region or administrative district, which is elaborated by the regional authorities. 

The Sustainable Development Strategy for the Mogilev Region until 2035 was developed in 2020 and approved by the Mogilev Regional Council of Deputies. The chief aims of the strategy were to stimulate entrepreneurial activity, improve the welfare of local residents, create modern industries, and increase the number of jobs. The strategy will form the basis for the development of regional and district forecast and policy documents for the medium and long term. The Mogilev region districts are developing and adopting their own sustainable development strategies, action plans for sustainable energy development and the climate, local economic growth plans, and area-based development passports.

Whilst there are other planning documents covering other regions and districts, they lack official approval and thus have a limited impact on the spatial planning process. However, the creation of these documents can offer valuable guidance for decision-making and indicate the potential for future development. They can also provide key insights and suggestions for stakeholders to consider when planning for sustainable and ecologically sensitive urban development.

Influence of EU legislation and policies

Since Belarus is not a member of the European Union, the direct influence of EU legislation and policies on Belarusian spatial planning may not be as pronounced as in other European countries. However, the EU and its member states have emerged as important partners for Belarus in various areas of cooperation, including trade, investment, and cultural exchange. Moreover, there are a lot of best practices, particularly related to green urban planning and city resilience based on participatory approaches that Belarus can draw upon for its own planning processes. 

It should be mentioned that since 2004 Belarus has participated in EU cross-border cooperation programmes. The most recent ENI Cross-Border Cooperation Programmes (CBC) for Poland-Belarus-Ukraine and Latvia-Lithuania-Belarus operated under the framework of the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) in 2014-2020. Since 2020, cooperation has been stopped. The ENI CBC is a key element of the EU policy towards its neighbours. It supports sustainable development along the EU’s external borders, helps to reduce differences in living standards, and addresses common challenges across these borders. All projects financed within the programme were non-profit and contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of inhabitants of the participating countries (European Commission 2023).

The main spatial planning challenges and issues on the spatial planning agenda, key policy debates

The analysis of current trends of the settlement system highlights urbanisation processes characterised by disproportionate growth of the urban population in the capital and other large cities with a population of around 250,000, an increase in the links between such settlements, the expansion of urban lifestyles to suburban areas, the formation of agglomerations, and the decline of small towns and rural settlements. Migration from villages to cities reinforces developmental imbalances between urban and rural areas. 

Before 2007, the tendency towards urban sprawl was observed, which posed a threat to neighbouring agricultural land and landscape areas, and also poses risks for the urban environment and public transport systems. In 2007, the government decided to halt city expansion that consumed adjacent agricultural land. It was decided to shift the focus of urban settlement development from city expansion to a compact city model, which emphasises density and the comprehensive reconstruction of existing buildings. This approach also has been integrated into the Minsk master plan, which seeks to manage the city’s population within existing boundaries and limit the population to two million people. The goal of this approach is to prioritise the effective use of existing urban areas and internal resources (National Report 2016). 

Today Belarusian cities are still facing the following challenges: 

  • lack of territorial resources; 
  • expansion of cities into green areas; 
  • dilapidated manufacturing areas in central cities; 
  • lack of social infrastructure in new residential areas; 
  • old engineering infrastructure; 
  • the need for the mass reconstruction and repair of the housing stock.

One of the key issues on the spatial planning agenda is the development of agglomerations in Belarus. The Presidential Decree ‘On the development of satellite cities’ (N 214, 21 May 2014) directly addresses the country’s agglomeration processes. It establishes that ‘cities of regional or district subordination, and urban-type settlements within 60 km from the city of Minsk or the regional centre may be given the status of a satellite city’. Today, Brest and Grodno have satellite town status. 

The most vivid example of agglomeration processes is the creation of the Minsk agglomeration. The master plan of Minsk connects the capital with the smaller suburban towns Fanipol, Zaslavl, Dzerzhinsk, Smolevichi, Logoisk, and Rudensk which are being developed as ‘satellite towns’ of Minsk. The Minsk agglomeration has around 3 million inhabitants. The main changes in the development of the Minsk agglomeration are expected in the central zone of the capital, which is defined by the second ring road and includes the developed areas of the Chinese-Belarusian ‘Great Stone’ industrial park. The implementation of the international investment programme requires a developed urban and transport infrastructure, including the construction of a highway connecting the Minsk national airport, several residential areas, and the city centre. According to the Minsk Master Plan, the agglomeration is to be developed comprehensively to ensure the availability of jobs in settlements within the Minsk agglomeration, especially in the small towns. For this reason, in addition to housing for the projected population, satellite towns need sites for industrial facilities, as well as active development of the services sector. The development of the Minsk satellite cities implies they will have similar standards in terms of the availability of housing, jobs, and services (UNECE 2019).

The specific context and dynamics of Belarusian spatial planning require a locally tailored approach that takes into account the country’s unique circumstances, including its political, social, economic, and environmental characteristics. Spatial and urban planning should aim to achieve market sustainability of the various areas and determine different strategies for regions, cities, and functional urban areas depending on their existing potential and particular conditions for further social and economic development. At the same time, it is important to consider and protect public interests, to provide a safe and sustainable living environment for the population, and to preserve and provide for the efficient use of natural resources, historical and cultural heritage. 

The ‘Country Profile on Housing and Land Management: Belarus’ (2019), prepared by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), recommends that the Belarusian government continue implementing the main aspects of the state urban planning policy for 2016-2020 and its update for the next five years. These measures should support the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the New Urban Development Programme, and the UN Geneva Charter on Sustainable Housing in Belarus. It is also recommended that the government devise measures for the balanced development of the regions, which will contribute to the preservation of a more sustainable and balanced system of human settlements and employment opportunities.

The main priorities for spatial development are: 

  • increasing the cohesion between regions and cities, as well as between cities and rural settlements; 
  • harnessing existing potential to stimulate the economic development and competitiveness of cities; 
  • efficiently using the available land to prevent urban sprawl and control urbanisation; 
  • developing agglomerations in a balanced way;
  • creating inclusive, safe, and friendly living environments for all population groups;
  • developing transport and engineering infrastructures.
Figure 3: Planning System of Belarus

Figure 3: Planning System of Belarus

Important stakeholders

Institution/ stakeholder/ authorities Research field/ Competencies/ Administrative area
Council of Ministers main administrative body taking decisions on key issues on territorial development, elaboration of key spatial plans and their approval
The Ministry of Architecture and construction carrying out spatial and urban planning. It elaborates and implements national spatial development policy, acts as a contracting authority for the development of comprehensive plans and projects of special planning of the national level. The Ministry is responsible for managing urban planning cadastre
Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection in charge of exploitation of natural resources and environmental protection, pursuing the state ecology policy.
State Committee on Property implements a unified state policy with regard to land relations, geodesy and mapping activities, naming of geographical objects, state registration of real estate, real estate rights and deals, property relations
"The Ministry of Economy carries out regulation and management in the area of analysis and forecast of social and economic development, develops and implements the state economic policy, fosters entrepreneurship and investments, etc.

Fact sheets

List of references


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