This week on The World Tonight we are looking in depth at Belarus - the country of 10 million people between Russia and Poland, that's been run by its authoritarian President, Alexander Lukashenko, for the past 14 years.
Gabriel Gatehouse has been reporting on the quality of life; the first moves to privatisation; and assessing the prospects for liberalisation of the political scene.
In many ways Belarus has changed less since the collapse of the USSR than any of its neighbours, including Russia. The Belarus government has been heavily criticised by the West - both the European Union and the United States - who accuse Mr Lukashenko of repression of his political opponents and human rights abuses.
The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, has called Belarus "the last dictatorship in Europe" and an "outpost of tyranny" and both Washington and Brussels have imposed sanctions on the country.
This weekend, parliamentary elections will be held which are not expected to be free and fair and unlikely to bring much change to an assembly packed with supporters of the president. So are Western governments calling for free elections? Well, yes of course. Are they talking tough with Mr Lukashenko? Well, no.
We live in interesting times. The US recently sent a senior State Department official to Minsk for talks on improving relations and lifted some sanctions and the EU is now discussing relaxing sanctions on Minsk too.
So what has changed? The answer seems to lie in geopolitics, rather than any significant change inside Belarus.
Mr Lukashenko used to be a close ally of Moscow, until the Russians said they wanted Belarus to start paying market rates for its gas imports, this has led to some rethinking in Minsk. Then in August, the Georgia-Russia conflict flared and Western countries reacted with alarm at Moscow's new assertiveness.
Coincidentally or not, it's since that conflict that the West has been making its overtures to Belarus and Mr Lukashenko has responded by releasing some prominent political detainees, including the man who ran against him in the last presidential election.
Some observers say the EU and US are warming to Belarus because they see the chance to drive a wedge between Minsk and Moscow and weaken Russia's attempt to re-establish its traditional sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.