Belarus is a landlocked country located in Eastern Europe. The country is almost entirely flat with little in terms of geographic barriers or protective features. Belarus' borders to the east with Russia and to the west with Poland and Lithuania are virtually wide open. One exception though is the Pripet Marshes on its southern border with Ukraine. Due to the lack of these barriers and the presence of more powerful states in the region, Belarus has been historically a difficult independent state to sustain. Belarus sits in the North European Plain, the geopolitical superhighway of Europe. This is the area that has historically been the prominent invasion route of European powers like Germany and France into Russia and vice versa. Russia took control of Belarus from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 18th century, incorporating it into the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union. Belarus was subject to Nazi occupation during WWII, in which the country lost more than 25 percent of its population, but then was reincorporated into the Soviet Union with the Germans’ defeat.The 20 years of independence since the fall of the Soviet Union is the longest Belarus has known in its modern history, but it still in many ways serves as a de facto buffer state between Russia and Europe. Belarus was one of the most industrialized republics of the Soviet Union, and it still maintains a large industrial base centered in its capital city of Minsk. Belarus has fertile agricultural lands and is one of the world's leading producers of potash and other fertilizers. It is also a key trade and transit hub for Russian energy to Europe, making the country an enduring focus of competition between Russia and the West.