Lithuanian lands were united under MINDAUGAS in 1236; over the next century, through alliances and conquest, Lithuania extended its territory to include most of present-day Belarus and Ukraine. By the end of the 14th century Lithuania was the largest state in Europe. An alliance with Poland in 1386 led the two countries into a union through the person of a common ruler. In 1569, Lithuania and Poland formally united into a single dual state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This entity survived until 1795 when its remnants were partitioned by surrounding countries. Lithuania regained its independence following World War I but was annexed by the USSR in 1940 - an action never recognized by the US and many other countries. On 11 March 1990, Lithuania became the first of the Soviet republics to declare its independence, but Moscow did not recognize this proclamation until September of 1991 (following the abortive coup in Moscow). The last Russian troops withdrew in 1993. Lithuania subsequently restructured its economy for integration into Western European institutions; it joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004.
Lithuania gained membership in the World Trade Organization and joined the EU in May 2004. Despite its EU accession, Lithuania's trade with its Central and Eastern European neighbors, and Russia in particular, accounts for a significant share of total trade. Foreign investment and business support have helped in the transition from the old command economy to a market economy. Lithuania's economy grew on average 8% per year for the four years prior to 2008 driven by exports and domestic demand. Lithuania''s GDP plunged nearly 15% in 2009. The three former Soviet Baltic republics were among the hardest hit by the 2008-09 financial crisis. The government''s efforts to attract foreign investment, to develop export markets, and to pursue broad economic reforms has been key to Lithuania''s quick recovery from a deep recession, making Lithuania one of the fastest growing economies in the EU. Lithuania is committed to meeting the Maastricht criteria to join the euro zone, which the government expects to achieve by 2015. Under the Conservative Party''s leadership, Lithuania raised the monthly minimum wage in 2012 nearly 25% over 2011. Despite government efforts, unemployment - at 13.2% in 2012 - remains high.