Russian propaganda in Belarus
Since the beginning of the protests the presence of the Russian media and its “journalists” in Belarus has significantly increased.
In order to cover the democratic character of the protests taking place in Belarus, Russian and Belarusian state-controlled media have strengthened co-operation. The Kremlin has decided to support a bloody usurper who sent OMON troops onto the streets against his own nation. Alyaksandr Lukashenka knows that his outdated propaganda machine is not able to change the protesters’ opinion about him, that is why he has invited many Russian “journalists” to help out state broadcasters. In this way, it appears that Russia is providing support to the Belarusian tyrant; in fact, the Kremlin has implemented its own strategy playing Lukashenka out in their own interest – in its geopolitical war against the West.
Many people have stopped watching media provided by the state and many Belarusian journalists have resigned, making Lukashenka even more dependent on Russia. Indeed, Belarus has always been under the strong influence of Russian propaganda, yet since the beginning of the protests the presence of the Russian media and its “journalists” in Belarus has significantly increased. Unfortunately, the Russian propaganda machine features the most sophisticated, highly developed measures of influence which reach even the most resistant of receivers.
Both in Russian and in Belarusian state media, the narrative of the western origins of the protests has become the main interpretation of the events. They warn of the Maidan-styled revolution prepared by Poland and Lithuania and try to convince Belarusians that Poland, Latvia and Lithuania want to take control over Belarusian territory. To confirm this, the government-controlled media broadcasted a speech by the former Ukrainian prime minister Mykola Azarov, saying that Belarusian protests remind him of the Maidan. It was a smart and intentional move; the Ukrainian Maidan had no positive connotation in Belarus. That could have had a negative impact on popular support of the protests.
Despite the strength of the Russian propaganda in Belarus, public support for the protests continues. What is more, Belarusians have found their own, independent way to communicate about the situation in the country. The popularity of mostly internet-based independent channels, social media platforms and messaging apps have gained popularity. Telegram accounts such as Belarus of the Brain and NEXTA have been able to gather hundreds of thousands of followers and to inform not just Belarusian society, but also the public opinion all around the world. Nevertheless, in some respects, Russian influences can still achieve their goals.
The activities of Kremlin propaganda in Belarus can be divided into four target groups: the West, Poland and the Baltic states, Ukraine and Belarus itself. This time, the traditional narrative has an important extra component to add to its credibility – NATO, by supporting the Belarusian protests, realizes its secret plan to seize Belarus from Russia. According to Russian broadcasters, the protesters, on behalf of Poland and Lithuania, want to destroy Russian heritage in Belarus and prohibit speaking Russian in Belarus. Russian media say that Poland and Lithuania support “artificial” Belarusian culture, which would be easier to Polonise in the future. The “attack” of Poland and Lithuania against Belarus and Russia took on a huge dimension amongst the narratives used by Russian propaganda.
The same is said about the EU and NATO. Belarusian state media have spread the opinion that the EU’s goal is not to support democracy and defend human rights in Belarus but to promote their own economic interest and geopolitical ambitions. Russian propaganda, cleverly referring to Belarusian historical remembrance, often compares the EU to the Third Reich; it also presents Baltic and Polish governments as fascists and authoritarians, comparing them to the pre-war regimes such as Pilsudski in Warsaw and Smetona in Kaunas. Also Ukraine is presented as a reincarnation of the Nazis. The goal of this emotionally-engaging and fact-free propaganda is to encourage the viewers that, as in 1941, Russian-speaking world is threatened by the Nazis, and the only way for Belarusians to survive is to trust and co-operate with Russia.
For the Kremlin, Belarus is an inextricable part of the Russian world. The world in which there is little place for freedom. This is one of the reasons why Russia tries to discredit Belarusians’ aspiration for freedom and their leader – Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Russian propaganda pronounces her as a puppet of Lithuania whose goal is to destroy the Slavic brotherhood between Russians and Belarusians. The Russian propaganda claims that if the protesters succeed, Belarus will be affected by “gay-european”, capitalistic way of living, with no place for traditional Belarusian values. They also say that it will be prohibited to speak Russian. The state-controlled media does not mention the fact that Russian is the main language of the protests, and that Tsikhanouskaya has officially declared that she would like to meet with Vladimir Putin. The majority of the protesters also say that they do not want Belarus to become a part of the EU; they want Belarus to be neutral and to co-operate both with Russia and with the European Union, which openly refers to the Belarusian ideas of 1991-1994.
Russian media present Belarusian culture, history and language as disgraceful. The Kremlin and its elite deny Belarusian history, they publish pseudoscientific books and reports. They do not accept the fact that Belarusians are a sovereign nation with its own history. Officially, Russia aims to rescue Belarus, surrounded by the fascists and NATO puppets. In fact, in order to achieve its ultimate goal, which is to incorporate Belarus, Russia is realising step by step its selfish strategy of destroying and discrediting Belarusian culture. Russia does not genuinely support Lukashenka, who is just a pawn in its game. He is just one of the Kremlin’s “useful idiots” who will lose Russian support as soon as he becomes dispensable.
This text was prepared based on the podcast titled „Rosyjska propaganda na Białorusi. To kampania dezinformacyjna”, and translated and written by Tomasz Kubiak.
Funding for the translation and podcast series came from a grant by NATO’s Department of Public Diplomacy, in co-operation with the “Stratpoints” Foundation for Security and Development.