09 September 2020

The Belarus front and Marshal Disinformation

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

The media war in Belarus is the only that could be carried at this time and place. Those who do not seem to be aware of it are the Minsk authorities, who are carrying their own violent, if not deadly, war (even if there were recorded a few victims only, they can be included in the “collateral loses” category) against the Minsk population, which is still on the streets and public markets. All the others, the internal media, recently backed up with Moscow “colleagues”, the international media, the Russian one, are fighting with words and images to win the battles that could bring them the victory. Having this fight arms, some are trying to keep the protesters on the streets as long as possible, to organize and convince the international public opinion, the governments of some states to apply sanctions to the government and president from Minsk. Because of the democracy, the human rights, the prearranged or stolen elections etc. The others, the official media structures from Belarus and Russia are claiming that there is a foreign intervention behind, there are dollars which go in opposition’s pockets, the historical Russian and Belorussian brotherhood, the malicious things the West is preparing, mainly Poland.

Image source: Profimedia

It is complicated!

At a first sight, the situation seems simple and clear, there is a dictator that does not want to leave the office, Aleksandr Lukashenko, and there is a country that supports him, not his country, but Putin’s Russia. Belarus position that’s right in the middle of Europe, on the direct axis between Russia and Germany, neighboring Poland and the Kaliningrad enclave, is all of a sudden making thinks all the more complicated. Belarus is a country wherein the Russian minority has a 10% presence, but where the Russian language is spoken by almost 70-80% of the population. The Belorussian language was, until Gorbachev’s perestroika, endangered, but now it is spoken especially at the countryside or within the nationalist intellectual circles. And country’s name, Belarus, is sometimes raising confusion in the West, so far used to use the term White Russia (Wit-Rusland – Netherlands, „Weißrussland” – Germany, „Vitryssland” – Sweden, „Valko-Venäjä” – Finland, „Hviderusland” – Denmark. They have started to use “Belarus” to distinguish it from Russia, because “Russ”/”Ruten” is a more complex term which includes the Eastern Slavic people, in general (Russian, Ukrainians, Byelorussians).

So, a first conclusion would be that the relations between Minsk and Moscow are, actually, strong ratlines which will hardly be destroyed, even if we will witness a foreign and internal mobilization.

Another conclusion, however, would be that Belarus is showing, through the protests which are now taking place in Minsk and in the big cities, that they have an educated civil society and that they want to get rid of a leaders that seems to come from a different time. And not only of this leader, by the system he created and who, paradoxically, does not have that many supporters in the East, in Moscow, where the Belorussian leader is more of an “asset”, a strategic one, than a partner to share ideas with.

Despite the approach differences between Moscow and Minsk, there are not other options for Russia than keeping Belarus well positioned at the other end of the ratline. Recklessly, at the beginning of this year, Lukashenko was saying, after a meeting with Putin, in Sochi, which was not that productive: “We have built these good relations [between Belarus and Russia]. We were the architects of these relations. Are we the ones to break them at the end of our political careers?

The allusion to Putin’s end of the second mandate, supposedly the last one as well, did not help him to get a better price for the cubic meter of Russian natural gases.

Luckily for Lukashenko, the Russian leader, who in the meantime learned how to get things done when it comes to the last mandate and who could turn his “favor” now, still needs him, I mean, the asset.

Therefore, he sent to Minsk an entire political, diplomatic, military and media arsenal to keep the “Belorussian front” on “Not a single step back” mode. Indeed, in a calculated manner, depending on the intensity and the tendency of the developments in the Belorussian capital.

At the moment, the “main strike direction” gets supported by the disinformation campaign wherein Moscow is committed with all its assets and it considers it all the more important as Kremlin is, most likely, thinking that scenarios like the ones used for Crimea or Donbas cannot be used two steps away from the center of Europe. But only as a last resort.

Messages, slogans, sleeping pills for protests

The propaganda work is not as simple as a word play. The hardest part is finding the tone. When one is on his camp, or close to it, like Belarus is for Russia, the “Gosinform” is just a piece of cake. Messages are similar to the ones used at home, only adapted to sound better for the Belorussian citizen, still undecided who to vote with, because the polls were closed long ago, and who can listen to his complaints.

One. Protests are provoked and organized by the West. This is the main message of the entire campaign. It is a message that has many elements:

-The US, NATO and UE want to change the regime in Belarus following their own rules;

-Western electoral observers and OSCE’s ones were the ones to make the move regarding elections’ unfairness;

-contesting the elections’ fairness is the first step towards overthrowing the regime in general;

-the Western media TV channels are instigating violent act against the law enforcement order (here, things got a little bit complicated, as the Belorussian protesters were detained in a larger number than the Ukrainians, for example. Which did not stop the “force orders” to increase the number);

Two. The main Western organizers are Poland and Lithuania. The “guilty” one for Kremlin is, in this region, Poland, which is taking advantage of this position in front of the Western allies, but now it comes along with Lithuania, a great host for the opposition’s representatives in Belarus. Both countries are presented as being interested in the developments in Minsk, as they want to disintegrate Belarus and take over some territories, as well as to get some economic objectives. Thus, Warsaw want to get back the Grodno region, which was formerly part of Poland, a few centuries ago, still being inhabited by a Polish minority.  As for Lithuania, this is the “big exit” of Belarus, through the Klapeida port, therefore being somehow entitled to have a word in Minsk’s internal affairs.

Three. The Belarus opposition and his presidential candidate are West’s puppets. The conspiracy theories, with a foreign center of gravity that is coordinating, through financial bootstraps, often, internal developments, are commonly used by the East-European states. In Moscow and, now, Minsk, this center of gravity is necessarily the in the West and, ideally, nearby the border, in order to become a realistic and trustable scenario.

The scenarios involves a bigger plan, conceived by experts and psychological operations, hired by the Psychological Centre from Budgoszcz, Poland, a civilian entity whose “guilt” is that it is nearby the NATO Center for Armament for joint operations. If these are so close one to another, they definitely cooperate in a “colored revolution” in the neighboring country to bring to power a Western marionette. Especially that they supposedly are under the control of the NATO intelligence structure and, of course, the CIA. The elections were the perfect moment to question the results and sanction Belarus. The European Union knew long before what must be done!

On Poland and Lithuania’s territories there are also three other NATO excellence centers, in the Polish units there are thousands of US military and there is also a military drill planned to take place exactly at the border with Belarus, so, let’s just stop hiding behind the wall, it was all well-organized. And the fact that the opposition candidate, Svetlana Tihanovskaia ran to Vilnius is a proof that the marionette creators brought their creation closer to directly coordinate her.

The possibility for the run to actually be a forced expulsion does not count.

Four. The country will collapse if the opposition gets the office. The peace and stability that have characterized the last two decades of Belarus' recent history could come to a catastrophic end if the "irresponsible" opposition could come to power. Invoking an apocalyptic perspective of "tomorrow" is part of the arsenal, spiced with a few propagandistic additions:

● those who protest today will be the unemployed and the street people of tomorrow, reaping what they have sown;

● the country will have the “Polish future” and will become a branch of big international corporations;

● "wild neoliberalism" will take control of the lives of Belarusian citizens;

● Belarus will join the "poor belt" of Eastern Europe, which is good for supporting Western and agricultural Europe.

Of course, the Polish GDP per capita, double than that of Belarus, it not mentioned, because it made out of exploitation.

Five. The future of Belarus is only, that is only, with Russia. At this point, which crowns the demonstration that there is hope in Minsk, even though the West has stuck its tail, one can refer to Lukashenko, the president who was not always a fanof Kremlin, thinking, from time to time, that "playing two heads” can be an advantageous occupation. It seems that it was not the case. Alexander was betrayed by the West, so "come, home, darling" / "иди домой дорогой" / "idi damoi, daragoi"!

The call is not for the president, anyhow his options for such a scenario are limited, but for the Republic of Belarus, which, if someone forgot, is part of the Russia-Belarus Union, a kind of common state that, if necessary, can behave as such.

Here, the Kremlin propaganda has interesting tendencies:

● Belarus is almost surrounded by hostile forces;

● Lukashenko is “our man”, but we are not ready to support him to the extremes, if he does not make a move too ...;

● what happened is a result of the so-called “Belarusian separatism”. The Belarusians are, in fact, Russians, times and policies have separated them, especially in the last century, but the nation is one only, made up of Russians, Belarusians and, let's not forget, Ukrainians. The power lies in unification, or union, and the liberal ideology only deceives and convinces them not only that they are not Russians, but that they are, must be, if they are to be recognized in the West, anti-Russians;

● after the post-election “agitation”, Russia may be interested in some economic reforms in Belarus (yes, it is an independent country, but these are details!), and Lukashenko is not a catalyst, on the contrary, some things could go even further well without him. The Moscow spokesmen’ messages are confusing, showing that the action plan has not yet been decided in Moscow. If Lukashenko finds a solution to present himself as (still) the winning option, the better. For the time being, he, in a press conference, raised the status of bilateral relations from "partnership" to "fraternal" and also explained why, for a while, he looked to the West "to ensure the survival and salvation of the country" through a "multi-vector" policy. It was not to be, Alexander admitted, returning to the "single vector" and "big brother." We will see if the message from Minsk was convincing.

The calm before the Union

After all, that is why there is so much peace in Moscow in terms of practical, political or economic actions, maybe even military, and that is why there is so much agitation in terms of messages, when it comes to informing citizens by misinforming them:

● the situation is not treated as being out of control, although the Minsk leader has lost his internal credibility, especially in front of those intellectuals who give weight to regimes: teachers, artists, workers in top technical fields in state-owned companies or subsidiaries of international corporations, students;

● even for Moscow, Alexandr Lukashenko is vulnerability, but solving it takes time and identifying a person on a profile that suits both camps. The fact that Lukashenko has long had an image problem in Russia is illustrated by a joke uttered by a Russian comedian, Maxim Galkin, right in the presence of the Belarusian leader, about four years ago: "During a storm, a plane crashes in ocean. The three leaders on board, Obama, Putin and Lukashenko, are rescued by an inflatable boat. The boat has two pairs of oars. «"I am the leader of the world. I'm not rowing", says Obama. "I am the leader of a nuclear power, I am not rowing either", Putin continued. "Let's vote", Lukashenko demanded. After a while, the boat begins to move on the ocean, the two leaders, Obama and Putin, are rowing. Obama, between two strokes, asks his rowing colleague puzzled: «Volodea, how is it possible? There are three of us in the boat and Alexandr got four votes!»”;

● integrating the system built by Lukashenko around a new power structure will be done without problems. The crisis has demonstrated its unity and intention to survive. However, the only option for those linked to the current power in Minsk is to remain in Moscow’s orbit, which seems to be an option for a large part of the population. Russia will probably like to direct the anger of the protests at the person of Alexander Lukashenko, on the one hand, and on the other hand, to put him in front of the fact that the only help can only come from the Kremlin and is conditional: accepting an integrative union with Russia, which would turn Belarus almost into an entity of the Russian Federation.

For Moscow, the crisis in Belarus can be, despite all that is going on, an opportunity, a solution to get rid of/to kneel a stubborn leader, a little brother when he signed, in 1997, the Treaty establishing the Russia - Belarus Union, hoping, however, that he would become the older brother after Yeltsin's departure, on a potential principle of rotation to the presidency of the Union. Unfortunately, this did not happen and the principle of rotation did not work - if it ever worked - with Putin came to power. So he became, again, the little brother, even smaller now, placed somewhere in a corner in center of Europe, only have a view at the East. Russia is impatient, most likely Putin is waiting for his Belarus homologue back to Sochi for a hockey game.

Winter is coming.

Translated by Andreea Soare