Politically colour-blind Moscow sees Belarusian revolution in Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian colours.
The revolution of freedom in Belarus, which has attracted the attention of the whole world for the third week in a row, is currently one of the main topics in Russian media as well. Independent and pro-democratic media platforms, which operate under strong administrative pressure from the state, convey true and unbiased information to their modest audience.
These authors express sympathy with the struggle of Belarusians against the bloody tyrant who, after the massive falsification of the presidential election and the expulsion of the real winner abroad, sent OMON troops onto the streets against protesting voters.
While independent pro-democratic Russian media platforms present a fairly adequate picture of what is happening in the neighbouring state and bring their Russian audience closer to the unimaginable human tragedy and incredible civic courage of Belarusians, pro-government media with a clear advantage in Russia’s media space (better technical capacities and a much broader audience) have de facto sided with the dictator, who though politically defeated, is still in control of a functional repressive apparatus.
Russia is losing Belarus
The main angle of many pro-government media reporting on events in Minsk and other Belarusian cities is Russia’s possible “loss” of the “brotherly Slavic” country. Everything else – decades of harsh dictatorship and repression, rigged elections, the human rights of Belarusians, mass beatings, torturing and imprisonment of protesters – elicits no comparable response as reflections on whether Russia will “lose” Belarus or maintain it in its geopolitical orbit, preferably also under its military control.
With such an optic, the horrors of the post-election atrocities of the Lukashenko regime fade into the background. What is the suffering (however strong) of ordinary citizens, individuals, before the majesty of the state’s interests, whether it is the current Russian Federation led by Putin or a “union state” whose existence should be at least some kind of compensation for “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century – the disintegration of the USSR” (copyright Putin).
In the future perhaps also the renewed “thousand-year-old“ Russian statehood, composed of Great, Small and White Russia.
However, there was one problem with the Russian pro-government media coverage of the Belarusian freedom revolution from the very beginning.
The bloody battles started by “gestapo-guys“ from the local OMON were reported on television somewhat “modestly”, omitting the most brutal instances, or seeking to cover OMON’s crimes in newspapers less dramatically, in a “balanced” way, pointing to the alleged aggression on the other side, at the actions of the protesting opponents of Lukashenko.
Yet, even with such a “balanced” approach, it was not entirely possible to conceal the vast and national-level scale of demonstrations, rallies, strikes, marches and other actions of resistance to Lukashenko, expressions of mutual solidarity that flooded all of Belarus despite the regime’s brutality.
This could not be completely concealed, hidden or replaced. Full squares, endless human chains along the way, assemblies of striking workers – this could not be not shown, but it was necessary to somehow explain it away, give some interpretation, invent a legend.
Propaganda symbiosis between Lukashenko and Moscow
Such a legend was born as part of the “creative cooperation” of Moscow propaganda with the Belarusian dictator. Its main outlines were not so original – everything is the fault of the West, which has intervened in Belarusian affairs, coordinating the opposition from its borders via its satellites, and manipulating citizens in order to separate Belarus from its most natural historical ally – Russia.
The doubting of Lukashenko, which the Russian propaganda apparatus has sometimes resorted to in the past for his “playing” with the West, is irreversibly gone. Today, Lukashenko is again “ours” and is in danger from the West (from the same West with which he recently played his games).
It is entirely possible that the notes for this “symphony” were written and arranged in Moscow, later rehearsed and sounded by Lukashenko after recovering a little from the horror that gripped him when he found out that practically the whole country rejected him after the rigged elections, the “concert” then continued by the Moscow authors themselves through Russian information troops.
They were transported directly to Minsk in the form of a unit of propagandists and editors, who replaced unreliable local cadres in the Belarusian state media, some of whom decided to abandon the dictator’s sinking ship.
The state media in Minsk began to publish original versions of materials taken from the service of the Russian propaganda television Russia Today, directly and without editorial changes.
In Russia itself, in the pro-government media, the narrative of the Western origins of the Belarusian protests has become the main line of interpretation. However, the traditional, notorious narrative this time had an important specific component to add to its credibility – that the former Eastern bloc countries – Poland, the Baltic states (including Lithuania) and Ukraine are the main actors of the West’s diabolical plan to seize Belarus from Russia.
In particular, the “aggression” of Poland and Lithuania against Belarus took on a monstrous dimension amongst the narratives used by Russian propaganda. According to this narrative, the intention of both countries is not to support democracy and defend the human rights of Belarusians, but to promote their own selfish interests – long-term geopolitical ambitions, those inherited from the past and their current economic interests.
And the not quite sane Lukashenko, encouraged by the advice of Russian “spin-doctors”, even repeats that the protests are a preparation for a military invasion from both neighbouring states, speaking without blinking about the rumble of foreign tank crawler-belts on the borders with Poland and Lithuania.
European active measures
Poland is under the constant focus of Russian media attention, as a country that allegedly wants to harm Russia at all costs, especially when the opportunity arises. And it is said that it emerged in Belarus right now. Moscow’s pro-government media is full of information about the “Polish footprint” in Belarusian events. This line ultimately corresponds to how Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, interpret developments in Belarus.
Exotic versions of Polish intervention appeared. Veteran of the Russian special forces (“spetsnaz”) Sergey Kozlov claims in an article in the Moscow daily Vzgljad (entitled ‘Behind the riots in Belarus, the ears of Polish special services are sticking out’) that “the real organisers, as in the years of the Ukrainian Maidan, are clearly abroad. There is reason to believe that among these organizers is the Polish military structure, namely the Central Group of Psychological Operations located in Bydgoszcz.”
According to the author, “this structure does not officially figure anywhere, naturally. However, at present, the Polish internet sources Nexta and Nexta Life are actively circulating fake news in order to stir up the situation in Belarus.”
Kozlov is convinced that “the detention of employees of a Russian private military company (the so-called “wagnerians” – G.M.) in Belarus was organised by the Polish special services and carried out by the Ukrainian special services (which are under the supervision of Poland)”.
The author creates an imaginary arc between the current protests in Belarus and Ukrainian Maidan, thus indicating what could happen in Minsk: “According to my information obtained from an active employee of Russian special services, the actual work in Kiev on Maidan was carried out by specialists from Polish special forces who dealt with organisational issues of the protests. Among other things, they were the ones who organised the provocation when the snipers started firing at the parties fighting each other.”
The power of the Polish lords
In the same newspaper, Gevorg Mirzajan, associate professor at the University of Finance, points to Poland’s crucial role in the article ‘Will Poland be able to overthrow the President of Belarus?’ He sees Polish policy as a long-term strategy: “Warsaw is trying to secure its role in Europe as a “supervisor” and even as a “leader” in the region.
Poles positioned themselves as the main experts on the “Eastern Area” and defined the region itself as an area of their economic, cultural and political influence… Not to mention that “pro-European Belarus” was to become an advanced base for Poland against Russia” The author has no doubt that Ukraine is assisting Poland in subversive activities in Belarus. In another article, he even accuses Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky of “arranging the sending of Ukrainian fighters to the protests in Minsk.”
The daily Komsomolskaya Pravda is also convinced that Poland’s intention is to turn Belarus into an anti-Russian bastion. It gives the telling titles to its article on Belarus, such as ‘Why Moscow is silently watching when Poland seizes Belarus’, ‘Polish Central Group of Psychological Operations is working on Belarus’ or ‘Poland will finance the media in Belarus’.
One of these articles states that Poland wants to create a bloc of hostile states against Russia (Poland itself, the Baltic states, Ukraine, now even Belarus), while “such a format will make it possible to formulate the long-term intentions of Polish nationalists in the most feasible form – “Poland from sea to sea” … Warsaw will play a dominant role in this mini-bloc and will determine virtually everything, just like the United States in NATO today.”
The daily Sovetskaya Rossiya outlines the dark future of Belarus in this context: “Belarusian revolutionaries stand with the Polish red and white flag in front of the Russian embassy between a glass of vodka and a cup of coffee.
Therefore, there can be no revolution, but only a mess that, even if Lukashenko is swept away, will lead to the complete collapse of the state and its new dependence on Polish-European lords.”
The Baltic states are also often mentioned in the Russian pro-government media as co-initiators of the unrest in Belarus. Lithuania leads it sovereignly. The winner of the presidential election, Sviatlana Tsichanouskaya, “fled” to Lithuania (in fact, she was actually deported by Lukashenko’s agents).
Lithuania was the first EU member state to ban the Belarusian dictator from entering its territory, leading Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova to comment: “Bravo! The Belarusian authorities have received a bulletproof argument confirming the West’s involvement in interfering in Belarus’ internal affairs.”
However, behind the Lithuanian support for the Belarusian freedom revolution, the Russian media sees above all the intention to seize the opportunity and to prevent the operation of the Belarusian nuclear power plant, to initiate EU sanctions against Belarus for this project.
RIAFAN news agency claims that “this is an ideal situation for Lithuania – to link its own fight with the Belarusian nuclear power plant to the EU’s common position on the Belarusian elections”. Prominent political propagandist Sergei Markov, close to Putin, ironizes on the portal of the same agency the position of Lithuania: “Lithuania is very offended. Lithuanians now look like complete idiots!
At Brussels’ request, they closed the Vilnius nuclear power plant to “prevent damage”, and now the Belarusians have built their own power plant in virtually the same place!”
Moscow expert Nikolai Mezhevich from the Russian Academy of Sciences told RIAFAN that Lithuania was the state that was involved in the coup attempt in Belarus, as it was said that an “alternative government” had emerged on its territory.
Grand Dukes who became ideological bastions of the West
However, in addition to Lithuania’s sabotage intentions related to the nuclear power plant, he also sees an internal political dimension: “Vilnius’ attitude towards Minsk has been known to everyone for a long time: it is ready to shut down the Belarusian nuclear power plant at all costs, and if the overthrow of the government requires it, the government will be overthrown. At any cost, because it is about the survival of the political coalition that is now operating in Lithuania.”
In another interview published in the daily Izvestiya, Mezhevich points out the historical background of the current activities of the Lithuanian leadership. According to him, “in Lithuania they dream of transforming Belarus into their mandate territory. To do this, they use their own interpretation of history, reminiscent of a common state – the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.”
Another Moscow expert, Vladimir Shapovalov, reflects in the same newspaper that Lithuania’s alleged high level of involvement in Belarus’s internal development is related to its efforts to compete with Poland: “Lithuania has not become a successful façade of post-socialist and post-Soviet change.
For certain reasons, Poland became this façade. Vilnius now believes that a possible transformation in Belarus is a chance for the republic. It is a chance to show that Lithuania is not an ordinary subsidised territory, but a country that can act as an ideological and political bastion of the Western world.”
Remarkable colour blindness
In the many narratives about the causes of the Belarusian uprising against the dictatorship, spread by the Russian pro-government media, there are many conspiratorial reflections on the presence of a foreign hand – Western, Polish, Lithuanian or Ukrainian.
Deep-rooted anti-Western and xenophobic stereotypes cause Russian propagandists a special kind of political colour blindness: instead of Belarusian national colours, they see Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian colours in the background of the revolution in Minsk and other Belarusian cities.
— Jake Hanrahan (@Jake_Hanrahan) August 30, 2020
It is not surprising, therefore, that the narrative closest to the truth today is missing in Moscow’s pro-regime media – that after more than a quarter of a century of tyranny, Belarusians resist to injustice, oppression and violence, and that they finally want to live in free and dignified conditions worthy of citizens of a modern European state.
This article is the eighth of a monthly series called “Central Europe in the mirror of Russian media“ run by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) and the supported by the Open Information Partnership. It is also available in Slovak on Denník N.