Kremlin started information campaign to sow seeds of strife between Minsk and Kiev

November 28, 2016 8:36

The Kremlin has stepped up the information and political-economic pressure on the Belarusian authorities. So far, the Belarusian authorities have not thought about replacing aggressive Russian content in the Belarusian media with domestic products. The Kremlin is attempting to create difficulties for Minsk and Kyiv (and Western capitals), and devalue Belarus’ foothold as an international negotiation platform.

The Russian First Channel aired ‘Time will tell’ last week, a talk show, which discussed the influence of history on relations between Belarus and Ukraine on the one side and Russia on the other.

The Kremlin has stepped up pressure on Minsk in the information space, international and trade relations. After freezing the oil and gas dispute, Moscow started insisting that Belarus gave in some of her sovereignty and agreed to a common visa space.

The  information pressure could imply that the Kremlin is against strengthening international position of Minsk. Meanwhile, the Belarusian authorities are attempting to revive the negotiating platform over Ukraine and step up their status of a peacekeeper. Ukrainian media were alarmed by the news in the Russian and Belarusian media about the Russian Defence Ministry plans to increase cargo transportation through Belarus by 2017. Analysts pointed to this fact as a possible strengthening of the Russian military presence in Belarus. In addition, the Russian Defence Ministry’s media are attempting to build tension between Minsk and Kiev by talking about possible provocations against the Belarusian authorities from Ukraine.

Perhaps, the Russian media have stepped up criticism of the Belarusian authorities in response to the press tour for the Russian regional media organised by Belarus. Minsk used the press tour to influence public opinion in Russia and ensure a positive attitude towards the Belarusian government. Such an initiative could have been zealously interpreted in the Kremlin amid lingering tension over oil and gas in the Belarusian-Russian relations. By drawing parallels between Belarus and events in Ukraine, Russian propagandists aim to neutralize rosy perceptions of Belarus by inhabitants of the Russian province.

Nevertheless, in the case of a full-scale information war, Minsk could start censoring media content from Russia and switch on Internet filters.

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Economic growth in Belarus may be delayed until 2018
January 23, 2017 11:13
Image: Novy Chas

The Belarusian economy was shrinking for the second year in a row, in 2016, by 2.6%. Before 2015, the Belarusian economy was growing for 18 consecutive years. In order to stop the economic slump, Belarus needs a favourable international market situation and to settle all trade disputes with Russia. The Belarusian economy is unlikely to recover before 2018.

According to the preliminary reports, in 2016, Belarus had a 2.6% GDP decline. The Belarusian economy was shrinking for the second year in a row – a 3.8% decline in 2015. Most economic indicators in 2016, except in agriculture, had negative values. Wholesale trade had the most negative impact on GDP due to falling exports of potash fertilizers and petrochemicals, as well as construction, due to reduced investment in fixed assets by enterprises and decreased housing construction volumes.

In 1996-2011, the Belarusian economy was growing most rapidly, average GDP growth rate was 6.9% per year. In 2011, amid emission injections in the economy, disproportionate growth of wages against the background of low productivity and significant financial aid for loss-making agricultural, construction and industrial enterprises, the Belarusian rouble depreciated by three times. The absence of economic reforms and significant relative weight of state in the economy amid deteriorating external economic environment led to a sharp economic slowdown – circa 1% per year in 2012-2014; the slowdown was followed by the recession, caused by a slump in the prices for basic exports from Belarus and cuts in soft loans issued to maintain production volumes.

Belarus’ budget for 2017 is based on anticipated 0.2% growth. The expected decrease in the construction volume is circa 17% in 2017, which is unlikely to allow industrial growth with the renewal of fixed assets by legal entities. Even if wages grow, they will be offset by the 15% increase in utility tariffs by late 2017. Wholesale trade is largely dependent on the potash market situation and the oil processing volume at the Belarusian refineries. In view of the planned reduction in Russian oil supply in Q1 2017 to 4 million tons, wholesale growth is only possible provided the potash market situation improves. In late 2016, engineering output increased significantly, but amid the trade conflict with Russia, she may prioritise purchases from domestic manufacturers. In the given circumstances, Belarus’ GDP would only grow in 2017, provided the Russo-Belarusian dispute over energy supplies was fully resolved, Russia removed barriers for Belarusian exports and the potash market situation improved. That said, Belarus’ GDP in 2017 is likely to decrease by 0.5% - 1% and is likely to be followed by an attempt to overcome the recession in 2018.

The Belarusian economy has been in recession for two consecutive years. Amid anticipated decline in retail trade, construction and unresolved dispute over energy supplies from Russia, economic recession is likely to persist in 2017 and the economic recovery may be postponed until 2018.