Belarusian authorities are helpless before information and psychological attacks from Russia
Information attacks from Russia in light of tension in Russo-Belarusian relations have demonstrated Minsk’s inability to counteract them efficiently. Belarus’ costly propaganda machine was unable to act without a clear guidance from the top, while the leadership was unprepared to react promptly and set clear tasks.
While Belarusians were busy discussing the prospects of the Russian military invasion under the guise of the "West-2017" military exercise, Moscow stroke a blow with a series of information attacks.
Early February was marked by several information and psychological attacks from Russia. Russia abruptly introduced border controls at the Russo-Belarusian border, produced false reports about Belarus’ withdrawal from the CSTO and the EEU, and accused the Belarusian authorities of undermining Russia’s security, all of which destabilised Belarus’ information space and prompted discussions among politically engaged and apolitical Belarusians alike. As a result, a world, where Russia was a close and reliable ally has collapsed before the eyes of many Belarusians.
The reaction of the Belarusian authorities was frankly nervous: the Belarusian Ambassador to Russia came to the Russian television in person to provide explanations, which was unprecedented. The Belarusian authorities made very vague statements about Belarusian-Russian relations. The state media, not having any clear guidance, mostly quoted Belarusian officials: it did not have any action plan or a strategy to respond to Russian attacks. During his more than seven-hour and very chaotic speech on February 3rd, Lukashenka only confirmed that Russo-Belarusian relations were in a crisis on multiple fronts. He did not outline any prospects for the future normalization. All that only reinforced the impression of confusion among Belarusian officials.
It should be noted, that the recent information attack from Russia was a limited one. However, it was enough to demonstrate how helpless the Belarusian state propaganda was. This, in turn, could prompt the Kremlin to a large-scale operation aiming at psychological impact and misinformation against Belarus. In the given circumstances, the Belarusian authorities have only one protection tool - to restrict dissemination of information, including on the Internet.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.