Belarus attempts to revise its information policy
The Belarusian propaganda machine was unable to effectively neutralise the aggressive propaganda campaign by the Russian media. However, Belarus’ state-run media have started developing mechanisms to counteract information pressure from the Kremlin. Ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign, the Belarusian authorities seek to strengthen information control in Belarus and to reduce the influence of the Russian media in shaping public opinion.
Amid events in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities seek to increase control over the Belarusian information space. Belarusian media were unprepared to counteract Russian propaganda, and to shape and promote their own position concerning the Russo-Ukrainian crisis.
A statement made by the Russian Ambassador to Belarus, Alexander Surikov, was indicative of this situation. In his opinion, Lukashenko’s position as regards the Russo-Ukrainian crisis differs from that of Belarusian public opinion.
Russia’s anti-Ukrainian propaganda in the media has undoubtedly had a significant influence on Belarusian public opinion, which supports Russian aggression in Ukraine. According to opinion polls survey by IISEPS, in March Lukashenko’s popular rating increased amid events in Ukraine, however, this growth was influenced by euphoria about Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Despite the fact that President Lukashenko has repeatedly voiced his stance on the Russo-Ukrainian crisis, which differs from Russia’s position, the Belarusian state media have been unable to make it dominant in Belarus’ public space.
In addition, the Belarusian authorities are beginning to realise that the Kremlin no longer controls the increasing imperialistic ambitions in Russian society and the growing demand for its expansionist policy, especially with regard to Ukraine. Even the editor of the largest state-run newspaper in Belarus, Pavel Yakubovich, rather sharply commented on the war hysteria stirring up in Russian society, “teach a fool to bow with grace and he would fall flat on his face. Those who had the patience on Tuesday night to watch the Moscow programme ‘Special Correspondent’ with Mamontov to the very end could verify the accuracy of the aphorism”. The voiced criticism of the Russian position on Ukraine in the Belarusian state media was certainly coordinated with the Belarusian authorities.
Simultaneously, the Belarusian leadership has begun to review the state information policy and is reshuffling information managers. For example, Lukashenko dismissed the Information Minister Proleskovsky and replaced the spokesperson in his Administration.
In addition, state-run media have started a series of publications about Belarus’ long-term development prospects. For example, Presidential Aide Rudy proposed to revise the socio-economic model, which no longer ensured development: “I believe that to advance development, it is important not only to increase competitiveness of old industries, but also to collect fruits from the new ones”.
Ahead of the 2015 Presidential campaign, the Belarusian authorities will attempt to weaken the Russian media’s influence in Belarus and will revise the state media’s information policy, allowing for some pluralism in a public debate about socio-economic development. However, the environment for the independent media will not be mitigated or changed.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.