The Kremlin is using soft power to ensure pro-Russian moods in Belarus

April 22, 2016 19:40

The Kremlin is attempting to use soft power, i.e. public diplomacy and pro-Kremlin NGOs to strengthen pro-Russian moods in the Belarusian society. In addition, amid redistribution of languishing Russian state budget, Russian ideologists have stepped up their media efforts to promote their propaganda activity in Belarus. In the absence of a strong pro-Russian political alternative in Belarus, Russia regards President Lukashenka as the guarantor of the Russian footprint in Belarus.

Next week in Moscow, Belarusian politicians and public figures, scientists and experts will take part in the international conference "BeloRussian dialogue”.

Russian ideologists specialising on Belarus have launched an aggressive campaign in the Russian media in an attempt to influence public opinion in Russia regarding ongoing processes in Belarus. While doing so, they have attempted to use the same mechanisms and ideological myths about Belarusians, which were used to mobilize pro-Kremlin patriotic electorate during the antic-Kyiv propaganda campaign.

Marginal Russian propaganda information resources have long exploited the theme of growth of ‘nationalistic trends in Belarus in recent years’. Leading Russian media frequently pointed to the Russian audiences that the interest in national symbols, culture and history had strengthened in Belarus.

While habitually criticising the Belarusian "pro-Western" opposition, Russian media propaganda has focused on the fact that the Belarusian authorities and their opponents had allied in promoting national features. Russian propagandists not only have criticised the Belarusian authorities’ ‘Belarusization’ initiatives, but also some of the country’s senior officials – mostly Belarusian pro-Western Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey. Meanwhile, they regard Lukashenka as the guarantor of Belarus remaining in the orbit of the ‘Russian world’.

In all odds, pro-Kremlin ideologues specializing on Belarus, are counting on strengthening their positions during the redistribution of resources from the sequestered Russian budget. Interestingly, many ideas used by the Russian media to describe the rise of ‘nationalistic trends’ in Belarus were presented as a research paper in October 2015 at the international conference "Russophobia and the information war against Russia”, held in Moscow with the support of the "People’s Diplomacy", a Russian Foundation for the development of civil society institutions. That said, the research paper accused the "old" groups of the Russian cultural policy failure and proposed to dismiss them and hire a new squad from the “People’s Diplomacy”.

In the same month, the research paper was disseminated at the 5th International Forum "Leader of the XXI century" in Minsk, which was attended by Shevtsov, an MP and Chechukevich, First Secretary of the Minsk Committee of the Youth Union.

Some pro-Kremlin initiatives in Belarus have already developed an ideological justification why Belarus belonged to the "Russian world" and gained supporters. Nevertheless, until now Moscow was unable to build a serious pro-Russian political movement in Belarus. Top Belarusian officials have prevented this from happening so as they aspire to continue negotiating with the Kremlin elite directly.

Nevertheless, Russia is likely to review her cultural policy vis-à-vis Belarus (and other CIS countries too), but the shape of the new policy will depend on who wins the internal struggle in Russia. For instance, the "old" Kremlin groups are attempting to expand contacts with independent Belarusian civil society and the opposition. Many prominent opposition politicians and experts were invited to the international conference "BeloRussian Dialogue" in Moscow. Among others, the event will be attended by the highest ranking opposition politician and former presidential candidate Tatsiana Karatkevich, economist and former presidential candidate in 2010 Yaroslav Romanchuk, and other representatives of the independent media and NGOs.

In the near future, the Kremlin is unlikely to launch the "information war" against Minsk officials and President Lukashenka. However, the Belarusian leadership will zealously monitor and curb any attempts by the Kremlin to create alternative pro-Russian centres in Belarus.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.