Russia ramps up information pressure on Belarus over Ukraine
The authorities in Minsk are not yielding to diplomatic pressure from the Kremlin over their independent stance in the Russo-Ukrainian crisis. While the Belarusian authorities have slightly mitigated their position, they still criticise the Eurasian Economic Union founding treaty, signed in late May. Information pressure on Belarus has been stepped up in order to heighten tension between Belarus and Ukraine.
Last week, President Lukashenko met with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Minsk.
During the meetings, the Foreign Ministers of Russia and Belarus had four major issues on the table: bilateral relations, cooperation within international organisations, cooperation within the Union State, and within the Eurasian Economic Union. The parties also discussed the crisis in Ukraine, which, presumably, topped their agenda.
With his visit, Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov aimed to prompt Belarus to review her assessments of the Russo-Ukrainian crisis and to reconcile her positions with those of the Kremlin’s over events in south-eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin managed to mitigate Belarus’ criticism of the Eurasian integration. As regards events in Ukraine, Belarusian diplomats have not made any public statements, which could imply the success of the Lavrov’s mission.
Overall, Belarus’ Foreign Minister Makei positively assessed the EaEU founding treaty: “perhaps, each participant in the process was not entirely happy with the end result at this stage, and we believe that the current agreement in substance does not quite match the initially declared goals”. In addition, President Lukashenko spoke in subdued tones about the need to hold a joint Russo-Belarusian Ministerial Council “in order to make some corrections, in particular, as regards the Eurasian Economic Union activities”.
As regards the Russo-Ukrainian crisis, Russian Foreign Minister has only succeeded in making Belarus’ officials disapprove of the outburst against Putin by Acting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Deshchytsa and mouth general phrases about the need to resolve the crisis in Ukraine by peaceful means.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian media, with reference to Russian sources, published several news pieces discrediting Belarus’ authorities. For instance, during Lavrov’s visit to Minsk, a taped conversation - allegedly between Lukashenko and Viktor Yanukovich’s son requesting asylum for his father in Belarus - was leaked on the internet. The Belarusian authorities have not reacted with official statements to this information, with the only exception of a comment by the president’s assistant, Natalia Petkevich: “neither I nor the Belarusian president had any conversations with Yanukovich’s sons. Given the current level of technology development, anything can be simulated anytime”.
Meanwhile, a Russian prankster with the nick-name Vovan222 confirmed that he had set up the Belarusian president. He claimed however that the audio recording, which was published on the internet, was made by someone else, not him.
It is worth noting that some topics raised in the audio recording were presented from the Kremlin’s propaganda viewpoint. For example, the Belarusian president was prompted to recognise today’s Lugansk and Donetsk regions as a new state – “Novorussia” ["New Russia"] – led by former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
In addition, right after Lavrov’s visit to Belarus, the Ukrainian media picked up information that Belarus’ military airfields might host Russian nuclear bombers Tu-160. Most likely, this was yet another hoax aiming at creating tension in Belarusian-Ukrainian relations.
Despite the fact that the Kremlin has started using the information war tools, the Belarusian leadership attempts to maintain an independent stance in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. However, Belarus’ total dependence on Russia prevents her from finding adequate solutions to the Kremlin’s propaganda pressure.
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.