Russian media increase negative coverage of Minsk’s actions
In the past six months, the Russian media has increased critical coverage of the Belarusian authorities’ actions, largely due to the conflicting positions of Putin and Lukashenko over the crisis in Ukraine. The Russian media is also outraged at the Belarusian authorities’ attempts to smooth the rift in society by somewhat strengthening national identity. According to Russian commentators, all this indicates that russophobia is growing in Belarus. As regards President Lukashenko, the Russian press has contradicting views: from harsh criticism for supporting the new Kiev authorities and betraying the so-called “Russian world”, to praising him for preventing the “colour revolutions” from spreading in the post-Soviet space.
According to REGNUM news agency, the Belarusian authorities are implementing a “soft belarusianisation” policy, which is characterised by revisionism and russophobia.
The Russian media portrays Minsk as one of the main beneficiaries of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014. Commentators underscore that Minsk gained political and economic capital, while President Lukashenko became a peacemaker in the eyes of the international community – all due to Russia’s interests in Ukraine. In particular, the Russian media underscored the Belarusian authorities’ desire to gain economic benefits amid rising tensions between the Kremlin and the West.
Russian analysts say that President Lukashenko wants to use Eurasian integration and its growing importance for the Kremlin in order to put up some barriers and create a united front with Kazakhstan against the Kremlin regarding the economic preferences. In addition, they accuse Minsk of creating a “Belarusian food off-shore” after Russia introduced sanctions on food deliveries from several countries. Meanwhile, some commentators believe that the Kremlin has sanctioned Belarus’ re-export of products to the Russian market in order to reduce the effects from the sanctions.
Also, the Russian media notes the growing exports from Belarus of bituminous mixtures and other petroleum products to the EU. They believe that Belarus thus has resumed her “grey” oil export schemes in the same manner as with solvents and diluents in 2012. Experts estimate that in 2012, thanks to exports to the EU and Ukraine of petroleum products produced from Russian oil without paying export duties, Belarus managed to gain circa USD 1.5 – 2.5 billion additional profit.
In addition, the Russian media sharply criticises the Belarusian authorities for recognising the new Kiev authorities, supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and having a negative attitude to Ukraine’s federalisation. The authorities are accused of betraying the so-called “Russian world” by supporting “the February coup” in Ukraine and the “Kiev junta”.
The Russian media also draws attention to the “soft belarusianisation” in the country, which they regard as russophobic propaganda, and the deviation from the Russian views on Belarusian history. For example, Regnum news agency reacted sharply to a discussion held on Belarusian state television about Belarus’ participation in the Franco-Russian war of 1812. During the discussion, participants expressed different views on Belarus’ role in that war than those made by Russian historians, for example, they said it was a “civil” rather than a “patriotic” war for Belarus. The Russian media has also criticised the renovation of architectural monuments and commemoration of Belarusian historical figures who are negatively evaluated by Russian history: for example, the Oginski’s estate in the Grodno region or the monument to Prince Algerd in Vitebsk. In addition, the media has called upon the Russian government and the Russian Academy of Sciences to react accordingly to the domestic policy by the authorities of “the western part of the Union State".
The Kremlin has no intention of launching another information war against the Belarusian leadership, so long as it is waiting for Belarus to ratify the EAEC founding treaty. However, it is possible that the information pressure on President Lukashenko will increase when the election period starts.
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.