Russian media increase negative coverage of Minsk’s actions

April 22, 2016 18:58

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.

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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.