In a series of moves that may come as a surprise to those accustomed to viewing Belarus as the closest and inalienable ally of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has taken a series of steps to block Russian propaganda from flowing into his country. These policies, designed to defend Lukashenka’s regime as well as his country, conspicuously echo those being taken by Ukraine and Latvia. And as one Russian commentator recently argued, they represent the de facto establishment of an “anti-Russian information” cordon sanitaire to the west of the Russian Federation (, January 14, 2018).
In his January 14 article in Regnum, commentator Yuri Baranchik describes three court cases: one in Ukraine, one in Latvia and one in Belarus. These examples remarkably resemble one another in that each is about imposing bans or even prison sentences on individuals serving as Moscow’s propagandists. In Belarus, for instance, three Regnum journalists face serious prison time if the court there returns, as expected, a guilty verdict against them.
What Russians see in all three of these former Soviet republics now, Baranchik claims, are attacks on journalists and analysts who seek to promote friendship among the peoples of these countries. The Belarusian magistracy’s charges against three Russian journalists, he maintains, are exactly the same as the charges that the Ukrainian Security Service and the Latvian Security Police have brought against journalists and experts in those countries. And that suggests, according to the Regnum contributor, that this is being “coordinated to follow one and the same scenario.”
Indeed, one can say, Baranchik continues, that “Belarus today stands in the same ranks with neo-Banderite Ukraine and Russophobic Latvia [sic]” and that these cases against journalists and experts are only the harbinger of more moves against Russian media, the Russian language and Russia itself. Two days ago, for example, Minsk declared that Belarusian will become the language of command in the Belarusian military, something that does not make sense if Belarus is going to remain part of the Union State with Russia, he suggests. That move enjoys significant popular support among Belarusians who see it as a necessary part of Minsk’s efforts to overcome the Soviet past in the Armed Forces and especially the crimes of dedovshchina, the abuse of junior soldiers by their seniors.
Baranchik asserts that all this is evidence that Lukashenka has given in to Belarusian nationalists and is quite prepared to push the notion that the Belarusian nation has been subject to oppression by “ ‘Russian imperialism’ ” rather than being part of a single “Russian World” (Russkiy mir). And “together with its southern and northern neighbors, [Minsk] is openly working against the Russian World together with our opponents led by the United States and Great Britain, and under their leadership is carrying out one strike after another against the Russian World and the unity of the Russian and Belarusian peoples” by stirring up “inter-ethnic hostility” (, January 14, 2018).
Moscow has not taken a tough line against these actions in Belarus, Baranchik says; and consequently, “the opponents of Russia see that Moscow cannot force even its closest ‘ally’ to behave properly.” As a result, tomorrow, not only in Belarus but elsewhere, “Russian television channels will be closed, and the day after that, Russia will be accused of stirring up inter-ethnic hatreds.” Baranchik’s fears are almost certainly overblown. Russian remains the dominant language in Belarusian cities and the educational system. It is the language Belarusian leaders like Lukashenka most often use. And Minsk has not blocked Russian television in any systematic way. But there definitely is a sea change in Belarusian attitudes that disturbs many in Moscow.
Evidence for that abounds. As Svetlana Alexiyevich, the Belarusian author who received the Nobel Prize for literature in 2015, declared last year, the national idea of Belarusians today is to have their own independent state that uses its own language rather than the language of another (, August 13, 2017). And one of the reasons for that is that Russian propaganda has been so crude that it has alienated the Belarusian people. During last fall’s Zapad 2017 exercise, a Russian military commentator declared that Belarusians are “dreaming” of being absorbed by Russia (, September 11, 2017). Not only is such an assertion completely untrue, but it has in fact had the effect of leading ever more Belarusians to think that they might be better off as part of the West rather than subordinated to Moscow (, September 9, 2017).
Of course, Belarusian officials continue to insist, at least in public, that they are Russia’s best friends. Last week, for example, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei told China’s Xinhua news agency that Belarus is a “strategic partner” of Russia (, January 5, 2018). But Makei’s words, Baranchik says, are nothing but “an open and bold lie,” given what his government is doing at home against Russian journalists ” (, January 14, 2018). Of course, the Russian commentator does not want to acknowledge the simple fact that Minsk has little choice but to say such things, however much at odds they are with what they and the Belarusian people themselves believe and want. As such, Baranchik apparently fails to understand that the more people from Moscow attack Belarus and Belarusians for their desire to be an independent nation, the more attractive that goal will become.