Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 24

Russia’s State Television (RTV)–management of which was recently reinforced by veteran KGB officers–announced yesterday that it will soon put a joint Russian-Belarusan program on the air. The program is billed as being “sponsored by the Presidents” Boris Yeltsin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and is the first step toward creating a Russia-Belarus TV channel, as the two presidents agreed to do last year. The program’s inaugural show will feature Yeltsin and Lukashenka live and will run parallel with one on Russian state radio. Both shows will be devoted to “the continuing development of [Russia-Belarus] Union relations” and “explaining the Union and informing [citizens of both countries] about life in the fraternal republics.”

Lukashenka told RTV chief Mikhail Shvydkoy in Minsk yesterday that Belarus chose RTV as its partner “because it represents the interests of the Russian state.” Lukashenka, moreover, announced that he is about to create a second Belarusan television channel which will take over the frequencies currently used by a Russian television company, other than RTV (RTV, Russian agencies, February 3).

That “other” Russian channel, now facing extinction in Belarus, is probably ORT (Russian Public TV), in which magnate Boris Berezovsky has a substantial interest. ORT has long been critical of Lukashenka. More recently, Berezovsky has tried in vain to bridge differences with the Belarusan ruler. Among Russian television channels, only RTV and ORT are broadcast throughout Belarus. ORT is currently being pressed into bankruptcy proceedings with the apparent approval of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who is gaining influence in RTV through his former KGB colleagues there. Lukashenka has long been asking Moscow to create a joint Russian-Belarusan state channel as a means to offset the criticism of his regime which appears on most Russian channels. Primakov, while foreign minister, had repeatedly urged Russian media to go soft on Lukashenka. If Primakov, now with greater authority, continues to gain influence over the central media, Lukashenka’s wish for a special Russia-Belarus channel might lose some of its urgency.