In our previous analysis, “How state propaganda gives leverage to external forces,” we examined how the Belarusian authorities are trying to create the appearance of an external threat and are using it to mobilize within the country. The most striking example are the mysterious “militants” preparing a “massacre” Alexander Lukashenko spoke of at the beginning of June. Now the authorities are trying to sell this horror story for export, primarily to Russia. Judging by the reaction of the Kremlin, it is true that Russia does not want to associate itself with the organization of a false Maidan and possible blood spilled in Minsk and completely shifts all responsibility for what is happening to the Belarusian authorities.
Constructing a picture of a Belarusian “Maidan”
Monitoring of Belarusian state media and social networks shows active promotion of the topic of “Maidan,” which, of course, must be ruthlessly suppressed. Here, for example, the Telegram channel of the state news agency “Belta” is distributing anonymous provocative material called “Who is preparing the Maidan in Belarus.” Official media have been circulating Alexander Lukashenko’s statements about this threat for a long time.
The forceful dismantling of the authoritarian regime has become one of the primary bogeys in the post-Soviet space where authoritarian regimes dominate. “Color revolutions” materialize to rulers through any action of civil society. Alexander Lukashenka is no exception, but over the last month he has made the threat of “Maidan” a key point in his election campaign.
The authorities started talking about this violent scenario following the arrest of the main “street” politician Sergei Tikhanovsky at the very beginning of the election campaign. At that time, there was no “Bagration plan” from Maxim Shabutsky, nor any mention of certain Moscow puppeteers. Alexander Lukashenko personally introduced the topic of armed confrontation into official media circulation.
“In the end, no one knows how my friend Rakhmon entered the capital of Tajikistan with a machine gun to restore order. So many people died there. Oh, how they fought with those bearded men. We have forgotten how former President Karimov in Andijan crushed the putsch by shooting thousands of people. Everyone condemned him when he died – they knelt, wept, and cried. We have not gone through this, so we do not want to understand it. Some of us. Well, we’ll remind you!” he said on June 4.
Warnings about “Maidan” rained down throughout the election campaign, and at meetings with the military the president repeatedly spoke about the possibility of involving the army in suppressing protests.
“All sorts of wars now start with street protests, demonstrations, and then Maidans. At the Maidan, if there are no people of our own (we do not have enough “maidan-ers”), they will be pulled in from the side. These are professional military men, bandits who are specially trained, mainly within the framework of professional military companies around the world, and earn big money for provocations in various states,” Lukashenko said at a meeting with special forces in Maryina Gorka.
The entire information vertical is working on the bloodshed thesis. One of the top Belarusian media staff, a confidant of Alexander Lukashenko, Andrei Krivosheev, warned opponents of the authorities on social networks and advised them to “watch your backs,” recalling the fate of Nigoyan and Zhiznevsky. And the well-known state columnist Andrei Mukovozchik spoke almost openly about armed conflict:
“Are you ready for the fact that someone in your family, in your house, in your circle will die? Get ready. They can even kill, and most likely, they will certainly kill – without this, a woman’s revolt will not grow to a color revolution. And, most likely, they will kill their own: a provocation for a mutiny is the alpha and omega.”
Despite the odiousness, his texts should be carefully analyzed since the rhetoric of the “ideological mouthpiece” suspiciously coincides with the numerous “leaks” circulating in social networks about plans for a provocation. What is this? Is it just a campaign of intimidation or a scenario that the authorities are ready to implement at a critical moment?
A picture for the internal observer
As mentioned above, Lukashenka has repeatedly declared his readiness to use weapons and even the army if necessary. Moreover, messages appear on social networks (the question of their veracity is another story) about training security officials to shoot into crowds.
It is no secret that provocations have often been the reason for breaking up demonstrations in Belarus. This was the case in 2010, when provocateurs broke windows in the House of Government. Something similar happened in 2017, when tension in the information space was heightened with stories about militants storming across the border in a jeep and ending the case of the “White Legion.”
Obviously, the use of weapons against protesters will require something more significant than a clash with riot police. And here it is worth remembering the “leak” about the employees of “Alpha” who were allegedly trained in shooting at dummies in the form of riot police. In social media chats, such messages become thick with additional details: the task of training is not to kill, but to injure, and this is necessary (concluding in the message) in order to simulate an armed attack on police officers. To conceal the traces, shots can be fired, for example, from hotel rooms reserved with fake Russian passports (says the author, referring to the experience of the Ukrainian Maidan).
A logical question arises: Is it not under such a scenario that the state media warn about Maidan, while “sympathetic” protesters and disgruntled “sources” leak messages about how security forces are preparing for August 9?
To answer this question, one must assess whether such a scenario will be beneficial to authorities.
Alexander Lukashenko’s next term promises to be especially difficult. The unresolved issue of integration with the Russian Federation, growing economic difficulties, aggravated by the pandemic, the upcoming referendum on the Constitution – this is an incomplete list of problems with which the current president will enter the next term.
In such a situation, the postponed protests will turn out to be a time bomb for the authorities, which can explode at the most inopportune moment. The escalation of the conflict now, the “opening of the abscess,” and the harsh cleaning of the entire political field will become an inoculation against future speeches. In this case, one can forget about mass actions for a long time. Is this not an explanation of the logic of the “hawks” surrounding Lukashenka?
Do you think this is overstatement? But the same Mr. Mukovozchik candidly articulates this kind of scenario in the official press of the Belarusian Presidential Administration:
“We will not wait with our hands at our sides. […] We will excise, cauterize, isolate, and treat with care quickly. Only the scar will remain, but it will not harm us far into the Belarusian future. So that it never boils over again.”
The columnist Mukovozchyk and his curators do not consider or do not want to consider one important point: there are simply no real justifications for the use of force at this level in Belarus. The protests this year have been exceptionally peaceful. If there were clashes with riot police, these have been isolated cases, which, according to many observers, were provoked using disproportionate force by special forces. There is no need to talk about the possibility of full-scale collisions. In the public opposition discourse, there has never been any talk of a violent scenario for seizing power. All participants in the process have insisted on peaceful protest. Even now, after the arrests and non-registration of the main opponents of the incumbent president, the remaining actors are extremely cautious about coordinated mass action. The only statements on this score can be described as “if people come out, we will come out too.” That is, the opposition camp not only does not want bloodshed, but it is not beneficial to anyone.
The horrors of Maidan can be sold not only domestically but also exported.
Having made several significant mistakes both before and during the presidential campaign, the Belarusian authorities are trying to mold a new plan from the familiar material that was at hand.
The West is trying to sell gender-balanced elections and the threat of Russian interference. Russia, it seems, is being offered a story about “Maidan,” which the Kremlin, no doubt, fears much more than the extension of Lukashenko’s term.
According to our information, Moscow does not want a “harsh” scenario in Belarus, but rather is interested in the continuation of the “stagnation,” as a result of which the economy and society will degrade so much that they themselves will fall into the fraternal Russian arms without noise, dust or blood.
There may be several reasons for this reluctance. First, it is difficult to control the development of events, and the outcome options may not be in Russia’s favor. A real shock will lead to a change of power and Belarus’s slipping from control or to a massive clean-up of the political arena, which will also hit pro-Russian elements (when they are planning to strengthen them). Secondly, the worsening of the situation in Belarus could provoke a chain reaction in Russia itself, which is extremely undesirable given current Russian problems.
Moreover, Russian politics is so misogynistic that it will definitely not support the “woman’s rebellion,” our sources say.
We do not know what exactly is happening at the diplomatic level, but signals about the undesirability of such a scenario travel all over the media space. Moscow refuses outright any forceful scenarios and shifts all responsibility to Lukashenko and his circle.
Here, for example, is what the “flagship” of the Belarusian theme writes in the Russian-language Telegram space – “Nezygar”:
“Lukashenka has problems within the Family and the team. And Moscow has nothing to do with it. Moreover, Lukashenko is well aware of the balance of power and Russia’s refusal to participate in various Maidans and its desire to hear a sound position about integration… Moscow’s mission now is not to overthrow Lukashenko and create a new hotbed of tension near its own borders. The task is to weaken Lukashenko personally and his court circle.”
Another channel, Maisky Ukaz, echoes Nezygar:
“There really are no plans in Moscow to remove Lukashenko. Because any ‘Maidan’ movements in the CIS are seen as a rehearsal for destabilizing the situation in Russia itself by the Presidential Administration and by Vladimir Putin personally. Nobody dares to go to the President with such ideas for fear of being accused of alarmism.”
And there are many such messages. Not that we believe in the sincerity of Kremlin technologists. But what is written in Telegram creates an informational background for both Russians and Belarusians, on which the power scenario “from Lukashenko,” firstly, will be his responsibility, with all the blood that may be shed; and, secondly, it will build a “good” Kremlin that thinks about Belarusians, from a bad “bloody father.” Remember that the most active segment of both Russians and Belarusians use Telegram specifically.
A cursory monitoring of Russian media close to decision-making centers confirms that Moscow is not ready for such a development of events and does not want it. The Ukrainian project “Russia Today,” which also works in Belarus, usually writes about the threat of a Maidan, but notes that “Lukashenko has perceived something different.”
Key media outlets, in particular Kommersant, are also cautious about the likelihood of a real Maidan in Belarus. In Vzglyad, which is directly connected to the Russian Presidential Administration, Higher School of Economics (HSE) professor Andrei Suzdaltsev writes that “the main disseminators of rumors about Maidan are the Belarusian authorities and President Lukashenko himself, who are trying to justify repression and mobilize the pro-government electorate out of fear.” From the pages of the odious Pravda.Ru, also associated with the Russian Presidential Administration, Andrei Suzdaltsev has already stated that Lukashenko is alarming the Russian Federation so that it will support him.
“He performs flawlessly. He knows very well that in our political class, in the Russian expert community, the word “Maidan” is a coded word. We are ready to support anyone so that there will be no Maidan, and he made it so that only Lukashenka is heard and not the Belarusian people,” he said.
It seems that the Kremlin will not be able to sell a false Maidan in exchange for gas and a weakened onslaught on deep integration will also not come to fruition.
What will happen?
We do not undertake to predict now what will happen after August 9.
Only one thing is beyond doubt: the authorities are not ready to speak with society in a civilized language, and any disagreement or protests, even those peacefully structured, are perceived as direct threats and challenges.
The authorities have already made many mistakes in working with society, which was ready to take another boring election for granted in exchange for maintaining its sovereignty. But too many Belarusians do not want to wait for changes brought down from above. What is more, they seek to participate in peaceful reforms carried out in an independent and prosperous country. However, the authorities continue to speak with this segment of society in the language of ridicule, threats, dispersal, and bludgeons.
The conditional West and even the Kremlin have distanced themselves as much as possible from what is happening in Belarus before the elections and, it seems, are trying to persuade Lukashenko from different sides to be more careful with his own citizens, as no one needs blood spilled in Belarus. But the head of Belarus and his circle are increasing the degree of hysteria about external and internal enemies with each day.
Perhaps the fact is that Belarusian society has gone ahead and outgrown the ruling group and its leader. It seems to some in power that the simplest response in the form of threats is the most effective. However, without reforms and transformation of power, another presidential term may turn out to be the last term in Belarus as an independent country.
The article is also available on Reform.by
Материал доступен на русском языке: «Майдан» в Беларуси: угрозы или реальный сценарий