The hijacking of the Ryanair plane and the so-called «interview» of Roman Protasevich on the Belarusian state television channel ONT following his arrest set a new bar for dictatorial regimes. This demonstrative act of state terrorism and subsequent on-air interrogation naturally raised the question of the purpose of the special operation and its involvement of third parties. This is not about the alleged Hamas fighters who sent a letter from a mail server in Switzerland. Lukashenko, who is increasingly dependent on the Kremlin, would hardly have dared to take such a step on his own.
Information has already appeared in the media that three unidentified persons with Russian passports were following Roman in Greece. Putin was asked about the involvement of Russian special services in the hijacking of the plane at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. In the same context, pro-Kremlin media discussed the names of Russian oligarchs supposedly sponsoring Belarusian opposition.
The role of the Kremlin is best evidenced, of course, by the activity and direction of coverage of the actions of the Lukashenko regime by Kremlin state propaganda. State channels are actively disseminating information obtained from the hostage under threats and torture. The consistency and synchronicity of the messages being promoted make it possible to draw inferences about Russia’s support of the operation and suggest problems the detention of Protasevich is meant to solve.
The primary task is to accuse the West of destabilizing the situation in Belarus and subsequently in Russia to create an image of an enemy in the form of the U.S. and the EU for the domestic consumer in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.
Kremlin propaganda is trying to convince people that the conspiracy to overthrow the Belarusian authorities and Lukashenko really exists and is being financed by the West. And the next target of «destructive influence» is Russia. In doing so, the Kremlin is also helping Lukashenko maintain his own legitimacy and justify repression, gaining additional leverage for manipulation.
The next objective, as with any terrorist act, is to intimidate. In the case of Roman Protasevich, it is to intimidate the leaders and supporters of the Belarusian protest and to discredit the Belarusian opposition. By justifying and supporting Lukashenko’s actions, Kremlin media show that this is what happens to those who dare to go against the system and fight the regime.
At the same time, the Kremlin once again demonstrates its disregard for the norms of international law and consolidates the possibility of using force and waging a hybrid war to ensure its own interests.
The Kremlin is also using Lukashenko to legitimize the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and occupied Crimea. Firstly, this is evidenced by the information campaign launched regarding the Roman Protasevich’s possible criminal prosecution by «LPR investigators» unlawfully created and functioning outside Ukrainian law and, secondly, the planning of direct transport links between Belarus and Crimea.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has already responded to Lukashenko’s idea of handing over Protesevich to militants: «We have enough tools to hurt people and countries that do not respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Especially when it comes to Belarus, with which we have many ties, including economic ties.» If Lukashenko recognizes the so-called «LPR» and Russian occupied Crimea, placing Belarus on par with Abkhazia, North Ossetia, and Transnistria, the Kremlin will be the main beneficiary.
How did pro-Kremlin media in Ukraine cover the situation with the seizure of the plane and the hostage? Did they notice the obvious inconsistencies in the thread of Ryanair’s forced landing? What are they trying to convey to a Ukrainian audience and to what end?
Most often, the Ukrainian pro-Kremlin media repeated blueprint narratives of Russian state propaganda and disseminated outright disinformation.
Monitoring of pro-Kremlin media in Ukraine shows that the key ideas are essentially rooted in an assumption that dates to the NKVD – «confession is the queen of evidence.» Or in the version of the modern Russian propagandist Vladimir Soloviev, «the main thing is the veracity of the testimony, and not how he gives it – with or without coercion.» Therefore, the main narratives are being built around the interrogation of Roman Protasevich. Human rights activists have already compared this «interview» to the actions of ISIS militants who cut off the heads of prisoners on video.
The first and most fundamental narrative: the West is behind everything
The West has planned the landing of the plane to increase sanctions. Everyone, including the opposition movements, are controlled by Western special services and their actions are aimed at destabilizing the situation in Belarus. Protasevich is an agent of Western intelligence services.
Ukraine.ru, in the article «Consequences of the incident. What is Lukashenka up to and what was achieved?», writes that «the collective West has long ago thrown off their mask of the ‘common people’ and does not hide its strategic task of repeating the triumph of 1991. This is the main point and everything else stems from it.»
Following the results of a Telefir poll, the pro-Russian channel Nash writes, citing Muraev, «The collective West is afraid of the testimony that Protasevich can give.» The owner of the channel, Yevgeny Muraev, compares Belarus with Ukraine and says, «It was a copy of the events of 2013-2014 that took place in Ukraine. It was the main engine of the failed color revolution, as a result of which Belarus was isolated by a number of countries, which, through chance, or perhaps not by accident, are all NATO members.»
The VESTI Telegram channel, representing the Vesti.ua media project, writes that «the government of Belarus with these projects does not so much justify its actions as it shows the face of the opposition to the general public. And they look like petulant intriguers who are paid by foreign special services, especially when compared to ‘a man with steel balls’ (as Protasevich called Lukashenko).»
Also written here is that «according to the ex-editor of NEXTA, foreign special services are behind the protest headquarters. It’s likely that only Lukashenko is somewhere giving a standing ovation.»
The next narrative is that it is beneficial for Poland and Lithuania to support the protests in Belarus
That is why money is allocated from their budgets for funding. Tikhanovskaya and Latushko are being supported by them.
From Russia Today: «Protasevich in an interview with ONT about who finances Tikhanovskaya says that is Lithuanian taxpayers, private sponsors, and financial diasporas.»
The popular anonymous Telegram channel Legitimny in Ukraine, which is believed to be connected to Russian military intelligence, writes that «now a huge interest in the intensification of the trade war between Ukraine and Belarus is shown by Poland, which is ready to replace all Belarusian products with its own. In the aviation sanctions case, it was Lithuania and Latvia that were interested, and in the case of trade it is Poland. In terms of politics, Russia gets the big prize, which further strengthens its allied influence on Minsk. In all these cases, our «partners and neighbors» are benefiting, and Ukraine is being hurt economically, which leads us to even greater dependence on Western loans.»
Colonel Kassad, a mouthpiece of totalitarian propaganda and an ardent supporter of the illegal occupation of Crimea by Russia, assesses the interrogation of Roman Protasevich as «a severe blow to the Polish-Lithuanian opposition,» and «Protasevich obviously really wants to avoid being extradited to Donbass and cut down his sentence, so he is giving up everything and everyone.» The post saw 46,000 views and was reposted by other channels related to the Russian special services, specifically the Siloviki Telegram channel.
Another similar group of anonymous Telegram channels is Karaulny and Nezygar: «Protasevich: The headquarters of the Belarusian opposition are at odds with each other in the fight for funding. Tikhanovskaya… is guarded personally by the Lithuanian special services.» This post was viewed 42,000 times.
Protasevich’s «neo-Nazism» is a narrative that pro-Kremlin propaganda could not do without
The claim about neo-Nazism is tied to Protasevich’s stay as a journalist in Donbass in 2014. He is accused of allegedly taking part in the hostilities in Donbass as part of the Azov battalion.
The state Russian media outlet Russia Today writes, «The People’s Militia of the LPR said that Protasevich provided transit for citizens who wanted to fight in the Donbass.»
Russian military propagandist Semyon Pegov, well known for his work against Ukraine on the territory of occupied Donetsk, on his Telegram channel War Gonzo devoted a series of 10 posts to the events surrounding the hijacking and arrest of Roman Protasevich. Their total reach was 748,000 views. One of the last posts, which received 79,000 views, says, «Protasevich arranged for a «safari» on the Russians in Donbass, if we believe the LPR prosecutor’s office. After all, what Lugansk is going to accuse him of is precisely what this is called. According to officials, the Azov militant was not just some kind of recruiter, but organized firing squads for foreigners on the front lines. Against real and living people.»
The same disinformation is repeated exactly the same by other Telegram channels said to be connected with Russian special services – Politnavigator and Siloviki: «Roman Protasevich, a citizen of Belarus detained in Minsk, was a sniper in the Ukrainian nationalist battalion «Azov» and fired at civilians, medical workers, and employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. In addition, through Protasevich came a transit of citizens wishing to earn money and ‘fight’ in the Donbass on the side of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.»
Pro-Kremlin media in Ukraine repeated the propaganda narratives of Russian state channels about Protasevich with little or no changes. For example, on the channel Nash, its owner, Yevgeny Muraev, called Protasevich a criminal – a man accused of attempting a coup, of terrorism, and of coordinating actions to persecute law enforcement officials. He also claimed that Western secret services had «surrendered» Protasevich to the Belarusian regime and, like the Russian propagandists, said that the landing of Evo Morales’s plane was an example of «double standards» and that «everyone does that.»
Another anonymous Telegram channel, Sheptun, writes that «the reputation of journalist Protasevich collapsed in less than a week. And if earlier they defended him and somehow supported him, then after the fact that he fought in the ranks of neo-Nazi detachments came to light they refused their support.»
Next narrative: Protasevich’s detention is a top operation of the Belarusian special services
Some of the pro-Kremlin media are trying to legitimize Lukashenko’s actions. The argument is that when it comes to national security, any means is fine.
The Telegram channel Klymenko Time writes, «We don’t know how the Belarusian KGB works, but they know their business. There will be no «Navalny No. 2.»
Ukraine.ru, in the article «Consequences of the incident. What is Lukashenko up to and what was achieved?», writes: «The appropriateness of the actions of Belarus and Lukashenko personally does not raise questions among normal people. Normal countries are on the side of Minsk. Key partners of Belarus, as noted by Alexander Lukashenko – Moscow and China – were the most even-keeled in the middle of an ocean of hysteria.»
And here too they write in «Interrupted flight. How Ukraine helped Lukashenko to catch the co-author of NEXTA Protasevich»: «the emigrants realized in horror that Lukashenko was not joking, and the KGB had not forgotten anything and had not forgiven anyone.»
Another narrative is that there are no protests and that under existing conditions there will be no more. Therefore, Western strategists decided to impose sanctions to bring down the Belarusian economy and try to bring people to the streets.
Ukraine.ru, in an article titled «Hard Landing. Experts on Lukashenko’s decision and Protasevich’s future,» writes, «However, despite the situation with Protasevich, it is unlikely there will be new large-scale protests in Belarus… There Lukashenko and the Belarusian special services have tightened the screws so much that there are practically no people who want to stick their necks out. People are given such serious jail terms that playing at this is not worth it… The reaction of the West, its ‘hysteria,’ is intended only to put pressure on Belarus, to impose sanctions, and to harm the state in every possible way for not obeying the West and for defending its sovereignty.»
From the Telegram channel VESTI: «In an interview with ONT, Protasevich announced that the Polish government allocated 50 million zlotys to the Belarusian House in Warsaw. He also believes that the purpose of the imposing of sanctions is to destroy the economy of Belarus and make people starve. That then there will be food riots. Regarding the protests in Belarus, he says, «I said openly that we have no ‘street movements’ and we will not. It is stupid to call people out if no one comes out!»
Narrative supporting the version of a «conspiracy» against Lukashenko
The goal here is to confirm that there really was a «conspiracy» and that Protasevich served as an intermediary between the conspirators who were planning to kill Lukashenko and the headquarters of Tikhanovskaya.
Russia Today – «In an interview with the Belarusian channel ONT, Protasevich told how they prepared a forceful change of power in Belarus. He apparently was supposed to be a link between the conspirators and Tikhanovskaya’s headquarters. Protasevich also said that there are still several dormant radical cells in Belarus.»
The logical conclusion of such material is the narrative that the protests in Belarus were to become the basis for further protests in Russia. Following the seizure of power in Belarus, a transition to Russia was planned, for which the NEXTA Live Telegram channel was initially prepared.
Russia Today – «One of the projects of the NEXTA Telegram channel group, after the elections and protests in Belarus, was a planned transition to Russia as a subject, said Roman Protasevich, the founder of this Telegram channel who is recognized as an extremist in Belarus.»
Chairman of the Belarusian Union of Journalists Andrei Krivosheyev on Soloviev Live on June 5: «The order was to bring the Telegram channels promoted by extremists to the Russian agenda… Drug legalization among Russian youth. To start heating it up and eventually bring it out in the fall… They practiced on us.»
Ukraine.ru, in the article «Consequences of the incident. What is Lukashenko up to and what happened?,» writes: «The fact that the West and its puppets exploded and were singing the same song together was noticed by everyone, including Lukashenko. He rightly noted that Belarus is just a firing range where they train before the decisive assault on Russia.»
An extensive group of narratives is directed against Roman Protasevich himself. For example, Yulia Vityazeva, who fled Ukraine and received Russian citizenship, compares Protasevich with the Young Guard and with the storyline of The Gadfly, reproaching him for lack of ideology and firmness. From here, a logical transition is made to cover the entire protest movement, maintaining that they have no will and stamina.
Strana.ua, in the article «Cooperation with the authorities and tears is Protasevich’s choice,» writes: «The coup plot without him (Protasevich) was clear… In Ukraine, the same exact thing happened, but was more successful for the organizers of the coup in 2014. Cooperation with the authorities and tears is Protasevich’s choice – none of us knows the limits of our will and cowardice.»
«Protasevich will play the same role in the Belarusian opposition as Stepan Bandera did in the OUN in 1939-1940, when he split the organization,» writes the Politnavigator Telegram channel and continues in another post: «The snot and tears of Protasevich – the keyboard epiphany «warrior.» Protasevich was pathetic. Perhaps this is the most appropriate word to describe the most discussed passenger on the Athens-Vilnius flight…»
Separately, it should be noted a group of narratives aimed at using Lukashenko’s actions to legitimize the so-called LPR and the occupation of Crimea. An important sign here is the flurry of information on June 5 about the supposed planned trip to Belarus of the «LPR» investigators who were to interrogate Roman Protasevich. Also worth noting is the active information campaign, the tone of which was set by Lukashenko’s statements on establishing air connections with Crimea.
The Klymenko Time Telegram channel writes: «Alexander Lukashenko made it clear that he would allow LPR representatives to come to Belarus and interrogate the co-founder of the NEXTA Telegram channel Roman Protasevich. Yesterday the «prosecutor’s office» of the «LPR» asked Minsk to hand over the oppositionist to them for an «investigative experiment»… Following Lukashenko’s statement on Crimea, a new reality emerges in which Belarus can de facto recognize the «LPR.»
And the next post states: «Apparently, after the opening of the criminal case in the ‘LPR’ they decided to take Protasevich seriously. Today, information that has not yet been confirmed has appeared that representatives of the ‘LPR’ allegedly accepted Lukashenko’s invitation and are ready to leave for Minsk to interrogate Protasevich.»
Yulia Vityazeva writes in her Telegram channel that «in the event of extradition to the LPR, Roman Protasevich faces execution in Donbass.»
The main propagandist of the Kremlin, Vladimir Soloviev, devoted a significant part of Saturday’s broadcast on June 5 to this. He said that Protasevich fought in a Nazi battalion and immediately drew a parallel with a supposed attempt in Belarus to establish a «white-red-white» Nazi regime under Nazi flags. In the same program, Andrei Krivosheyev asks, «How are the Belarusian nationalists going to bed with Ukrainian neo-fascists? Where did they meet up?» Solovyov sums up: «And Crimea will be recognized and the planes will fly. With this pressure, they are pushing us to form a new quality of state relations. A new form that meets all interests will be created, as was prescribed 24 years ago.»
We should not evaluate testimony given under torture, but we must understand for what purpose and in what information maneuvers they are used. The detention of Roman Protasevich, as with the already known military actions of the Russian special services abroad, raises the question of developing coordinated measures to counter actions of state terrorism.
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