- Elections in Poland
- Terrorist attack of HAMAS against Israel (7 October) and the anti-terrorist operation in Gaza
- Anti-Semitic activity in the Russian North Caucasus
- Ukraine / Ukrainian children
- Europe is freezing
- Belarusian democratic forces
- Russian propaganda targeting Belarus
This is the first issue of an analytical review of propaganda of the Lukashenka regime, Propaganda: The Case of Belarus, prepared by iSANS. Each month we will analyze the main directions and trends of Belarusian propaganda and Russian disinformation targeting Belarus. The study of propaganda is necessary not only to know and understand the mechanisms of maintaining power of authoritarian regimes and justifying wars and occupation through information manipulation, but also to be able to predict the main directions of activity of such regimes in the near future, as dictators often talk about their next steps through the mouths of their propagandists.
Since 2019, iSANS has been analyzing the propaganda of the Lukashenka regime. Generally, the area of interest of propaganda can be broken down into four main areas (“mega-narratives”), which, in turn, include more specific sub-narratives. These areas include the following:
- “Belarus does not have its own sovereignty and independence.” (Sub-narratives: the alliance with Russia is the only guarantee of success and survival for Belarus; Belarus’ development is successful thanks only to Lukashenka; the Belarusian democratic opposition consists of traitors and puppets of the West; the history of Belarus is only a part of Russian history; the Belarusian people are part of the Russian people; etc.)
- “Ukraine is a hostile country towards Belarus.” (Sub-narratives: Ukraine is a puppet of the West; the Nazis have seized power in Ukraine; Russia is not at war with Ukraine but with NATO and the West; etc.)
- “Poland and the Baltic states are countries hostile to Belarus and Russia.” (Sub-narratives: Poland and Lithuania want to tear Belarus apart; they are organizing provocations on the border, etc.)
- “In general, the West is hostile to Belarus and Russia.” (Sub-narratives: the U.S. and NATO want to destroy Russia and Belarus; EU member states are puppets of the U.S.; “Western values” are foreign and hostile; etc.)
In general, these trends have persisted for many years, but there is flexibility in the pattern described above. New stories appear. For example, with the suppression of peaceful protests after the 2020 presidential elections, the narrative of the Belarusian opposition emerged as a new separate target. Discrediting and denigrating democratic forces is still one of the leading objectives of Lukashenka’s propaganda.
Since the beginning of preparations in 2021 for Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the start of the invasion on February 24, 2022, anti-Ukrainian propaganda has been dominant.
In the eventful month of October 2023, two new, local, but extremely important storylines for propaganda were added: parliamentary elections in neighboring Poland (October 15) and the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel and start of the anti-terrorist operation in Gaza.
Elections in Poland
The parliamentary elections in Poland on October 15 absolutely became one of the main triggers of Belarusian propaganda in the past month. Immediately before and during the elections, the situation in Poland was one of the most discussed topics over state media in Belarus. Poland is Belarus’s closest and most powerful neighbor to the west and has traditionally remained the focus of Lukashenka’s propaganda as a target of attack.
Belarusian propaganda considered the past elections “the most scandalous, the most corrupt,” and “the dirtiest” (ONT,) and that all candidate parties were “equally bad.” State media “experts” claimed that “no one will give Poland permission to organize a color revolution” and that the elections will not result in any socio-political changes, as a result of which Poland “will withdraw from the number of active opponents of Russia and Belarus” (Igor Shishkin in an interview with BelTA). In general, no election will change the “anti-Belarusian consensus that has formed in Poland,” but “one must distinguish between the Polish government and the Polish people” (Alexander Shpakovsky). These claims are mirrored by a Pro-Kremlin Polish “expert” Tomasz Gryguć who states that nothing depends on the elections because “we [Poles] are completely dependent on the United States. The U.S. decides who will be in power.”
The Belarusian dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka unexpectedly praised the citizens of Poland for their election results, where the opposition broke the monopoly of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party: “Well done, Poles. I didn’t expect this outcome. They simply did not play any games with PiS. Well, Poles, I praise the people of Poland. Well done! They showed them who’s boss. And they essentially brought the opposition to power. Poland will no longer be the same.”
Despite the generally hostile attitude towards Poland, Lukashenka was forced to make several conciliatory statements last month. Specifically, in the same speech he said that “Belarus always extends a hand to its neighbors and does not throw stones in their direction” and “our neighbors come from God and we must live with them.” On October 6, while speaking at a Ministry of Defense training facility in the Brest region, he said, “We don’t want the Poles to consider us strangers or enemies… We never set out to aggravate relations… We do not gather our armed forces near the borders of Poland and the Baltic countries to attack them.”
Terrorist attack of HAMAS against Israel (7 October) and the anti-terrorist operation in Gaza
After Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, Belarusian propaganda responded to the tragic events by adopting a moderately apologetic stance towards Hamas. The anti-Israeli rhetoric of the Belarusian state media shows that they are more or less following Russian propaganda, which did not condemn the attack against Israel but underscored that it is supposedly weakening the West in its support for Ukraine. The first to react was the Belarusian MFA on October 7, declaring “the unacceptability of attacks on civilians” without specifying whose attacks it meant. The statement said, “We are shocked by the incoming information about the number of dead and wounded on the first day of the conflict” and expressed sympathy with friends and families of the victims. On October 8, pro-Russian “political scientist” Alexander Shpakovsky stated that he is “sure that the war in the Middle East will not lead to any “mitigation” for the Ukrainian military theater. There are no prerequisites.” Another “expert”, Alexey Dzermant, said, “The outbreak of confrontation between Palestine and Israel may have an impact on Eurasian logistics. The India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor project may be at risk. In this sense, it is the northern options of trans-Eurasian logistics that look the most secure – through Kazakhstan, Russia, and Belarus.”
On October 8, the state newspaper Minskaya Pravda published a radically anti-Israeli article by Igor Molotov, a columnist for the Russian propaganda media holding, RT. In his article, Molotov justified attacks on Israel, calling the country a “fascist state” and proposing dropping a nuclear bomb on Israel. Moreover, the article said, “The victory of Palestine in the occupied territories is a victory for Moscow and Minsk.” Grigory Azarenok, one of the most notorious Belarusian propagandists, re-posted the article on his Telegram channel. However, the following day the article was unavailable, supposedly deleted due to the MFA’s reaction to the phrase “the unacceptability of attacks on civilians.” On October 10, Minskaya Pravda published an interview with the chairman of the Jewish Religious Association of Belarus, Artur Livshits. The interview was titled “Hamas attacks continue unabated. What do Jews in Belarus and Israel think about this?”
Lukashenka remained silent for a long-time regarding Hamas’s terrorist attack and the subsequent Israeli anti-terrorist operation in Gaza, but later made several statements condemning Israel and blaming the West for unleashing the aggression. On October 27, speaking to journalists, Lukashenka insultingly accused the U.S. of starting the Israel-Palestine conflict. “It’s the Americanos who are spinning out this whole mess there now,” he said. Lukashenka also advocated for the creation of a Palestinian state.
At the same meeting, while speaking on Israel’s war against Hamas, Lukashenka made a misogynistic comment towards female journalists around him: “The situation is very dangerous. Israel has nuclear weapons… Iran is also not a gift. And if it flares up, it won’t seem like too much. And then there are India and Pakistan, China — Taiwan, and so the whole planet can burst into flames. Therefore, it is a very dangerous situation. That’s why we need, girls (addressing female journalists), to build houses, you should get married and give birth, take care of your piece of land.”
The independent media portal, Media_IQ, published an analytical review of the Belarusian media’s coverage of the war between Israel and Hamas entitled “Conspiracy theories, disinformation, incomplete facts – How state media cover the conflict between Israel and Hamas,” which concludes that from the first days of the war, official media have been covering the conflict with bias and unilaterally taking the side of Hamas.
Anti-Semitic activity in the Russian North Caucasus
As in Russia, the Belarusian media and private blogs of propagandists decided to keep silent regarding a series of events when pro-Palestinian rallies turned into openly anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli actions and pogroms, and made virtually no comment on them. The television channels STV, ONT, and ATN mostly made do with thin neutral news about the closure of the airport in Makhachkala or reposting messages from Russian state media. One of the most notorious Belarusian propagandists, Grigory Azarenok, repeated in his channel, following the Head of Dagestan Sergei Melikov, that “behind the riots in Makhachkala were Bandera traitors from Ukraine”, and the state publication Belarus Segodnya reprinted Putin’s quote that “the events in Makhachkala were inspired from Ukraine by the hands of agents of Western intelligence services.”
Ukraine / Ukrainian children
Ukraine is still one of the #1 in the rating of hate for the Lukashenka regime. Acting in the wake of Russian propaganda, Belarusian propaganda continues to discuss the successes of the Russian army and the failures of the Ukrainian army in Russia’s war against Ukraine, about Ukrainian society’s fatigue from the war, and the irritation felt for Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky. (Vitaly Kolpashnikov: “Zelensky is against holding elections because he understands that the Ukrainian population already hates him”. The authorities in Ukraine are still called a “Nazi regime”. Propagandists again called for a strike on Ukraine from Belarus (“political scientist” Alexander Semchenko on “Azarenok. Directly, because this “would change everything significantly in this war.”
Others argue that support for Ukraine is a source of corruption for the West (Oleg Voloshin, “political scientist”, STV: “The war in Ukraine is an opportunity for Western corruption to flourish”). Ukrainian pro-Russian “expert” Kirill Molchanov, Director of the Institute for the Study of the Consequences of the War in Ukraine (Russia), ONT: “The United States and its allies perceive Ukraine as a ‘kamikaze country’.
Another propaganda topic is children taken from Ukraine to Belarus. Propaganda media continues to defend and justify the deportation of children, apparently fearing a possible repeating of an issuance of an arrest warrant for Aliaksandr Lukashenka by the International Criminal Court as was done for Vladimir Putin and the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova. On October 4, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus used Ukrainian children in one more propaganda move by inviting diplomats accredited in Minsk, including those from the European Union, to meet with the children who were brought to Belarus. The meeting was mainly attended by representatives of countries such as China, Cuba, and Qatar. European diplomats did not accept the invitation. The head of Alexey Talay’s charitable foundation after said that Europeans “did not want to face the truth.”
Europe is freezing
Traditional seasonal propaganda story: without Russian gas, the upcoming winter, Europe will freeze again (but it didn’t freeze last winter). Instead of improving relations with Russia and Belarus, Europe is spending money on weapons, says the chairman of the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party, Gyula Thürmer, in an interview with chief propagandist Gregory Azarenok. Typical propaganda phrase: “The British are afraid that they will not be able to pay for heat and electricity if their prices rise the same way as last winter” (STV).
Belarusian democratic forces
Despite the fact that due to repression, supporters of a democratic transition were either forced to leave the country or essentially go underground, propaganda resources still pay great attention to them, apparently considering them, as before, a real and effective threat to the regime. Propagandist channels continue to mention and vilify so-called “fugitives” and “traitors” daily. Channels that specialize in discrediting the democratic forces continue to use fake news and manipulation of information to smear leaders and activists. In October, propaganda resources became well known for two significant scandals.
On October 21, the independent publication Nasha Niva reported that regional media on their accounts on the social network X (formerly Twitter) simultaneously disseminated the same fake message in English, which states that the leader of the democratic forces in Belarus Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was allegedly calling through the mouth of their blogger for killing Palestinian children: “SHOCK! Leader of the pro-Western Belarusian opposition Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya proposes killing Palestinian children, a blogger from her team announced on Ukrainian television!” The “blogger” from Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s team is independent journalist Tatyana Martynova, who runs her own political blog on YouTube called “Stop Being Afraid,” does not sympathize with Tsikhanouskaya, and has nothing to do with her office. Speaking live on the Ukrainian television channel Pryamiy, Martynova said that Israeli children differ from Palestinian children in that no one teaches them to kill from childhood (unlike children in Gaza, where Hamas instills hatred towards Jews in children from the time they are young). It was from this comparison (which is Martynova’s personal opinion) that the Belarusian pro-government channels concluded that “a blogger from Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s team calls for killing Palestinian children.” Despite the absurdity, the message was published by major propaganda media, for example, Yellow Plums – a channel closely linked to Belarus’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Media_IQ team has made a detailed analysis of this dirty information campaign at.
On November 3, a falsified document appeared in several pro-government Telegram channels aimed at discrediting a respected Warsaw-based NGO, the Center of Belarusian Solidarity (CBS), while at the same time accusing the Polish authorities of corruption. The CBS is a non-profit organization that provides legal, educational, and psychological services to Belarusians and Ukrainians and is not engaged in commercial, for-profit activities. The photo shows a falsified invoice for a considerable amount from the CBS to the Polish construction company Budimex for “consulting services.” Budimex is authorized by the Polish government to erect a fence on the Polish-Belarusian border. Propaganda publications concocted a conspiracy theory that Budimex received a government contract for the construction of the fence allegedly in exchange for financing Belarusian democratic initiatives. Many inconsistencies and errors indicate that this document was grossly fabricated. CBS President (and Executive Director of iSANS) Vlad Kobets said in an interview with the independent media outlet Reformation that the fake news is being spread “with the aim to link, in the minds of Belarusians, the migration crisis in Poland, the border fence construction, and the problems with relocation (from Belarus to Poland) with the Belarusian democratic forces.” Kobets further commented that “[t]he authors are attacking Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and the Center of Belarusian Solidarity to foment discontent among Belarusians living in Poland, to have them disavow the democratic forces, and so that parents would not bring their children to our center.”
Russian propaganda targeting Belarus
At the end of October, Lukashenka demanded compensation from Russia for delaying the construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant. But even though such a statement from a dictator dependent on Russia looks like an extremely bold step, Russian propaganda had almost no reaction to it. On the contrary, Russian officials tried to soften the rhetoric and prevent a possible conflict. For example, Russian State Duma deputy Alexey Chepa called these demands a “corporate issue” and said that they “have no political context.”
Despite shows of outward unity, even between Belarusian and Russian propaganda contradictions and tensions arise. The creation of a unified media holding of the so-called “Union State”, planned three years ago, is again being postponed, State Secretary of the Union State Dmitry Mezentsev said on October 31 in an interview with the Belarus 1 television channel. According to him, the creation of the holding is hampered by “conceptual differences.”
On November 1, the Russian Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova visited Minsk. At a public meeting with her attending, Russian Ambassador to Belarus Boris Gryzlov said that Belarus and Russia will continue to deport children from the Donbass. “If we speak the language of facts, no country or organization in the world has done as much for the safety and well-being of Ukrainian children as Russia and Belarus,” said Gryzlov. In March 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova and Vladimir Putin on suspicion of deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. According to the ICC, since 2021, 2,250 children from the occupied territories have already entered Belarus.
iSANS continues to monitor the main developments in propaganda from Belarus’s regime