The first article of the series on the influence of Russian war propaganda in Belarus described the sources and “loudspeakers” of pro-Kremlin propaganda and outlined the main directions of changes in its stories and semantic lines driven by the preparation, commencement and course of Russia’s full-scale aggression against Ukraine. In the second article, we talked about how the narrative of propaganda relating to domestic Belarusian stories shifted to the periphery of the information agenda, replaced with “unifying” and “mobilization” stories. In this another installment, we present anti-Ukrainian narratives of pro-Kremlin wartime propaganda in Belarus.
Undermining, “dehumanizing” Ukrainians, disgusting ridicule of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian authorities and the Ukrainian state itself, heinous and vile fakes – this entire anti-Ukrainian campaign is designed to incite hatred and contempt for the enemy No. 1 and justify full-scale Russian aggression and the complicity of the Lukashenka’s regime to it.
Most of these narratives trace back to the pro-Kremlin propaganda broadcast in Belarus since 2014, but they were used most intensively and in their most radical form the outbreak of the war approached.
Ukraine as a Nazi/Satanic/Russophobic State
When there are no cases or evidence of the crimes of the “Nazi regime” of Ukraine, this is when this most radical “hellish” labelling happens. Because this is the tried and tested MO of propaganda: “If you tell a lie monstrous enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it as the purest truth.”
“The beastly state,” says Grigory Azarenok, the most radical Belarusian propagandist, about Ukraine. — It used to facilitate and praise the basest human feelings. It encouraged murder, it cultivated bullying.» (23.03.2022). Also him, the next day: “Ukraine is a satanic state. Christ will conquer the devil.» (24.03.2022).
At the same time, the President of Ukraine is declared nothing short of a global leader of evil, a drug addict, a clown, a «weirdo» and, of course, a Nazi. At the same time, propaganda does not have any problems with the fact that, at a bare minimum, Zelensky cannot be a “Nazi” simply because of his Jewish origin (see the anti-Semitic reasoning by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov on Vladimir Zelensky that and «Hitler also had Jewish blood»).
“Zelensky is plain selling Mother Ukraine to the Poles. Will Taras Bulba’s heirs really not stop him!? One wonders, which new low has this “judicious” drug addict not sunk to yet, all the while “caring” for the well-being of Ukrainians?” (TG-channel Zheltye Slivy, 09/04/2022).
«Azov», «Aidar», area defense forces are all Nazis»
This is a new wartime narrative created and maintained to justify the military action (and war crimes) against the “Nazis” to “denazify” Ukraine, such as in the destroyed Mariupol. It is alleged, in particular, that there is some kind of “national corps” — the civilian wing of Azov, which “for 8 years purposefully created Nazi organizations in the cities of southeastern Ukraine engaging young people and teenagers. These structures associated with Azov now form the backbone of the area defense” (Andrey Lazutkin, April 21, 2022).
“Ukraine is a puppet and a weapon of the West against Belarus and Russia”
Another storyline: Ukraine is not a free and dependent country; it is under external influence. The West manipulates and controls Ukraine, wants to weaken/destroy Belarus and Russia with the help of Ukraine.
“If only Joe Biden says: “That’s it, guys, you’ve taken your swings at each other, to put it simple, you’ve had your bar fight, now cut it out. Nobody needs war, it’s not profitable,” it will all stop within a week.” (Alexander Lukashenko, 05.05.2022).
“The current Ukrainian regime sees only Western countries as guarantors of its present and future, but we perfectly understand what they have done to Ukraine over the past two decades: they actively armed it, amplified Russophobia, pushed Ukraine to war.” (Sergey Zhitikhin, 04/09/2022).
“Ukraine is hatching aggressive plans towards Belarus”
The former propaganda narrative is immediately followed by a contradictory one of Ukraine itself being a threat and mastering aggressive plans for Belarus — it seems to coexists seamlessly in the minds of the propagandists and the audience they brainwash. Ukraine’s sabotage groups allegedly dream of capturing district centers of Belarus.
In confirmation of these treacherous plans, such absurd headlines appear in the propaganda media from time to time: “Belarus has found out that Ukraine is planning an invasion of the territory of Minsk” (Ukraina.ru, 05/27/2022). Or: “KGB of Belarus: Western forces in Ukraine are preparing militants to capture a district center in our country” (Federal News Agency (RIA FAN), 10/11/2022). In this article by Prigozhin’s FAN “media mill”, the head of the Belarusian KGB Ivan Tertel says that “Western intelligence services in Ukraine are training about 300 militants in order to capture one of the district cities of Belarus.” There is no disclosing of why Western intelligence agencies need a district town in a next-door sovereign state.
Justification of the war against Ukraine and (co-)participation of Belarus in it
This is a new propaganda storyline in Belarus, which appeared in the period of preparation for the aggression against Ukraine and intensified significantly during the war.
Starting from October-November 2021, the myths about Ukraine being “seized by the Nazis” and the demands for “denazification” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine gradually overshadowed all other narratives of both Russian and Belarusian propaganda in terms of intensity. The rhetoric of hatred towards Ukraine reached a particularly high level of hysteria in the first days after the start of the aggression. It clearly included the calls for an armed invasion of Ukraine, for a coup d’état, for a change of power in Kyiv, etc. The main motif being that Russia launched a “preemptive strike” on Ukraine, thereby stopping the aggression of the West (and NATO). And had it not hit first, the West would have employed Ukraine to hit Russia and Belarus.
“Now it is obvious to everyone that if the military special operation in Ukraine had not begun, literally the next day an attack from NATO would have been launched by Bandera followers and neo-Nazis. The Russian soldiers were there in time, which means they saved hundreds of thousands of lives.” (Lyudmila Gladkaya, 03/04/2022).
“… And now I will show you where they were planning to hit Belarus from. And if a preventive strike had not been launched six hours before the operation … they would have attacked our troops, Belarus and Russia, who were there on the exercises. Therefore, we did not start this war, our conscience is clear. It’s good that we outdrew them.» (Aliaksander Lukashenka at a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, 03/11/2022).
“They accuse Russia that Russia is the aggressor, and us too. If the preventive special operation had not started then, Belarus would have been hit first of all by a missile strike.” (Aliaksander Lukashenka, 09/01/2022).
“We are not at war with the Ukrainian people, and Russia is not at war with the Ukrainian people. Russia opposes Nazism and, in its extreme manifestation, fascism. … I am sure that, together with Russia and our friendly China, we will not let Nazism rear its ugly head and do its terrible deeds.” (Irina Lukanskaya, 07/05/2022).
However, unlike Russian propaganda, it is difficult or almost impossible to find direct calls for murder of Ukrainian citizens and violence against the civilian population in the aggressive narratives of the Belarusian media.
“The Ukrainian army is not combat-ready. The war won’t last long.»
Before the war and at its very beginning both Russian and Belarusian propagandists, “military experts”, officials, and generals tried to convince their audiences of the weakness of the Ukrainian army and the inevitable rapid defeat of Ukraine, and this, it seems, was their main mistake. “Ukraine will never stand the fight: this war will last a maximum of three or four days! There will be no one to fight against us.” (Aliaksander Lukashenka in an interview with Vladimir Solovyov, 05.02.2022).
But the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian people have demonstrated a robust ability to defend their country, and, with the all-encompassing military and economic assistance of the entire democratic world, to win.
“There is a civil war in Ukraine”
One of the main storylines of anti-Ukrainian propaganda in Belarus is that everything that is happening in Ukraine is nothing but a “civil war”, in which peaceful people are dying through the fault of the “Nazi” government. This narrative originates from 2014, when, according to Kremlin propaganda, blue-collar workers and miners of Donbass rebelled against a “Nazi coup” staged on Maidan in Kyiv. It was easy for the Kremlin to explain the hostilities in the Donbass as an “internal conflict” in Ukraine, since the involvement of the Russian troops in the conflict was never admitted by the Kremlin, although it was obvious and indisputable to the whole world. Despite the absurdity of this argument after Russia’s full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, pro-Kremlin propagandists continue to push the “civil war” narrative and that of Ukraine itself being to blame for what is happening.
A case in point is, for example, Olga Shpilevskaya: “For me, what is happening in Ukraine is a real civil war that did not happen on February 24th. This is what has been happening since 2014. This is when people are pushed against each other, when people are not allowed to live and develop in peace. This is a civil war that wiped Ukraine off the face of the earth, unfortunately.”
Note the particular cynicism of this statement. It was made not at the beginning, but at the very height of Russia’s war in Ukraine — on July 30th. By that time, Mariupol had long been wiped off the face of the earth, other cities and towns (Lysychansk, Bakhmut) reduced to rubble, civilian infrastructure was being shelled by the Russian army, including from the territory of Belarus, and most importantly, after the public awareness of the atrocities and crimes of the Russian army against the civilian population of Ukraine.
Such statements about “civil war” and “internal conflict” make it easier for propagandists to introduce yet another cynical narrative: shelling of peaceful cities and massacres of civilians in the territories occupied by Russia are the work of the Ukrainians themselves and the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Denial, Hushing up and Lies about Russian War Crimes
Another new line of wartime propaganda that arose in response to the emergence of information about the facts of grave war crimes by the Russian troops against the civilian population is the denial of these crimes. We are talking, first of all, about the killings of civilians, including women and children, about torture, terror, robbery, looting, rape in the temporarily occupied territories. This line is based on the denial of Russian war crimes, deliberate disinformation, fakes, as well as on the creation of conspiracy stories about the intervention of a “third party”.
An example is the massacre of civilians in Bucha. The town of Bucha, Kyiv region, was under Russian occupation from February 27 to March 31, 2022. After the withdrawal of the Russian troops, many bodies of civilians were found in the streets of the city, including those shot with their hands tied behind their backs, with numerous photo and video confirmations and survivor testimonies. Among those killed were women and children. From the very beginning, the Russian leadership and the military denied the involvement of the Russian troops in the crime.
Belarusian propaganda not only copied the statements of Russian propaganda, but also actively participated in the disinformation campaign itself.
“We know who organized this production [in Bucha]. There were mostly Brits who arrived in cars … from Lvov, filmed it all in Bucha and then planted it into the information space <…> Therefore, don’t even mention Bucha.” (Aliaksander Lukashenka, 05.05.2022).
At the core of the propaganda line of denying the crimes is the “civil war” narrative: the statements of propagandists often feature the idea that the crimes in Ukraine were committed by the Ukrainians themselves, the military personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, etc.
«Non-coverage of the war»: hushing up the advances of the Armed Forces of Ukraine
Finally, it is worth mentioning the way the Belarusian pro-Kremlin propaganda acted — it is typical of the periods of the war and which can be called not informing, but “eloquent silence”. We are talking about hushing up Ukraine’s successes on the battlefield, including the successful counter-offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which began in May-June 2022 near Kharkov and came as a big surprise to full-time Belarusian propagandists. Obviously, their silence is not in the least due to their unpreparedness for such developments, as well as the lack of clear instructions from the Belarusian leadership and curators from Moscow.
This is especially evident from the monitoring of the Belarusian media, which is regularly published by the Telegram channel of the independent initiative “Belarusian Gayun”. The most recent example is the liberation of Kherson by the Armed Forces of Ukraine in early November 2022. Judging by the media review, there was not a single mention of this victory of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the news of the largest Belarusian channels:
“Almost half a day has passed since the announcement of the withdrawal of the Russian army from Kherson, a city that, a month and a half ago, was allegedly included in Russia forever. How did Belarusian propaganda react to the news?
Belarusian telegraph agency BelTA — 0 reports about the retreat of the Russian Armed Forces.
Soviet Belarus — 0 reports of the retreat of the Russian Federation from Kherson.
Television News Agency (ATN) — 0 reports.
National Television (ONT) – 0 reports.”
(“Belarusian Gayun”, 10.11.2022).
In the next article of the series, we will talk about how the propaganda narratives in Belarus have changed in relation to Poland, the Baltic countries and the “collective West” in general after the start of the Russian war against Ukraine.
Материал доступен на русском языке: Пропаганда войны в Беларуси. Часть 3. «Антиукраина»