The primary mission of RT is broadcasting to a foreign audience through its foreign language editions. A relatively small number of programs are released in Russian, among which is a stream called Wonderful Russia boo-boo-boo, which most often covered the events in Belarus. RT correspondents regularly connected there, as well as speakers who discussed Belarusian topics.
The iSANS monitoring group watched the broadcasts of the Wonderful Russia boo-boo-boo stream from August to October, when the number of programs was the highest. It is worth noting that although independent Belarusian experts and opposition politicians regularly appeared on the air, most of the time was devoted to selected Russian speakers. We have picked the most typical statements that give an idea of where the Russian media machine was heading.
A hint of Ukraine
The most typical group of “experts” are former Ukrainian politicians who were in power before the Euromaidan and then fled to Russia. Their main theses involve drawing analogies with the Ukrainian Maidan, claiming that the protests are the result of Western intrigue and not caused by government fatigue.
The most famous among them is the prime minister from the era of Viktor Yanukovych, Mykola Azarov. He is the most public of Ukrainian exiles, and not a single blunder of Kyiv is complete without his comment. In the same way, he has been involved in the events in Belarus, which he appraises from his ivory tower. He argues that the events were planned by the EU and the US against Belarus in the same image and likeness as against Ukraine, Armenia, and Georgia.
“There is only one methodology, and it was also used in Georgia and Armenia: disinformation, demonization of the ruling leaders, prepared for the moment of elections. The active minority prepares in advance to take to the streets and pretends that they are the majority,” he said on August 20.
This thesis is presented with different arguments – from economic influence to media conspiracy.
“Belarusians have not been in Ukraine and receive information from the Polish and Lithuanian media. Lukashenko demonstrated a loyal attitude to what is happening in Ukraine which is why he is somewhat aware of the truth of the Maidan,” the former Ukrainian prime minister said.
To assess the actions of the Belarusian security officials, Dmitry Sobyna, a major of the Kharkiv Berkut [Ukrainian special forces] and participant in the actions under the patronage of the Yugo-Vostok Foundation created by the former Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Vitaly Zakharchenko, was brought in. The former employee of the Ukrainian special forces encourages Lukashenko’s actions and says that he will remain in his post. At the same time, the former officer of the Berkut does not see an excessive use of force:
“The opposition provokes police officers. Violence can be used legally. The use of special equipment is always checked by higher authorities.”
Another former Ukrainian special forces member and former deputy Vladimir Oleinikov spoke out on Belarusian events for RT. One of the highlights of his biography is that he is a co-author of the “January 16” laws which were designed to suppress the protests, but instead only added fuel to the fire. Now he speaks knowledgeably about the situation in Belarus:
“After the collapse of the USSR, they wanted to take over the countries, which is why color revolutions were invented. As a result, we lost Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. They reached the Baltic region right away, and now Belarus.”
Political scientist Rostislav Ishchenko also compares the situation in Belarus with the Maidan. He draws parallels between Yanukovych and Lukashenko in the context of relations with the United States:
“How much Alexander Lukashenko is acceptable to Washington the coming days will show. Before the Maidan, leaders also spoke softly about Yanukovych and only later began to speak more harshly.”
There has been a place on the air for the odious Ukrainian politician and lawyer Tatyana Montyan:
“With its ‘bloody corpse’ Ukraine saved the Republic of Belarus and, perhaps, will save Russia. Looking at the consequences of our ‘maidown’ [trans. note – a portmanteau of “Maidan” and “down,” meaning a stupid person; from the Russian for Down’s Syndrome], only the completely mentally retarded, paid by the collective West, could want what happened in our country. Looking at us, no matter how much they hate Lukashenko, they understand that it is better to deal with him later than hand over the country to the collective West.”
She does not hesitate to directly insult protesters, and is essentially engaged in inciting hatred on the air:
“It is impossible to build bridges with these ‘mama’s boys revolutionaries.’ They need to be driven into a pen so that they do not ruin the country. These ‘pots’ [trans. note – a reference to the protestors who wore pots on their heads during the Euromaidan in Kyiv] are people, but insane. It is useless to talk to them.”
Russian propagandists have woven the Crimean theme into the Belarusian context with the help of Roman Chegrinets, head of the independent national-cultural organization Belarusians of Crimea. Before the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, he was a minor official and had nothing to do with the Belarusian community at all Following annexation he unexpectedly became the head of a regional organization designed to portray national harmony. He once again recalled that Belarus did not recognize Crimea as Russian:
“It hurts. I would like our choice to be recognized by the historical homeland. We invited Alexander Lukashenko and would like to invite Tikhanovskaya.”
He also said that many Belarusians travel to Crimea and hinted that there is no Belarusian consulate on the peninsula that would help solve the problems of tourists:
“We can call a real friend of Russia only one who says 1. The future of the Republic of Belarus is in the Union State and 2. Crimea is Russian.”
Former Ukrainian politician Spiridon Kilinkarov, a former Communist Party deputy in the Verkhovna Rada, is one of the regulars on Russian political shows. A commentator on the Ukrainian conflict, he also draws analogies with Belarus:
“They say here that he usurped power and the elections were dishonest. But Kuleba (Ukraine’s foreign minister) says the final decision not to recognize the elections stems from Lukashenko openly siding with Russia. There are reasons why Western structures implement policies that are beneficial to them within countries (to get them out of the sphere of Russian influence).”
Interestingly, this pro-Russian figure calls on Lukashenko to carry out constitutional reform:
“I hope that there will be enough sense to conduct a dialogue with society about the country’s political system, parties, elections, and so on. He did a lot for Belarus, but there are no political reforms. We need constitutional changes. And he must initiate new early elections and invite independent observers there.”
The range of opinions from Russian speakers is broader. There are no monotonous stories about the Maidan, and there is a certain polarity of opinions. Sometimes even analysts from neutral-minded centers appear, for example, Baunov from Carnegie.ru. But mostly commentators with the “correct” point of view were chosen.
The political strategist Marat Bashirov actively commented on events in Belarus. Bashirov is an author for the Politjoystick channel and the former prime minister of the unrecognized Lugansk People’s Republic. He claims that events were going according to a plan for a color revolution, but the coordination of the protests was knocked down. At the same time, he says there are security officials around Lukashenko, but there are no elites who see a future for themselves.
“If I were in Russia’s position, I would invest in Kolesnikova, because we need a Belarusian “balcony.” With a new constitution come new centers of influence,” he said.
Another guest, Mikhail Delyagin, director of the Institute for Globalization Problems, attacked another commentator, a representative of the strike.
“Is this really a worker? Here we have an obvious, zombified winner of the Darwin Award. Working under contracts in Belarus has enormous advantages. There are many Ukrainians working in Poland. Do they think that these workers will not go to Belarus? Lukashenko created a miracle: with a population of 9.3 million, the country has an agro-industrial complex, a potash industry, and Belarus is an IT center thanks to him. Normality has been maintained in Belarus,” he said.
At the same time, the invited expert states directly that “Belarus, from the point of view of liberal economic theory, cannot exist.”
Another expert, associate professor at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) of the Russian Foreign Ministry Kirill Koktysh, although he takes a less radical position, agrees with his colleague:
“The Belarusian economy is 11 large monopolistic enterprises. The ruling power distributes profits more or less cleanly. There has been corruption and almost 700 employees were put in prison in a year thanks to AGL [Alexander Grigorievich Lukashenko].”
At the same time, he emphasizes Belarus’s dependence on the Russian market and production: “This is vitally important for Belarus. The country is unable to maintain its identity without the Russian market.”
Similar ideas were expressed by the Russian political scientist Semyon Uralov (the “union integrator” and founder of the Sonar 2050 project): “There is nothing to talk about with Tikhanovskaya specifically. A dialogue with two parties is possible and one of them could be Tikhanovskaya. They have been trying to take down Lukashenko since 1995 with street protesters and after 2011 they have been attempting the same with NGO congresses and discussions on the fate of Belarus.”
At the same time, a candidate’s determination to establish dialogue among Belarusians is Crimea’s prerogative, Uralov believes:
“Russia should initiate this and should propose the creation of a legitimate subject for dialogue. Russia has recognized the authorities and we can offer options for overcoming the crisis.”
A Russian political scientist with Belarusian roots, Dmitry Bolkunets, does not deny election fraud, as well as the fact that Lukashenko toyed with Russia:
“He played from the very beginning. He has a critical situation and Russia is the only one who can help restore order. But Russia will not interfere, otherwise anti-Russian sentiments will be launched in Belarus. The elections were rigged.”
Interestingly, he commented on the detention and interrogation of Yuri Voskresensky, who now represents the “opposition” appointed by the authorities and is trying to involve the parties in dialogue:
“This interrogation is more fake news from a Belarusian television channel. I know Yuri and I read about the search, that Yuri was beaten, and then he read a confession from a piece of paper. Tikhanovskaya also read from a piece of paper on election day. The same thing happened in the previous elections, where a couple of frightened ex-candidates also read from a piece of paper. Natalya Eismont, the press secretary, is engaged in this and oversees how it’s put together.”
He also raised the issue of the Belarusian authorities’ anti-Russian policies:
“Before the elections, there was an anti-Russian agenda on the state television channels, including one about the Wagnerites. The name ‘Gazprom’ was flashing. The authorities pedaled the theme that Babariko was a candidate from Gazprom. Now it is a message for the West that Russia is interfering in the affairs of Belarus.”
Stanislav Byshok, head of the Russian public organization CIS-EMO, which is connected to a network of regional propaganda sites in Belarus, also urged the Kremlin to behave more flexibly towards Belarus:
“Russia always supports the person in power. All forces must be supported in Belarus. Many criticize Russia’s indecisive position, but it is correct, and we must not make it worse.”
At the same time, Byshok questioned the results of the official rating of Alexander Lukashenko:
“Where did this 80% come from? Official polls (others are prohibited) gave Lukashenko 72% before the elections, then exit polls gave about 80% at the elections, and this is the final figure.”
Political scientist and director of the Foundation for Progressive Politics Oleg Bondarenko spoke positively about Lukashenko and his capabilities. “We are trying to analyze AGL’s actions, but on the surface it looks like he should not have a percentage of trust lower than that of Putin in the referendum,” he said and added:
“There is no reason that he cannot fulfill his obligations. He is an aksakal [trans. note – in Central Asia and the Caucasus an “elder”] who has made his own economic base. Lukashenko is a problem for Russia, but he is the best politician in the post-Soviet space for the Russian Federation.”
There were the traditional horror stories about the influence of Catholics and Poles.
RT correspondent Georgy Babayan talked about the participation of priests in the protests:
“Catholic priests were seen at the protests – at the jails. There are 2 pieces of paper on the information stand near the church. The first is a photo of Tikhanovsky and the second says ‘We pray for those who have suffered from tyranny, for the punishment of those who falsified elections,’ etc. Everything in the church is in Belarusian language (sometimes in Polish). The church has become a place of pilgrimage for opposition figures.”
Alexander Tikhansky, a military expert and frequent contributor to Sputnik Belarus, expressed his opinion in a similar vein:
“There is a difficult ethnographic group in Belarus: Polish Catholics and Catholic Belarusians. Many Belarusian Catholics consider themselves to be Poles. And some of them are totally anti-Russian.”
Tribune for politicians
In the RT stream, politicians also made statements regarding Belarus. For example, among them was the notorious Russian publicist and politician Nikolai Starikov. He immediately called Tikhanovskaya a “political smokescreen” and “project of the West,” and then began to push the theme of fascism and Russophobia:
“The protesters are singing Magutny Bozha, which are the poems of a lady written in occupied Minsk. The song became the anthem of the Belarusian emigration (those who were Nazi accomplices). Zmagars are nationalists who consider themselves the heirs of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.”
“The puppeteers hide their true goals, however they can be traced. First, let’s remove Lukashenko. After the elections there will be nationalist candidates, then they will go towards NATO and they will suppress the Russian language. Their hero Kastuś Kalinoŭski was the leader of a Polish uprising that began with the slaughter of Russian soldiers who were asleep.”
Interestingly, Lukashenko also got taken to task, as he is not pro-Russian. But it will only get worse from here:
“Now there is a struggle. AGL is a non-Russian politician who consciously quarreled with Russia before the elections and is now being replaced by Russophobes. I hope everything will settle down and then we will need constitutional reform and a transition of power to give an opportunity to vote for a pro-Russian and pro-Belarusian politician.”
Vladimir Zhirinovsky criticized Lukashenko and urged him to prevent a Kyiv scenario:
“A new generation has appeared, with whom you need to speak in a different language. We need parties to voice opinions. Where is Lukashenko’s party? It could have mobilized supporters. And if you look at foreign policy, if Belarus is threatened by NATO troops, then this must be suppressed. If Lukashenko turns to Moscow for military assistance, we must provide it immediately. We cannot allow a Kyiv scenario. The elections in Belarus are distorted. But I’m talking about the security of the country, of Russia. They say we don’t need tanks near Smolensk, but it doesn’t matter. With or without Lukashenko, we need secure borders .”
At one point, he turned to direct calls for the occupation of Belarus:
“The last Bolshevik is dying in the form of Lukashenko. Military assisted options are dangerous. We had to switch to world prices so that all post-Soviet countries would later come running to us. We helped Belarus the most. This blurred Lukashenko’s eyes, and he decided to wag his tail at the West. We must take a new line: how to occupy the country like in Crimea without blood and eliminate the danger of deterioration into a Kyiv scenario, change the constitution while Lukashenko is in power, take the Minsk and Mogilev provinces, then take Ukraine in our grip, and Moldova will lie down on its own. We need to be there and our flags should be there on the Brest Fortress.”
Konstantin Zatulin, member of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, spoke about the Union State of Russia and Belarus:
“I would not like to reduce the Union State only to Lukashenko. In the ‘90s he was the initiator, but gradually it seems more and more obvious that he wanted to inherit the Union State. And then the implementation of the Union State was blocked. On the one hand, there are agreements, but on the other, the manifestation was blocked.”
He also reiterated the problems in relations between Belarus and the Russian Federation, and questioned the mental abilities of the current Belarusian president:
“Lukashenko is unlikely to change radically and be honest with Russia. He has convinced himself that Russia is not going anywhere. But in conflict situations, he does not support Russia. He was hardly defeated, but he started a war with the people. Will he be smart enough to calm this situation? It seems he is not smart enough.”
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