This article is the fourth in a series of publications on the impact of Russian war propaganda in Belarus, based on a study conducted by the international expert network iSANS. 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. The third article analyzed the anti-Ukrainian propaganda narratives in Belarus during the war — the propaganda trend that has seen the most development over the past year. In this another installment, we present propaganda stories directed against the western neighbors of Belarus — Poland and the Baltic countries.
The information war against Poland and the Baltic countries, especially Lithuania, is what little that the Belarusian propagandists retained from their traditional “local” pre-war stories after the start of large-scale aggression against Ukraine. For the Russian media, these topics are too “minor” and do not bear such paramount importance as the confrontation with the “capitalist hegemon” — the United States or the entire “collective West”. Attacks on these closest neighbors of Belarus and Russia are carried out by Russian propagandists only in the general context of stories in which Russia sees its interests.
Aggressive plans of Poland and the Baltic States
In Belarus, Poland and Lithuania have long been elevated by pro-Kremlin propaganda to the rank of the main enemies or «assault squad» of the «collective West» on its eastern borders. In their view, these countries are hatching aggressive plans, trying to break up the Belarusian-Russian «alliance» by hitting it with Ukrainian sabotage groups, they dream of regaining the western territories of Ukraine and Belarus and taking Kaliningrad.
«The West intends to take Western Ukraine and Western Belarus for itself, said Belarusian President Aliaksander Lukashenka at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi.» (Aliaksander Lukashenka, 05/23/2022).
“One should remember that in Lithuania, back in 2014, they prepared a theoretical basis on how to seize the Kaliningrad region from Russia.” (Alexander Tikhansky, 06/20/2022).
As a full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine approached, these storylines have taken on a special urgency.
«Russophobia», totalitarianism and Nazism
Western neighbors, according to state propagandists, are still “Russophobic”, totalitarian and Nazis, and conduct a foreign policy hostile to Belarus and Russia. They hate those who «stopped fascism decades ago.»
“They went farther than Hitler had and are now giving fines for watching Belarusian TV channels”.
“In the West, there is a desire to engage Russia in several conflicts at once. Create several fronts for it at once. <…> However, the Russians expect, as they say, some dirt from the allies of the collective West — from Poland, the Baltic countries. There is a great danger that the forces of the West may rock the situation in the Central Asian region.” (Alexander Alesin, 05/18/2022).
Insults and direct threats to neighbors from Belarus
The most heinous curses and threats from the Belarusian leaders and propagandists target specifically these European countries. High on impunity, they resort to direct threats of military attack and slurry insults. One must but quote a few egregious cases:
“Those Polacks are strange people: their master from Washington told them to stay, but they keep barking. This might as well end with the Warsaw People’s Republic appearing on the world map. (TG-channel Nevolf, 03/14/2022).
“Putin and I once said in St. Petersburg that we would also convert Belarusian Su aircraft to carry nuclear weapons. You thought we were shooting bull? It’s done already! … And we know whether the decision-making centers are” (Aliaksander Lukashenka, 08/26/2022).
“If children’s tears do not bring you to your senses, maybe strategic Tu-22M3 aircraft of the Military Space Forces of the Russian Federation will. … Run, Polacks.” (Grigory Azarenok, 11/12/2021).
“Remember, damned humanoids, you fancy starting wars, but we are the ones finishing them. And we will finish this one not in Vilnius and Warsaw, but in London and Washington.” (Grigory Azarenok, 03.12.2021)
Such statements can be condemned in accordance with international legal norms that prohibit war propaganda and calls for aggression. But the national legislation of Belarus is also sufficient to qualify such statements as crimes, for example, according to Articles 122 (Preparing or waging an aggressive war), 123 (Propaganda of war), or 130 (incitement of racial, national, religious or other social hatred or discord) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus.
Poland and the Baltic States are puppets of the US, NATO and the EU, but they themselves threaten Russia
As was said, the promotion of hostile myths around Poland and the Baltic states started long before the plans for an invasion of Ukraine emerged. After the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of hostilities in the Donbas, hostile rhetoric against these countries intensified and was most frequently used after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
According to propagandists, these European countries do not have neither agency, nor decision-making capacity, as they are puppets of the United States (NATO, EU, etc.). The dependence narrative is permanent in the speeches of the so-called «president» of the Republic of Belarus Aliaksander Lukashenka. A few weeks before the start of the war, for example, he said: “Without the support of the United States of America, Poland and Lithuania will forever remain the dull outskirts of Europe … Our western neighbors, Poland, Lithuania, are actively acting in line with Washington’s policy. For them, it’s a survival strategy.»
But as in the case of Ukraine, this narrative coexists seamlessly with another line that supposedly Poland itself threatens Russia and even wrangles America: “Do you know who is the main instigator, who is betting on the use of nuclear weapons? Poland. It is provoking you — the United States — to make a move in terms of nuclear weapons.” (Aliaksander Lukashenka, 10/14/2022).
Socio-economic decline and energy crisis
The new narrative is the socio-economic decline and energy crisis in Poland, the Baltic countries and the West in general, aggravated by the sanctions imposed on Russia and Belarus. Propaganda storylines such as food shortages in the West fall on fertile ground in a country where the genetic memory of hunger and scarcity still remains. “Look at what is happening with neighboring Lithuania and Latvia, the Poles. … They were so happy, cheerful. They lived in the «prosperous» world, they had everything. And where are they today? They are standing along the border and begging us to let them into Belarus. So much as to buy some grits. Forget grits — they are out of salt; they are begging us for salt.” (Lukashenko, 24.04.2022).
Or there is one about hot water shortages in residential buildings due to the energy crisis: “When lacking freshness, four places should be washed: in between the buttocks, the armpits, the feet and the groin. … And what about the rest? I’m afraid the proverb « scratch a European and a Nazi will come out » will soon have to be taken literally”. (Andrey Mukovozchik, August 9, 2022).
In this host of toxic stories, echoes of the migration crisis on the border of Belarus and the EU countries in 2021, which since then has not been fully resolved, are still heard. For example, the content of the Russian agency Sputnik Belarus (a division of the Russia Today media holding — not to be confused with the Russia Today TV channel) and other pro-Kremlin media, back in 2015, pushed the narratives about the aggressive West and the inevitable decline of the European Union due to migration flows in Europe in the active phase of the war in Syria.
Due to the influx of wartime refugees from Ukraine, starting from February 24, 2022, a new line appears on the propaganda agenda – juxtaposing the Middle East refugees of 2021 and the Ukrainian refugees from the period of the Russian war against Ukraine: “Refugees are suffering from the actions of Polish border guards… This cruel and degrading treatment contrasts sharply with the warm welcome Poland offers to displaced people from Ukraine.” (Marta Gubay, 04/11/2022).