security and political strains now plague Russia’s relations with
Belarus, but Minsk has been trying to carve out a more independent
path at least since Ukraine’s Maidan crisis in 2014.
country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko claims Ukraine is
“fighting for independence.” Minsk supplies Ukraine with fuel,
military trucks and textiles.
2015, he released several political prisoners. As a result, the West
lifted sanctions against Belarus. Beginning in 2016, Minsk simplified
its visa regime, allowing travel to Belarus for the citizens of 80
countries including the United States and all EU members.
in 2015, Belarus refused to develop a Russian military air base on
its territory. The following year it did not pay Russian natural gas
imports in full. More recently Lukashenko recently ignored the
Kremlin-sponsored EAEC and CSTO summits and meetings with Putin.
Moscow has sought to strengthen its ties with Russian-speakers
abroad, Minsk has softly promoted the Belarusian language and the de
Kremlin Strikes Back
has answered by using hard and soft power to tighten pressure on
Minsk. It reduced oil supplies and has squeezed Belarusian goods out
of the Russian market. Russia also established a border zone with
Belarus to control citizens of third states who could now enter
Russia via Belarus (there previously had been no border controls
between the two countries).
key part of the Kremlin reaction, however, has been an information
war offensive against Belarus— resembling its earlier offensive
against Ukraine and designed to portray part of Belarusian society as
an increasingly “fascist enemy.” Russian media claims extremism
is on the rise due to Minsk’s multi-vector foreign policy. Moscow
claimed Minsk is “preparing
to leave CSTO
could lead to Russian attempts to destabilize Belarus as it did
Ukraine, thereby giving Moscow a pretext to militarily intervene.
media also has tried to falsify Belarusian history.
It calls national symbols like the White Red and White Flag and the
Pahonia coat of arms fascist.
Likewise, Moscow calls Kastuś Kalinoŭski—the 19th-century
national hero of Belarus—Polish, and has compared him to the
Ukrainian partisan leader Stepan Bandera, who cooperated with Nazi
Germany during World War II. Russian experts claim the Belarusian
language was created by communists and refer to Belarus as an
“inferior state.” They generally do not attack Lukashenko
personally, but rather his increasingly pro-Western policies.
most Belarusians speak Russian in everyday life, the key media
instruments in these attacks are Russian TV channels and online
media. The Belarusian domestic TV network has nine free channels,
most of them broadcasting in Russian. Four are officially Belarusian
broadcasting companies, but they air Russian TV programs such as ONT
(Nationwide TV”); “Russia-Belarus,” “NTV-Belarus,”Stolichnoye
televideniye” (“Television of the Capital”) and TV for the CIS
to the Belarusian
the three combined Belarusian-Russian TV channels are much more
popular than belarusian state channels 1, 2, 3 and 5. Their secret to
popularity: mixing attractive Russian TV content with Belarusian TV
productions. According to audience surveys, Belarusian viewers trust
than Belarusian and independent ones.
sites are less restrained that the TV channels. According East
the main disinformation providers are Regnum and EurAsia Daily. In
December 2016, three writers at Regnum were arrested by Belarusian
officials on charges of inciting ethnic hatred.
a Russian military intervention cannot be ruled out, for now Moscow
seems content to use non-military tools to keep Lukashenko in check.
The worst scenario is a coup
cover of military exercises that would establish full Russian control
over Belarus. While the odds of such a dramatic move by Moscow are
low (for now) the more that Minsk attempts to reorient itself
Westward, the more likely it becomes that the Kremlin will endeavor
to maintain its influence over the country. This makes the prospect
of a divorce from Moscow exceptionally difficult to complete.