Lukashenko is handing control over Belarus to the Kremlin
20 August 2020 | iSANS
The thing that people have warned about for so long has happened. Russia has launched a hybrid operation to establish control over Belarus’ media, public sphere, power structures, and administrative apparatus. Alexander Lukashenko, who, before the war, had been building the image of the great fighter for independence, has invited Russian ‘specialists’ into the country.
During the last two weeks, the help of a group of ‘advisers’ on normalizing the situation [in Belarus] was the subject of discussion during several phone calls to Vladimir Putin from Belarus. It was absolutely clear that no other form of intervention was possible at the peak of the protests. Before the election, it was possible to present the astonished world with grassroots fighters from the Wagner Group, a private military company. Now, the doors of Belarus have been opened wide to Russian specialists in hybrid operations who arrived in Belarus under the pretense of a birthday party for Russian Ambassador to Belarus Dmitry Mezentsev.
As always, Russian aid doesn’t come without a double or even triple bottom. Only a lazy journalist hasn’t written about signing all the ‘road maps’ under the auspices of the Union State while keeping Lukashenko in power (even if Lukashenko expects to wiggle his way out of it yet again with the help of peasant ingenuity). It’s not certain that this is what’s being discussed now. For now, the ‘consultants’ from Russia need to take control of key sectors of Belarus. It remains to be seen whether they’ll use this control to keep Lukashenko in power or to organize the transition of power under Russian leadership.
There are several signs that point to a potential transition scenario under Russian leadership:
- Active support of the idea of a pro-Russian transition by a pool of Russian state media organizations (including those belonging to the Rossiya Segodnya media group).
- Activation of pro-Russian elements of the Russian influence network in Belarus, including the creation of the People’s Patriotic Movement of Belarus by Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus leader Oleg Gaidukevich and the Republican Party of Labor and Justice’s increasing activity. These are the parties that were created inline with their Russian equivalents and should take their respective place in the Russian architecture of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.
- RIA Novosti’s active coverage and support of all movements and statements from Valery Tsapkala. The agency serves as his de facto press service.
Who’s come to Belarus as part of the Kremlin’s landing force?
First of all, there are specialists from the Rossiya Segodnya news agency (RT, Sputnik, RIA Novosti) tasked with establishing control over the media.
On Tuesday, August 18, a production truck belonging to the TV channel RT (part of Rossiya Segodnya) was seen in Minsk. On Wednesday, August 19, Internet users began publishing photos of propagandist Irada Zeynalova in Minsk.
State TV channels BT and ONT brought ‘specialists’ from Russia to replace journalists and production crews who were striking or had resigned. Thus, television in Belarus, which used to be fully under the control of the Belarusian authorities, has already been taken over by Russia. On August 19, high-ranking supervisors from Moscow were also sent to the offices of Sputnik Belarus with the job of ‘unifying the presentation of information’ along the lines of the Ukrainian agenda in 2014-2020. Now, according to the Kremlin landing force’s plan, Belarusian TV will be unified with Russia’s media apparatus, and more and more clones of Russia’s Vladimir Solovyov and Olga Skabeyeva will appear on Belarusians’ screens.
We already see the first fruits of this work: wild propaganda commercials that were launched on another state channel, STV, to demonize Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. In fact, the role of state TV channels is now reduced to inciting civil conflict in Belarus. Posters of a similar nature have appeared in Belarusian streets. Lukashenko’s rhetoric has also changed: ‘Donbass’ propaganda messages to competitors are starting to appear in the speeches of Lukashenko himself (which, based on a lexical comparison to previous speeches, as of this week are written by Kremlin speechwriters).
The themes of confrontation are now formulated as a carbon copy of the Ukrainian scenario for the ‘Donbasization’ of Belarus. The primary themes are those of a conflict between the country’s east and west, between Catholics and Orthodox Christian, between the Belarusian language and the Russian language (with a blatant lie about Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s non-existent plans to ban the Russian language).
The main thing that remains behind the scenes and outside the media space, for now, is the arrival of another group of operatives. We’re talking about people from the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation (PARF) who were brought to Minsk by a special team to supervise the work on controlling and restructuring the public sphere. Among other things, it would call for the formation of a Belarusian ‘anti-Maidan’ and the structuring of a pro-Russian political wing in Belarus in order to actively connect to the network of Russian influence. The first fruits of their work have already appeared in the form of posters, propaganda rallies ‘for Batka’ (Batka, or ‘father’, is purely a Russian expression), and activating pro-Russian parties.
Even if Lukashenko remains in power, one of the Kremlin’s conditions is likely going to be the restructuring of Belarus’ parliamentary system.
It will be arranged in such a way that the puppet pro-Kremlin parties will become another lever for the Kremlin to control the situation in Belarus. In fact, the Kremlin and Lukashenko are trying to create oversight over Parliament and its parties from the PARF, as they’ve done for many years with the Russian State Duma.
At the next stage, one can expect ‘educational work’ and attempts to bribe cultural elites, regional executives, and top managers of state companies. This also fits into the model tested by Kremlin political engineers in Moldova, Ukraine, and Moscow’s other ‘objects of interest’. As part of this process, the Kremlin will form clans loyal to Moscow. By the way, previously, even Lukashenko himself tried to avoid this when he was constantly ‘f*cking up’ the management hierarchy. The only difference is that now Lukashenko has no control over the situation.
And finally, there’s the work that will most likely never surface in any information space. We’re talking about the work of ‘specialists’ from the Ministry of Defense and the FSB with partners like the leadership of the Belarusian Army and the KGB. In fact, it will be an attempt to subordinate the leadership of the army and KGB to teams from the Kremlin. We don’t know what will come of that just yet. This may be the last opportunity for Belarusian officers to decide what loyalty to their own oath means.
In a very short period of time, the Kremlin plans to take control of the key points of the government of Belarus, turn the propaganda (primarily through television) on full blast, and decide what to do with Lukashenko. Having opened the doors to a Russian hybrid intervention, Lukashenko now decides very little. Apparently, he hopes to regain control with the help of regular assurances of brotherly love and signing everything the Kremlin orders him to sign. Unfortunately for everyone but the Kremlin, these illusions will end very soon, just as the history of Belarus as a sovereign nation may end for a while.