Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Moscow Must Stop Belarus from Drifting Away from Russia, ‘Vzglyad’ Writer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 2 – When Russians talk about Russophobia or the destruction of Russia’s cultural inheritance, Kirill Ozimko writes in “Vzglyad,” they usually talk about Ukraine or the Baltic countries. They “almost never” talk about Belarus, “a fraternal republic with the reputation of ‘the most Russian’ among the countries of the former Soviet Union.

            “No one can even imagine that [Belarus] could sometime break away from the Russian world, reject the historical heritage it has in common with Russia or stop using the Russian language,” he writes.  But as Ukraine shows, all that is possible even if the situation in Belarus is not so dire from Russia’s point of view (vz.ru/opinions/2016/2/1/791549.html).

            There, Western propagandists have been active, and Russia has done nothing, he says.  “A little less than 25 years have passed since the disintegration of the USSR, and the geopolitical orientation of the population has turned upside down. What has happened? Something horrible: the complete defeat of our country in the information war for Ukraine.”

            “What has Russia done to maintain fraternal allied relations with Ukraine? Nothing. All the post-Soviet history of Russian-Ukrainian relations was reduced to unending conflicts over gas, scandal around the Black Sea Fleet, and ineffective talk about partnership.” Ozimko continues.

            Meanwhile, “Ukrainian nationalists with the financial support of the West are actively conducting an information working over of the Ukrainian people, and in the first instance, of young people … As is clear,” he says, “the West already long ago recognized that in our information age, the occupation of territories takes place not by the traditional path but through the manipulation of public opinion, through winning the minds of people.”

            “Today, Belarus is the information battlefield,” and again, the West is “quietly approaching victory.  The authorities of the republic are trying to control the information space there, but practice shows that the development of contemporary technologies reduces all such attempts to nothing.”

            Moreover, “if earlier it was possible to ban the publication and import of harmful newspapers, journals and books, today, the Western partners fight for the minds of Belarusians from the territory of neighboring states, using money from Western foundations and even government budgets.”

            In Poland, Charter 97 has its offices and directs its Internet operations at Belarusians in Belarusian, Russian and English. It calls Russians “’occupiers’” and “’historical enemies of Belarusians.’” It labels Lukashenka “’a dictator’” and predicts the end of Putin and his “’horrific empire.’” And its site is getting thousands of views.

            “At the same time,” Ozimko says, “not a single pro-Russian site for Belarusians can compete with Charter 97 in popularity. In general, there are practically no sites of this kind at all.”  And the handful that do exist are amateur operations without the kind of financial backing they should have.

            Also in Poland, there is a satellite television channel in Belarusian and directed at Belarus.  Several dozen journalists in Belarus, Poland, Lithuania and the Czech Republic work for it; and its broadcasts use the same anti-Russian language that Charter 97 does. And once again, there is no “Russian response to such television for Belarusians.”

            Given this imbalance between Western efforts and Russian inaction, the West’s policy “sooner or later will lead to its success” and to Russia’s defeat, especially since surveys show that “already today, young men and women of the neighboring republic prefer pro-Western movements.”

            In sum, what happened in Ukraine is happening again in Belarus, albeit “much more slowly.”  That gives Moscow a chance if it in fact gets involved in the information war rather than sits on the sidelines and assumes it can hold Belarus by giving “unending credits” to the Belarusian government.

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