Russia’s propaganda effort in Ukraine and now in Belarus and especially the overwhelming dominance of Russian media outlets in the latter give rise to “serious suspicions that it is already too late” for Mensk or anyone else to take effective countermeasures, according to Anton Shimansky.
Indeed, the Belarusian opposition analyst says, the “only hope” is that “as a result of the conflict of the West and Russia, the latter will have to deal exclusively with its own affairs” for some time thus creating a breathing space which Belarusians might exploit to change the situation.
That Russians have been victimized by Kremlin propaganda about Ukraine has long been recognized, he says, but “however sad it may appear, to an even greater degree this is characteristic” for Belarusians as well, “the basic mass” of whom “receive information from TV channels” that put out the Kremlin’s line.
Moreover, Shimansky continues, unlike in Ukraine or even more in the Baltic countries, there is no “adequate system for the defense of the information space of the country.” As a result, “the Belarusian information and virtual space is simply part of the Russian one,” with ideas put out by Moscow repeated ad nauseum by Belarusian outlets.
As a result and not surprisingly, “the use of verbal symbols which Russian TV uses to describe the situation in Ukraine (fascists, Banderites, neo-Nazis, junta, illegitimate government) get significant support” in Belarus, with “more than 60 percent” of Belarusians telling pollsters that Moscow’s Crimean Anschluss was an “act of historic justice.”
“Belarusians,” Shimansky says, “to a significant degree are becoming victims of Russian propaganda, although one should recognize that this works effectively because the ground for that has been well prepared.” Indeed, one could now say that the Belarusian information space is “to an enormous extent occupied by a neighboring country.”
This has long been a matter of concern among the Belarusian opposition, it should be one for the Belarusian people as a whole, and there are indications that it is increasingly becoming a worry for the Belarusian government, Shimansky suggests.
Belarus will not do what the Baltic countries have done and cut off Moscow television. Mensk is too economically dependent on Moscow, Belarusian media are not now capable of offering an attractive alternative, and the Lukashenka regime benefits the more Belarusians see what has happened in Ukraine and do not want it to happen in their own country.
But despite that, Shimansky continues, “one can hardly call the situation of the Belarusian leadership simple.” The Mensk elite can see that Moscow has launched “an information war against Belarus” by positing a “mythical” outburst of Russophobia there and may follow up with other steps undermining Belarusian sovereignty and their own positions.
If one is honest, the Belarusian commentator continues, “it is exceptionally difficult if not in general impossible under contemporary conditions to find any methods of carrying out more or less effective counter-propaganda.” There are some media outlets that are putting out the truth, but they are now drowned out by those the Kremlin controls or has intimidated.