At a meeting in Luxembourg on June 21, the EU Council adopted the fourth, most extensive and painful package of personal sanctions against the regime in Belarus. The sanctions list includes 78 Belarusian officials, including those closest to Alexander Lukashenko, and 8 companies. EU sanctions, which include freezing assets and visa bans, have been supported to varying degrees by the U.S., Canada, and the UK.
And on June 24, the Council of the European Union officially introduced new sectoral sanctions against the Belarusian economy in response to the worsening human rights situation in the country, harsh repressions against the opposition and journalists, the forced landing of the Ryanair plane in Minsk, and the arrest of Roman Protasevich.
What are Kremlin media outlets in Ukraine saying about the sanctions?
The information campaign of pro-Kremlin media accompanying the introduction of European sanctions is advancing a set of statements made earlier by Lukashenko, representatives of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, and the security agencies.
In Ukrainian pro-Russian media – for example, Strana.yua – news about Belarus is often disseminated with reference to Russian media and Telegram channels. This is not surprising, since it is Russian resources that are predominantly the primary replicators of statements made by representatives of the Lukashenko regime.
Although the Kremlin publicly supports Lukashenko, calling the EU sanctions against Belarus counterproductive, Russian propaganda does not always cover Lukashenko positively. For example, Anton Krasovsky, head of the Russian-language broadcasting board of Russia Today, in a speech on the channel called the Belarusians «our people» and the territory of Belarus «six Russian provinces» which are «in the service» of the «unpredictable, uncontrollable» Lukashenko.
Such statements made on the Russian state channel Russia Today cannot be unintentional. This duality, where contradictory messages are promoted simultaneously through various channels, is characteristic of Russian propaganda. On the one hand, its goal is to make Lukashenko more accommodating towards Russia’s proposals for integration and, on the other, to assess the public perception of such statements on the salvation of their Belarusian «compatriots.»
The general direction of the current information campaign is the creation of an image of the enemy in the form of the European Union and the U.S., presenting Russia as the only source of assistance and support, and the integration processes as a forced measure towards which the West is pushing Minsk.
Against this background, the Kremlin continues its creeping annexation of Belarus, using EU sanctions to increase information pressure while demonstrating that Minsk receives support only from Moscow. Russian Ambassador to Belarus Yevgeny Lukyanov has already stated that the coordination of roadmaps for cooperation between Belarus and Russia in the Union State is at the final stage.
One of the directions of the Kremlin’s information campaign includes attempts to locate and intensify disagreements between the European Union and the Baltic states. To this end, figures of both real and imaginary economic losses that these countries, primarily Lithuania, will incur after the introduction of sectoral sanctions are employed. With the same goal in mind, information on response measures that Belarus will introduce is being disseminated. To cover economic issues, representatives of the Belarusian Cabinet of Ministers at the level of minister and prime minister are used as primary voices.
The EU sanctions are interpreted by Kremlin propaganda, first, as European interference in the internal affairs of Belarus and, second, as an imaginary legal basis for providing «assistance» to Belarus and legitimizing the adoption of countermeasures, including even greater suppression of civil rights and freedoms in Belarus.
The Telegram channel Ukraina.ru on June 22, commenting on a statement made by a member of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada delegation to PACE regarding consideration of the resolution on the violation of the rights of Crimean Tatars in Crimea, said «Russia will be blamed by Ukraine for violating the rights of Crimeans and for Europe’s interference in the affairs of Belarus.»
On June 23, the Telegram channel Sputnik Near Abroad published a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry: «The Russian Foreign Ministry called the new anti-Belarusian EU sanctions interference in internal affairs.» In its statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry expresses full support for its «Belarusian allies» in «categorical rejection of unilateral illegitimate restrictive measures introduced by Western countries in violation of international law» and at the same time threatens a «proportionate response.»
As far as creating an image of the enemy is concerned, attempts to use historical memory and the comparing of the date of the introduction of European sanctions with the date of the attack of Nazi Germany on the USSR – June 22, 1941 – should receive particular attention.
The Telegram channel Ukraina.ru noted the following on June 21 regarding the approval of a new package of sanctions against Belarus at a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg: «The EU could not have chosen a better time to introduce new sanctions except on the eve of June 22. Perfect.»
On June 22, the Telegram channel Sputnik Near Abroad published quotes from Lukashenko’s speech at the Brest Fortress, «80 years have passed and now there is a new hot war»: «You should not choke us; you should carry us in your arms – Germans, Poles, the European Union… Because we saved you from the brown plague… Europe is trying to kill Belarus but expects protection from geopolitical interests from it. Enormous financial resources were devoted to the conducting of the color blitzkrieg. The collective West is dreaming of ‘a new rush to the East.»
On the same day, Sputnik Near Abroad published an additional statement by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, which called the sanctions «a declaration of economic war.» «Another sanctions aggression was unleashed by a group of Western countries on a day of remembrance and sorrow when 80 years ago a ‘united Europe’ led by Hitler’s Germany attacked the USSR.»
The next narrative being introduced by Russian propaganda is that «EU sanctions against Belarus are sanctions against the Belarusian people.»
On June 23, the Telegram channel CIS Sentinel reposted a quotation from a statement made by Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko: «We warned that the sanctions would not remain unreciprocated… To declare the mission ‘for the sake of the Belarusian people’ is at the very least cynical and unprincipled… Restrictions against MAZ and BELAZ were introduced only because Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko called them leading enterprises and national treasures.»
The internet publication Strana.yua in their June 22 article titled «The Belarusian Foreign Ministry called the new sanctions from the European Union «open mockery» uses several Kremlin propaganda narratives simultaneously with reference to a statement by Belarusian Foreign Ministry representative Anatoly Glaz for Sputnik Belarus: «Regarding any dialogue and cooperation Western partners of Belarus still prefer only hostile actions – sanctions and pressure on a sovereign state… Today the EU sent a new strong signal of support to the people of Belarus by introducing new restrictive measures… In fact, it borders on the declaration of economic war.» «The Belarusian Foreign Ministry also calls the date of the introduction of new sanctions – on a day of remembrance and sorrow, when 80 years ago a ‘united Europe’ led by Hitler’s Germany attacked the Soviet Union – sacrilege…»
On June 12, the Telegram channel Sputnik Near Abroad already put out a statement by the Belarusian Foreign Minister: «The West wants to provoke an economic crisis and ‘hunger riots’ in Belarus… According to Makei, the opposition was tasked with resuming mass protests in the country until September. This is exactly what Western countries are trying to achieve by tightening sanctions, said the Minister.»
One of the directions of creating an enemy has been an attempt to present market redistribution as a motive for the introduction of sanctions by the European Union. On June 20, the Telegram channel Sputnik Belarus published comments made by the Minister of Economy of Belarus Alexander Chervyakov regarding Western sanctions: «The sanctions are an attempt by the West to divide markets and push out competitors.»
Another area of information influence has been an attempt to justify the strengthening of the integration of Minsk and Moscow through the sanctions of the European Union and the U.S. For example, on June 17, the Nezygar Telegram channel writes: «Lukashenko has lost almost all room for maneuvering. The EU sanctions are pushing it towards ever greater integration with Russia, which, in turn, is limited by the threat of new sanctions… Primary losses to Minsk are being compensated by Moscow. Of course, it is not that simple. Russia insists on full political integration. In parallel with this, Russian businesses are eyeing the fattest assets of its western neighbor, chief among them Belaruskali.»
It is interesting that this channel has previously linked the strengthening of integration processes with the imposition of sanctions against Belarus. For example, on May 27 Nezygar writes: «The sovereignty of the Republic of Belarus is being questioned by the ‘collective West’ for an insignificant reason that does not in the least contradict any relevant international treaties. Diplomatic relations with Minsk are being terminated and they are being threatened with sectoral sanctions… Given this, Lukashenko does not have a lot of choice: introduce an emergency economic situation with a normalized distribution of resources and growing crisis prospects or develop options for a complete merger with the Russian economy, giving the green light for the entry of Russian capital into the country on preferential terms.»
The Kremlin’s narratives aimed at splitting the EU often have economic implications in the context of the imposition of sanctions. To this end, the possible losses of profits by Western countries from cooperation with Belarusian enterprises, as well as from the use of transit opportunities of Belarus, are on display. For the same purpose, they use statements made by Lukashenka and his representatives on the introduction of retaliatory sanctions.
On May 27, the Telegram channel Nezygar posted this assessment: «If the [gas transit] will be closed because of EU sanctions then […] prices in Europe (especially in Poland), sitting largely on the ‘pipeline’ going through Belarus , will grow even more… The problem for the EU will be the closure of the Baltic ports and the loss of income for the subsidized Baltic limitrophe states since export volumes will be redirected to Russian ports.»
On June 20, the Telegram channel Sputnik Near Abroad published the following: «Lithuania was afraid of anti-Belarusian sanctions. The final decision on the fourth package of EU sanctions against Belarus will be made tomorrow. Analysts believe that sectoral restrictions will have a ripple effect on the Lithuanian economy.» Following this estimated figures of losses to the Lithuanian economy in the event of the introduction of sectoral sanctions against Belaruskali along with «conditions from the Seim to the EU» for compensation were provided in the text.
On June 21, the Telegram channel CIS Sentinel (Dezhurniy po SNG) reposted the following from the minor channel Is it far to Tallinn?, garnering 9,600 views: «The confrontation between the EU and Belarus is becoming an increasingly serious test for Lithuania. In the context of the EU’s decision to impose new sanctions for the country, it is increasingly said that Vilnius may pay an extremely high price for a confrontation with Minsk.»
The same Telegram channel, CIS Sentinel, in a post dated June 22, writes: «The new EU sanctions will leave the Klaipeda port without Belarusian fertilizers… This will not only affect the harbor itself, which may lose up to a third of its cargo turnover and tens of millions of euros in profit, but also the country’s railways.»
The online publication Ukraina.ru, in their article «The European Union against Belarus: what the fourth package of sanctions will bring» from June 22, 2021, writes the following: «Is the West bringing Minsk and Moscow closer? The new sanctions could bring the governments of Minsk and Moscow closer together, thereby pushing Belarus and Russia to deepen their economic cooperation.» Further, the conclusion follows that in connection with the sanctions, «a powerful blow will be dealt to the country’s economy… But in the field of petroleum products, the main buyers from Belarus are the European Union and Ukraine. In this instance, Russia can help.»
Kremlin media regularly circulate news about Moscow’s support for Minsk. On June 22, the Telegram channel Sputnik Near Abroad published the following statement made by the Russian Ambassador to Belarus: «Russia will support Belarus after the introduction of EU sanctions. ‘We will not leave Belarus. Allies do not betray each other. And I am not even talking about the fact that we are two fraternal Slavic peoples.»
The Telegram channel Nezygar regularly writes that Russia will support Belarus in its confrontation with the West. From a post dated June 17: «Moscow will compensate Minsk for their primary losses.» And this, from June 4 – «… in the event of implementation of offshore projects for Belarus (within the framework of the Union State), Crimea, Kaliningrad, and Vladivostok, Moscow will be able to effectively neutralize the so-called sectoral sanctions from the ‘collective West,’ quite calmly channeling funds from both domestic and foreign investors to these offshore companies.»
Kremlin propaganda is trying to unify and bring together the information field as much as possible, connecting them with pro-Russian media platforms in Ukraine and Belarus. The introduction of sanctions by the European Union against the Lukashenko regime will continue to be the topic on which these media will play. The Kremlin uses the consequences of the sanctions to advance an anti-European agenda, split the position of European countries, and legitimize the creeping annexation of Belarus.