The threat of Maidan has become the main narrative of pro-Kremlin propaganda. In the hands of propagandists, the Maidan has become a universal scarecrow that is used when it comes to protests. Commenting on the capture of the Capitol by an armed gang of Trumpists, mouthpieces of pro-Kremlin propaganda compare it to the events in Ukraine. A specific feature of the use of this narrative in Belarus is the attempt to justify the violence by Lukashenko’s security forces against peaceful protesters.
Pro-Kremlin manipulators are constructing analogies between the riots in Washington, the protest movement in Belarus, and the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine. In contrast to far-fetched similarities, the events around the Capitol, the Belarusian protests, and the Ukrainian Maidan really do have one thing in common: reluctance on the part of the current government to cede power.
The Kremlin has a simple goal – to create or intensify chaos in other countries, and to present Russia as the center of stability. At the same time, democratic processes are reported negatively or mockingly, the U.S. judicial system is questioned, and false statements about election fraud are made. Thus, Moscow justifies its own actions to restrict freedom of speech, introduce censorship, and create an inhumane justice system.
Pro-Kremlin media use the image of the actions of American security forces to suppress riots in the Capitol to justify violence by the authorities in Belarus. However, unlike the storming of the Capitol, both the Maidan and the protests in Belarus were aimed at changing an authoritarian regime.
One of the first narratives regarding the similarity of the events around the Capitol with the Ukrainian Maidan was introduced by the First Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN Dmitry Polyansky. On his Twitter account, Polyansky wrote about the capture of the Capitol: «Maidan-style photographs come out of Washington». A repost immediately appeared on the official account of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Pro-Kremlin media were involved in spreading the narrative about the similarity to the Maidan. Their theories in one form or another repeat classic Kremlin themes. To reinforce them, as usual, the highest government officials of Russia were used to voice the main messages:
- Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs: “Obviously, American democracy is limping on both legs. Alas, this is the bottom. I say this without a hint of gloating. America no longer charts the course, and it has lost the right to set it.”
- Leonid Slutsky, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs: «The boomerang of ‘color revolutions’ is returning to the U.S. This threatens to turn into a crisis of the American system of power in the new century».
The last quote was so popular that it was repeated by all the main Russian media outlets.
A new impetus for the wave of publications in the pro-Russian media was given by the statement of Czech President Milos Zeman:
«In general, I do not like violent revolutions, therefore, for example, I also don’t like the Maidan or something like that, which, as you know, happened in Kyiv. And now the Americans have it right at home».
The statement was instantly reposted. Later, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmitry Kuleba commented on it. «It doesn’t matter if someone decided to compare Milos Zeman with Vaclav Havel. Formally, both have been presidents of Czechia, but really they have nothing in common», wrote Kuleba on Twitter.
In Ukraine, Russian propaganda theories on the riots in Washington were actively and systematically promoted by channels associated with the pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and businessman Viktor Medvedchuk, for example ZIK and NewsOne. For instance, on January 7, ZIK prepared a two-hour special broadcast called «American Maidan».
Detector Media highlighted the following main topics that were seen in these types of materials:
1. The storming of the Capitol was no different from the Ukrainian Maidan, as they both involved the seizure of government buildings;
2. The American security forces did the same thing that the Ukrainians did on the Maidan [just as the Belarusians did to suppress the protests], but they are praised for it;
3. Let the Americans no longer teach the world about democracy;
4. America fell into a trap that it itself laid for others in supporting color revolutions;
5. There is a terrible split in American society, it is the end of America, and the West will not help us.
Some of these media sources drew direct parallels with Belarus. The editor-in-chief of the pro-Kremlin website strana.ua writes in his column «How protests in America differ from the Ukrainian Maidan: it’s one thing when Lukashenko suppresses the «Maidans», and quite another when it’s the United States».
Kremlin propagandists essentially use the image of the events in the Capitol to represent the Kremlin’s narratives disseminated in Ukraine and Belarus in vivid tones. The emphasis is on discrediting the Maidan and Western democracies and values.
In Belarus, pro-government media focus on justifying Lukashenko’s actions to preserve power and use violence against protesters when covering events in the U.S. At the same time, the principles of American democracy are discussed negatively.
Lukashenko sets the main tone as always. During a meeting with the President of the International Ice Hockey Federation Rene Fasel, he talked about «normal» democratic processes in Belarus. «Our protesters and other disaffected people do not storm government offices and capitol buildings». On January 15, BelTA published an article devoted to the events in Washington: «Zhuk: if the state does not know how to defend itself and its citizens then the state is worthless».
The chairman of Belteleradiocompany Ivan Eismont and editor-in-chief of the publishing house Belarus Today Dmitry Zhuk accused the «world community» of double standards in assessing the protests in the U.S. and
Belarus and compared the actions of the American and Belarusian security officials, approving of the use of violence by the latter.
«Here and there people who were dissatisfied with the election results committed crimes. In both cases, the attempt failed. In Belarus, the crowd was pushed out of the square with the help of special [lachrymatory] agents, in Washington – with the help of special [lachrymatory] agents and firearms,» Ivan Eismont noted.
On January 7, BelTA published an article: «The U.S. establishment and elite have shown double standards relative to protests – Petrovsky». Here Pyotr Petrovsky, a representative of the organization Belaya Rus, puts forth theories about the falsification of elections in the U.S., the presence of internal public conflict, and the inability of the American judicial system to protect election results. In addition, the article justifies the actions of Belarusian security officials, who supposedly act «in the most gentle and correct way» in comparison to the actions of U.S. law enforcement agencies.
Actions of security officials
The actions of American security officials are often used as an argument in propaganda messages. They say that the United States uses force at home, but condemns the use of force by the authorities in the event of the Maidan and protests in Belarus.
In fact, unlike the events in Ukraine in 2013-14 and the events in Belarus in 2020, when the trained security forces defended the personal interests of Yanukovych and Lukashenko, U.S. security forces protected the law and the rights of voters, and not the opportunity for Joe Biden to occupy the White House.
Here should be emphasized the transparency of the work of U.S. power structures, communication with society, and the speed of reaction to violations of the law. For example, the U.S. Department of Defense published detailed explanations of the actions of the National Guard and the Pentagon during the January 6 riots, indicating the officials responsible for the decisions of the involvement of security forces. It is worth noting that the document was prepared and published by the Ministry of Defense, whose head was appointed by Donald Trump.
Now let us compare this with the actions of the Ukrainian Berkut, which brutally dispersed students on the Maidan, or with the powerful individuals surrounding Lukashenko, as when the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus Karapenkov discussed plans to create a special camp for protesters and the use of new types of special Russian [lachrymatory] agents that carry greater traumatic force.
Influence of propaganda
The United States is faced with the realization that populism, propaganda, and fake news on social media threaten the security of society and democracy. Washington’s response to this threat will impact the fight against the Kremlin’s disinformation far beyond Capitol Hill.
In the U.S., an investigation has already begun on foreign interference in the events around the Capitol. Information attacks will now be systematically monitored to develop countermeasures, for example, the introduction of new sanctions against Russia.
However, the Kremlin’s attempts to discredit democratic values will continue. By manipulating the concept of the right to freedom of speech, the Kremlin will suppress it in its environs, developing the concept of a “sovereign Internet.” Russia will continue to use protests and mass demonstrations to carry out operations of influence abroad and infiltrate protest movements to organize provocations and create chaos.
The Kremlin is using the image of unrest in the United States to conduct information operations that benefit pro-Russian forces in Ukraine and Belarus. The main narratives of this campaign are discrediting the protest movement and democratic values, justifying violence by the security forces, censorship, and restrictions on freedom of speech.
Despite these efforts, democratic institutions have survived. The United States has passed the test for populism. The events in Washington have confirmed the importance of the functioning of reliable and stable mechanisms that allow for the democratic change of power through the people’s free choice.
This article is published as part of the Prospect Foundation project “Online Media Literacy for Editors and Administrators of Social Media Public Pages”, managed by iSANS and supported through grants from the International Visegrad Fund. The article is published on the partner’s site @visegradinsight. A Russian version of this article will soon be available on Reform.by.