Is Putin going to attack Belarus?
On August 14, 15, and 16 Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin had several phone calls to agree on the format of Russian assistance to handle the situations in Belarus. Russian assistance in the form of hybrid intervention was launched on approximately August 17. As our sources report, on August 18, two groups of Russian political, military, security, and media advisers arrived in Minsk from Moscow to take control over the situation in Belarus in key public and governing areas (media, social and political sector, army and security agenices). The operation was partially disguised as a celebration of Russian ambassador’s birthday party. As our internal sources in Russia report military intervention in the present situation of true social unrest was not considered possible.
Russian advisers now target all key fields of Belarusian life.
It is in question whether the Russians will work to keep Lukashenka in power or to arrange the transit of power under the Kremlin control.
It now seems that Lukashenka is not in control of the situation anymore. But neither is the Kremlin, although it has become very proactive. Russia is now playing along with Lukashenka, but he is not a strongman anymore – and can be disposed by the Kremlin if he will continue to lose loyalty of people as fast as it happens now. So far, at least three indicators point out that the scenario of Russia-controlled transit has begun:
1. Active support of pro-Russian transit by a pool of Russian state media (including Russia Today holding);
2. Activization of pro-Russian elements of Russian influence network. This includes the creation of ’People’s patriotic movement of Belarus’ («Народно-патриотическое движениe Беларуси») by LDPB leader Siarhei Gaidukevich (Сергей Гайдукевич) and growing activity of RPTS party. These two parties were created as symmetric reflection of Russian parties and will have their place in Russian architecture of the so-called Union state;
3. Active support and coverage of all movements and announcements of Valeri Tsepkala (Валерий Цепкало) by RIA Novosti (РИА Новости) that has de-facto turned into Tsepkala’s press-service.
According to iSANS insights, the representatives of five Kremlin governance institutions will manage the operation on the ground (1 manager + 5 reporting persons in each group):
- Russian state media;
- Russian president’s administration;
- Russian ministry of defense;
- Russian government.
On Tuesday, August 18, a mobile television station (PTS) of the RT channel (MIA Rossiya Segodnya) was spotted in Minsk. On Wednesday, August 19, Internet users started to publish photos of the propagandist Irada Zeynalova in Minsk. Same day, Andrei Blagodyrenko (Андрей Благодыренко), the vice-editor of MIA ‘Rossiya Segodnya’ (International news agency ‘Russia Today’), visited Minsk. His mission is to synchronize Belarusian state media as well as Russian media present in Belarus (i.e. Sputnik) to Russian propagandistic standards of Ukraine coverage in 2014-2020. On August 21 Lukashenka officially acknowledged that 2-3 groups of Russian TV advisors came to work for Belarusian state TV. According to our sources these are experst from MIA Rossiya Segodnya (RT, Sputnik, RIA Novosti), who will be required to establish full control over state media.
On August 20, Kremlin’s media launched a coordinated fake news campaign against Tikhanovskaya. From this date one may start a countdown of Russian assistance in the Belarus media space.
Advisers from Russia were brought to state TV channels BT and ONT to replace striking and resigned journalists and technical staff who refused to further whitewash Lukashenka. Thus, television in Belarus, which was previously under the full control of the Belarusian authorities, has already been taken under Russian control. Now, according to the plan of the Kremlin operators, the Belarusian TV and radio reporting and propaganda standarts will be unified with the Russian TV, and we may expect appearance of clones of Soloviev and Skabeeva. Standards will be set along the lines of Ukraine coverage format of 2014-2020.
We already see the first results of this work – wild propaganda videos were launched on another state channel, STV, with the aim of demonizing Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. In fact, now the role of state TV channels is reduced to inciting violent civil conflict in Belarus. Posters of a similar nature appeared on the streets of Belarus. Lukashenka’s rhetoric has also changed and shifted to ‘donbassized’ propaganda messages addressed to competitors. Based on a comparison of the vocabulary of his previous speeches, we assume his recent speeches are now being written by the Kremlin speechwriters.
The confrontation lines are formulated according to the Kremlin Ukrainian playbook for the “donbassization” of Belarus. The main ones are (the non-existent) opposition of the east and west of the country, Catholics and Orthodox, Belarusian and Russian population (with an outright lie about the non-existent plans of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to ban the Russian language).
The people from the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation were brought to Minsk by a special board to oversee and control the restructuring of public space. This includes the activization of the network of Russian influence, the formation of the Belarusian version of the ‘anti-Maidan’ movement with similar ideology, and structuring the activities of the pro-Russian political wing on the territory of Belarus, propaganda rallies ‘For the Ol’Man ( Bat’ka – father)’ («За Батьку», ‘Bat’ka’ is a purely Russian formula introduced almost 2 decades ago) and the activation of pro-Russian parties.
Even if Lukashenka remains in power, one of the conditions of the Kremlin is likely to be a restructuring of the parliamentary system in Belarus. It will be built in a way that the pro-Kremlin parties will become another leverage for the Kremlin to control the situation in Belarus. In fact, the Kremlin is trying to form an oversight of the work of the parliament and parties from the Russian President’s Administration – as has been the case with the Russian State Duma for many years.
At the next stage, one can expect ‘persuasion work’ and attempts to bribe cultural elites, regional managers and top managers of state-owned enterprises. This, also fits into the scheme of work tested by the Kremlin technologists in Moldova, Ukraine and other ‘objects of attention’ of Moscow. As part of this process, the Kremlin will form clans loyal to Moscow. Lukashenka himself tried to avoid this before, when he constantly reshuffling the management system, now he no longer controls this.
Our experts estimations are that Putin’s presidential administration might be represented by Boris Rapoport (Борис Рапопорт) who curated Donbass in 2014, and now works under Alexander Kharichev (Александр Харичев) who is the Head of the Office of the Presidential Directorate for Supporting Activities of the State Council in Russia. (Reportedly it was Kharichev’s office order for several polls done in Belarus from the outside regarding attitudes to the Union State, Russia, self-identity etc).
However, Rapoport is now busy with internal elections in Russia and may not be able to fly to Belarus just yet.
Russian government’s team most likely will be presented by the deputy head of Putin’s administration Dmitri Kozak (Дмитрий Козак) who held the position of Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister until 21.01.2020.
The chairs of FSB and Defence teams that arrived to Minsk yet remain unknown. Most likely, this information will never get into the information space at all. The advisers from the Russian Ministry of Defense and the FSB of Russia will work with their local partners – the commandment of the Belarusian army and the leadership of the State Security Committee (KGB). In fact, it will be an attempt to reassign the command of the army and the KGB to the Kremlin.
Now, in a very short period of time, the Kremlin plans to take control of the key points of government in Belarus, turn on propaganda at full capacity (primarily, television), and decide what to do next with Lukashenka. Lukashenka himself, having opened the door for Russian hybrid intervention, has little to decide for himself. Apparently, he hopes to regain control with his traditional assurances of ‘brotherly love; and signing everything that the Kremlin will order. Unfortunately for everyone except the Kremlin, these illusions will end very soon – as well as so may end the history of Belarus as a sovereign country.