Staunton, April 17 – Last month, a group of foreign policy and security analysts from Europe and the United States assembled in Warsaw as the International Strategic Action Network for Society (iSANS) to compile and discuss a 120-page report on what it called Russia’s ‘creeping attack” on Belarusian sovereignty, moves intended to end with Moscow’s absorption of that country.
Because so many of the participants have close ties with governments in the region and because the situation is so fluid, the conference and the report were “off the record.” But participants have allowed Belarusian opposition journalist Aleksandr Otroshenkov to publish excerpts of it (reform.by/isans-dlya-russia-pogloshcheniye-belarus/).
Below are the key points of the report, which has attracted a great deal of attention in the Russian patriotic media, that the Belarusian journalist has published in what he describes as the first installment. When he posts more online, Window on Eurasia will do a follow on to include them as well.
· “Russia is exerting active, serious and growing pressure on the information and social space of Belarus through various channels.”
· “In recent months, this attack has acquired the character of ‘a hybrid war.’ Governmental, quasi-private, and non-government initiatives form a broad system of influence directed at so-called ‘deep integration.’”
· “Pro-Russian influence is being conducted in a directed and coordinated fashion by the Presidential Administration of Russia. It is being financed from government and private sources and carried out by Russian and Belarusian actors, united in several networks.”
· “The organizers and executors of the anti-Belarusian action are mostly politicians and activists who promote an imperial, Russian-nationalist, sharply conservative, extreme right and anti-Western ideology. Many of them took an active part in the preparation and carrying out of aggression in Ukraine and in earlier conflicts in which Russia was a participant.”
· This effort along with economic pressure will grow in the runup to the Belarusian presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019-2020. The absorption of Belarus is to take place no later than 2023-2024, but it may occur earlier.
· “Lukashenka is not a real guarantor of the independence of his country. He is an irrational player who holds onto power as a guarantee of his own security and does not wish to carry out any real reforms.”
· “However toothless it seems at present, the Union State to a large extent provides legal cover for the carrying out of various projects and activities, the final goal of which is the incorporation of Belarus” into the Russian Federation and “in fact, the restoration of the Russian Empire in new borders.”
· Among the means Moscow is using to support this drive are the corruption of local elites and military officers, the deployment of pro-Russian activists within Belarus, massive financing of pro-Russian groups there, massive propaganda attacks via Russian television, and “the establishment of a propaganda network around and within the state being attacked consisting of a large number of propagandistic sites, pages, and account sin social networks for promoting a pro-imperial ideology.”
· A turning point in this effort came in December 2011 when Grigory Rapota, a senior KGB general and foreign intelligence operative with great experience of work in the western direction” became secretary of the Union State. It is interesting that his successor in his former place of work – as plenipotentiary for the Volga Federal District – then became Mikhail Babich, the current Russian ambassador in Belarus.”
· Moscow’s effort against Belarus has been designed by the same people who took the lead in designing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including most prominently Vladislav Surkov and Sergey Glazyev.
· “If between 2014 and 2016, the situation in Belarus often was treated in public in Russia together with the ‘Ukrainian’ question, over the last two years, one must note that Belarus has become ever more a separate subject.” And in recent months, it has been subject to especially harsh and even scurrilous attacks.
· Such attacks started in the nationalist and imperialist media but have become mainstream, with memes promoted earlier only by marginal groups now at the center of discussion in state media.
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