Wednesday, April 24, 2019

iSANS Report about Moscow’s ‘Creeping Attack on Belarusian Sovereignty’ – Part II

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – A month ago, a group of foreign policy and security analysts from Europe and the US met 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 on the portal.

Below are the key points of this part of the report, one that has attracted a great deal of attention in the Russian patriotic media, that the Belarusian journalist has published in what he describes as the second installment in a series. When he posts more online, Window on Eurasia will report on them as well.y

In it, Otroshenkov highlights three main aspects of the Russian effort to subvert Belarusian sovereignty and independence: its use of official structures like the Union State, the Russian embassy, and the Russian Orthodox Church, its identification of key groups to influence via soft power, and its promotion of cross border ties between Belarusian and Russian regions.

The official structures Moscow is using in this effort earlier served different purposes, but now the Russian government is using them against Belarus certain that Minsk cannot go very far in objecting to them because it has already signed off. That gives these three institutions added flexibility and opportunities for influence. The embassy is especially active and influential.

According to the report, Moscow is now focusing on the following groups: young people with few prospects, workers in failing plants who haven’t been paid regularly, military personnel who do not feel they are being supported by the Lukashenka regime, those who do not speak Belarusian, parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Church, and officials at various levels.

Much of the financing for both official and “unofficial” influence operations in Belarus passed through the Russian embassy in Minsk, the report continues.  The amount of money involved is large, but Moscow has been cutting back on the release of figures, suggesting that it is spending more and in ways it doesn’t want anyone to know.

But especially important in recent months has been Moscow’s effort to promote cross-border cooperation between Russian oblasts and adjoining Belarusian ones. Financing for this is easier to hide, and, because the effort is distant from Minsk, it is typically ignored both by Belarusian officials and the West.

And the report says that “according to certain assessments, in the course of the realization of this project in Belarus are being employed the structure of work for splitting society, earlier tested in the east of Ukraine. Indeed, the rhetoric … of essays really recalls the activities of por-Russian propagandists in Ukraine before 2014,” involving as it does the falsification of history, playing on language issues, and “aggressive nationalism.”

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