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Belarus

Belarus

  • Belarus is a close military ally and economic partner with Russia, Russian language is widely spoken in the country and a majority of the popular media content is produced in Russia.
  • The government of Belarus acknowledges the threat of disinformation from any country, including Russia, when it feels threatened. However, it is more likely to counteract independent media sources instead of pro-Kremlin ones.
  • The security service of Belarus puts pressure on independent media and civil society actors for saying anything negative about the government.

 

Relations with the Russian Federation

Description: Kremlin-friendly. Belarus and Russia have historically enjoyed close relations since the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1995, the two countries signed a Treaty of Friendship, Good-Neighborliness and Cooperation, and the Union of Belarus and Russia was formed in 1999. As part of these agreements, Belarus and Russia have maintained close economic ties and strong military cooperation. Belarus is also a member of the EEU and the CSTO, in which Russia plays a leading role. There are several Russian military bases in Belarus, including the Hantsavichy Radar Station, which functions as an important early warning station for Russia.

The Russian language has a dominant role in Belarus, with the majority of the population speaking Russian at home, instead of Belarusian. This has an important impact on media consumption in the country, which is mostly broadcast or published in Russian and tends to support a pro-Kremlin geopolitical agenda.[1] Russian culture is very popular in Belarus, with everything from Russian music to movies dominating the popular culture scene. The strong influence of Russian Orthodoxy is also a powerful contributing factor in the shared cultural values between the two countries.[2]

Still, even though Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, there have been occasional political fallouts between the two countries. The government of Belarus prioritizes its own national image above the Kremlin’s agenda, which has led to some antagonism in recent years.[3] Nonetheless, the countries remain close allies today in the face of rising geopolitical tensions.[4]

Political acknowledgment of the threat

The government of Belarus and prominent politicians have acknowledged the threat of disinformation and the importance of information security. In a study conducted by the East Center in December 2017 on the information security situation in Belarus, most experts surveyed concluded that Belarusian authorities recognized the threat of Russian disinformation and the importance of information security.[5] The country’s National Security Concept, adopted in 2010, recognizes the imperative of information security.[6] In addition, Article 33 of Belarus’ Constitution directly stateds that: “Censorship and the monopolization of information in the mass media by the government, social groups or individual citizens is unacceptable.”[7]

Still, despite this awareness, Belarus has yet to take comprehensive action to curb Russia’s informational influence in the country. In fact, Belarus’ state media is more likely to contradict Western sources and criticize them for spreading disinformation than they are Russian media sources.[8]

Governmental countermeasures

Despite recognizing the importance of information security, Belarus has been slow to implement a comprehensive strategy. There are legal principles established under Belarussian law that give the government the authority to regulate its information space. Yet, it chooses to utilize them only as needed, particularly when the government feels threatened.[9]

The government of Belarus has reacted to Russian information influence in the past. As previously stated, Russian media items have been blocked in the country if they are critical of Lukashenko’s government. Extremist activity has also been addressed. For example, the Russian-based site Sputnick and Program was blocked because its content was deemed extremist by the Belarusian government.[10] In addition, in 2014, two Russian television shows that have been identified as sources of Russian propaganda, Voskreseny Vecher with Vladimir Solovyov on the channel RTR-Belarus, along with Vremy Pokazhet on the channel ONT, were moved from primetime to later, less desirable broadcaszt timeslots in Belarus.[11]

In general, the Belarusian government has the authority to take action, but only chooses to apply the law when it fits its interests. The government also has a strong tendency towards actively suppressing independent media in the country, including internet bloggers. According to the Freedom House 2017 report on Nations in Transit, the following occurred in 2016 alone: two Belarusian journalists were brought to trial for cooperating with foreign media outlets for the “illegal production of media products”; a blogger was sentenced to almost two years of “restricted freedom” for publishing a series of articles that were critical of Russian nationalism; and two popular, independent online news outlets were issued warnings because they used visual material that could discredit the Belarusian military.[12]

Government-sponsored media literacy campaigns are not particularly active in Belarus. Regular training events and programs do not take place.[13] The most active efforts to promote media literacy are being taken by a handful of non-profit organizations.

Publicly known intelligence activities

The Belarusian security service, known as the KGB, have actively targeted both pro-Russian and anti-Russian bloggers and media agents out of fear that the destabilization taking place in Ukraine could happen in their country as well.[14] The KGB has also approached representatives of civil society and forced them to cooperate via threats and blackmail.[15] A recent Amnesty International reports states that “fear of [internet] surveillance is pervasive amongst civil society activists in Belarus.”[16] Although the KGB claims such measures are necessary in order to secure the country’s information space, it is evident that their aim is to continue to stamp out any potential opposition to the current government.[17]

NGO activities

Civil society in Belarus mostly consists of government-supported NGOs (GONGOs) with a less-than-independent political agenda. Independent NGOs receive significantly less support, although they are active.[18] Independent civil society has been accused by supporters of the government as being a so-called “fifth column,” especially during periods when the government feels threatened.[19]

Active measures are being taken among independent representatives of civil society to address Russia’s overwhelming influence in the country. An EU delegation of the EU Strategic Communications Task Force against disinformation is active in Belarus, as well as in other Eastern Partnership countries.[20]

The Ukrainian fact-checking news site InformNapalm is also published in Belarusian, among other regional languages, and actively engages with the country’s media content.[21]

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) trains journalists to work with sources and check their facts.[22] It is also active in reporting on the harsh treatment of journalists in the country, providing important information to the international community.[23] The School of Electronic Management for Journalists is run by the Belarus Press Club. It provides video lectures and online classes with experts on topics relating to good journalism. In addition, the Press Club holds a large number of events dedicated to improving media literacy in the country and professional journalism. The influence of these two groups is limited to independent media in Belarus, so the awareness of and countermeasures against disinformation among government media and a significant portion of Belarus society remains low.[24]


[1] Laputko, Veronika and Alexander Papko. “Information Security of Belarus: Problems and Routes for Improvement.” East Center. December 2017. pp. 4. http://east-center.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Belarus_information_security_RU.pdf 
[2] ibid
[3] “The Strange Death of Russia’s Closest Alliance.” GlobalVoices. February 21st, 2017. https://globalvoices.org/2017/02/21/the-strange-death-of-russias-closest-alliance/ 
[4] Neuman, Scott. “NATO Nervous As Russia, Belarus Team Up For Cold-War-Style War Games.” NPR. September 14th, 2017. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/09/14/550969326/nato-nervous-as-russia-belarus-team-up-for-cold-war-style-war-games 
[5] Laputko and Papko “Information Security of Belarus” pp. 9
[6] ibid, pp. 15
[7] ibid, pp. 15. Translated by Peter Ward.
[8] ibid, pp. 19.
[9] ibid, pp. 9.
[10] ibid, pp. 17.
[11] ibid, pp. 11.
[12] Nations in Transit 2017: Belarus. Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2017/belarus 
[13] Laputko and Papko “Information Security of Belarus” pp. 22.
[14] Reporters Without Borders for freedom of information. Country profile: Belarus https://rsf.org/en/belarus 
[15] Rudnik, Alesia. “The Belarusian KGB: recruiting from civil society” BelarusDigest. May 17th, 2017. https://belarusdigest.com/story/the-belarusian-kgb-recruiting-from-civil-society/ 
[16] Freedom on the Net 2017. Country Profile: Belarus. Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2017/belarus 
[17] Rudnik. “The Belarusian KGB: recruiting from civil society.” May 2017.
[18] Nations in Transit 2017: Belarus. Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2017/belarus 
[19] Laputska, Veranika. “The condition of NGOs and civil society in Belarus.” Institute of Public Affairs. BertelsmannStiftung. July 2017. pp. 3

https://www.bertelsmannstiftung.de/fileadmin/files/BSt/Publikationen/GrauePublikationen/PB2017_civil_society_Belarus2.pdf 
[20] Question and Answers about the East StratCom Task Force. European Union External Action. November 8th, 2017. https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-Homepage/2116/questions-and-answers-about-east-stratcom-task-force_en 
[21] InformNapalm in Belarusian. InformNapalm. Accessed May 25th, 2018. https://informnapalm.org/by/ 
[22] Laputko and Papko “Information Security of Belarus” pp. 22.
[23] Freedom on the Net 2017. Country Profile: Belarus. Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2017/belarus 
[24] Laputko and Papko “Information Security of Belarus” pp. 22.

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