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A spectre of the “Ukrainian Maidan” haunts Belarus: Russia’s attempts to get Ukraine sucked into Belarusian elections

08:30, 7-го серпня 2020 · Джерело: institutedd.org

A spectre of the “Ukrainian Maidan” haunts Belarus: Russia’s attempts to get Ukraine sucked into Belarusian elections
One of the favorite things of Russian propaganda has long been the search for “Ukrainian traces” in international processes. At the same time, the authors of such fakes do not have trouble putting things illogically, without any arguments.

It is not surprising, since information operations of influence always put an emphasis on emotions, and not on rationality. But more important thing is to create the appropriate image and benefit from it. The construct of the “Ukrainian Maidan” is often seen like that when it comes to mass public protests in a country. For example, we can recall the confrontation with the Chinese central government in the streets of Hong Kong when Russian propaganda resources actively tried to convince the world as though the uprising was unleashed by “Ukrainian radicals”. This year’s July protests in Serbia are the same.  Yet, most often it all comes down to drawing analogies with the events of the Maidan in 2013-2014 in Ukraine. The aim is to consolidate in the public consciousness the image of Ukraine as a country stricken by constant political chaos and to oppose it to Russia as a model of “political stability”. This image is especially strong for the political leaders holding power for long periods, but they are not about to hand it to anyone. On August 9th the presidential elections are taking place in Belarus, and the situation is showing a great dynamism.

The Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko who has been in power since 1994, hopes to be re-elected. However, this time the situation poses particular challenges for him. Back in June, speaking about elections, the Belarusian leader actively used the term “Maidan” to warn about the possibility of protests that could lead to the armed confrontation. All this was accompanied by the withdrawal from the race and detention of the blogger Serhiy Tikhanovsky who claimed to be the leader of the street politics, and similar actions against Viktor Babariko, the former top manager of Belgazprombank (a subsidiary of Russia’s Gazprombank), who could be a major competitor of the Belarusian incumbent president.

Despite the fact that by the example of the latter Lukashenko stated about the external “puppeteers” who are actually trying to arrange the “Maidan”, Russian propaganda resources in the publications concerning the Belarusian elections mentioned the story of detention of the car with weapons and ammunition on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border in May 2017. Mentioning the two-year-old story indicated an attempt to weave it into the today’s context.

Russia was prevented to advance the necessary narrative in order to get Ukraine sucked into political process by the detention of 32 militants from the notorious Russian private military organization “Wagner” on July 29th financed by the so called “Putin’s cook” Prigozhyn. Russia came up with all sorts of theories concerning the reasons for the presence of the Wagner militants in Belarus, starting from using the state as a transit in order to transfer the fighters to the military operations zone; to the complex political game of Lukashenko and Putin (this message was actively spread by the popular networks associated with the Russian secret services).

However, as a result of interrogations of the detainees at the official level, the Belarusian part more increasingly believed that the unit’s goal was the destabilization itself it during the election process. Thus, addressing to the National Assembly (Parliament) Lukashenko directly called on Russia to stop lying in the situation of detention and not to undermine the situation in the country. Such statements are supported by yet unconfirmed information about the transfer of Belarusian military equipment to the border with the Russian Federation and the sudden announcement of military mobilization, according to the above-mentioned Russian networks.

The Kremlin's part of the game may be an attempt to urge Ukraine to expres the unequivocal support of the Belarusian opposition. Despite the major political rivals’ withdrawall from the election race, the rallies in support of Svitlana Tikhanovskaya, the presidential candidate and wife of the detained blogger Tikhanovsky, demonstrate a high political level of tension ahead of the Election Day. Russia is willing to use the polarization of society to carry out the necessary operations to promote its own interests, and there are many examples of it. The appearance of the Belarusian opposition activist in Kyiv, the restaurateur Vadym Prokopyev, who labeled Ukraine “a convenient place to coordinate the Belarusian opposition” looks symptomatic. Later, Valery Tsepkalo, who had previously been in Russia and removed from the elections by the Belarusian Central Election Commission, also appeared here. On the Ukrainian TV channel, he stated that the “Maidan” in Belarus was provoked by Lukashenko himself.

It cannot be said unequivocally that opposition to Lukashenko’s political regime is completely under the Russian control, but the artificial impetus for Kyiv to directly support an alternative candidate, while Moscow offered support to the Belarusian leader to avoid the Belarusian “Maidan”, seems likely to make the situation even more difficult. There is information that residents of the occupied territories of Donbass cross the Belarusian border with Ukrainian passports. In this case, the appearance of “Ukrainians” committing provocations on the Belarusian elections (thus bringing down the scandal surrounding the detention of the Wagner militants) may be a matter of technique.

Regarding the confrontation on the Belarusian elections, the official Kyiv must take an unequivocal position of neutrality and non-interference. At the diplomatic level, it is necessary to continue to insist on the extradition of those Wagner militants who took part in the fighting in Donbas by Minsk. Instead, the development of Ukrainian-Belarusian relations should be based on the institutional level, which will not depend on the name of the President of Belarus, whoever he becomes after this year’s elections. Therefore, a successful decision by Kyiv is to invite Minsk to join the “Lublin Triangle”, a new initiative designed to strengthen the regional cooperation.

Autor: Pavlo Lodin