Why is it dangerous to cut aid to Belarusian independent media? The conversation with Zmitser Bandarenka, coordinator of the “European Belarus” campaign.
Zmitser Bandarenka: Recently, a Norwegian journalist Erika Fatland made a report about her visit to Belarus. She wrote that she was in Belarus for several days and did not see the people who supported Lukashenka. She was in Kazakhstan, in Russia, there are many fans of their dictators – Nazarbayev, Putin. And in Belarus it was different. This is good news. Some people write that Lukashenk’a rating has gone down. But at the same time Putin is very popular in Belarus. I even know that this is so among the technical intelligentsia. And we know that according to sociological data, more than 50% of Belarusians supported the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the de facto Russian aggression in Donbas. This suggests that there is no resistance to the Russian information propaganda in Belarus.The work of the media who are now working in Belarus and work for Belarus from abroad is under threat, because the assistance is getting reduced. And if it is not there, there will be not 50% of Belarusians supporting different aggressive Russian projects but maybe 70%. And then there would be no difference between Belarus and, for example, Kaliningrad region.Belsat: Why is there a reduction of the Belarusian projects, including the media, by the West? Did Belarusians somehow discredited themselves? Here we can remember if not a media project, but the EHU, the “Tell the Truth” campaign, etc.Zmitser Bandarenka: There is a notion of “information security”, and there is a concept of “hybrid warfare”, where the information component of the war is very strong. My opinion is that Russia also uses its various leverage to influence the Western politicians to cut assistance to independent media in Belarus. I know that the Belarusian authorities also act in this direction. I would treat “Tell the Truth” separately, because, in my opinion, it is a clearly KGB-supported project, and Mr. Nyaklyayeu spoke about it. It is the case when pseudoprojects are created, and then people say, “Look, they’re so raunchy!” It was obvious right away that it was a project run by the authorities. Perhaps they also had Western money. This was a technology of the Belarusian and Russian secret services.Belsat: There is a Kremlin supported media project “Sputnik”, which is busy “buying” quite famous people, authors. How dangerous is this phenomenon?Zmitser Bandarenka: Lukashenka is part of the Union State,Russians realized that he loses the information war to the independent media and therefore he should be backed up by projects like “Sputnik”.I know the head of the project Andrei Kachuro, who used to worked on the “RTR”. He is an interesting person, a professional, but he is a former KGB officer.Belsat: At the same time “Sputnik” employs really interesting people, including those that were active in the Belarusian independence movement. Could it happen that the people who are working at “Sputnik” would earn for it a certain credibility, a certain audience, and at the right “rush hour” will simply be replaced by the Kremlin trolls, and thus Russian propaganda would skyrocket?Zmitser Bandarenka: Lifenews, Sputnik, Russia Today are all in fact the Russian Defense Ministry projects. And they should be treated appropriately.Belsat: the West has no rose-colored glasses about the aggressiveness of Russia. Why is the West losing Belarus even partially in the information field?Zmitser Bandarenka: This is absolutely illogical, because it was hoped that after people understand what the hybrid warfare and its information component are, funding for the independent media in Belarus would grow and there would be created new Russian democratic media — including the media working for Crimea, Donbas. But we got something else: some people said that it is necessary to close Belsat, because it is in Belarusian, and the majority of Belarusians use Russian in daily life, that support for the “Charter” and other projects, including educational projects, should be stopped. I find it strange.To counter the propaganda of Putin’s Russia, it is necessary to close the Belarusian independent media or cut their support. So I return to my first thought: it is the work of the Russian special services. They work very well. Later we will find out who was the target of pressure or bribery among Western politicians and Western experts.Belsat: The fact that the Kremlin dominates the information field of Belarus is recognized even by the authorities of our country. They somehow timidly say, too, that they will do something. Did they wake up late or at all?Zmitser Bandarenka: It’s the single team. Maybe Lukashenka would like to change something, but the Russians are systemic, put enormous resources, buy the best journalists. The fact that Lukashenka has lost popularity in Belarus is explained by a number of factors: the work of the independent media, his work on the systematic deception of the Belarusian people, and certainly his senseless attitude to Russian propaganda.But we – the Europeans, Belarusian patriots – have to resist it, defend our interests, explain to our Western partners, our fellow journalists the dangers of this situation. Because Western bureaucrats, of course, do not care about the safety of the Belarusians, but if Belarus becomes a region of Russia, it will be a danger to all. Both for Poland and for NATO.The danger would reach another level.