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While Moscow and Minsk are talking about economic cooperation, discussing Belarus is gaining momentum at the informal level. Pro-Kremlin TV stations made some reports about allegedly harassing Russian-speaking people in Minsk; now Internet users have taken the stage.
TV is not the only source of fakes about abusing Russians in Belarus. Here is an illustrative example: Smolensk resident Sergei Tereshchenkov posts a story of his friend, who visited Minsk and allegedly came across some people who demanded Russians should speak Belarusian.
“My friend excused himself and asked to speak Russian to him, and those guys these types shouted: ‘Invader! Take a suitcase, go to a railway station and leave for Russia!’ They tried to pick a fight with him, hit his child… My friend showed they were wrong by giving some blows to them. The bastards fled. And the police did not even appear!” Tereshchenkov said on Facebook.
The story stormed the Russian segment of the Internet, but when Tereshchenkov was asked to be more specific, i.e. give the date and place of the fight or at least the name of his friend, a hand-to-hand fighter, he deleted the post. As it turned out, Sergei Tereshchenkov, a Smolensk bard and pantyhose seller at the local market, gives concerts in Russia and CIS countries; he also visited occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk regions. And now Tereshchenkov stresses that Belarus has taken the path of Ukraine.
“Such things happen as part of the info war that Russia has been waging against Belarus for long. They repeat the same narratives that were used against Ukraine before and during the war,” Dzyanis Ivashyn, an investigative journalist at Informnapalm OSINT project.
Belarus has recently come under increased focus of Russian media; TV stations NTV and Rossiya-1 aired stories about reported attacks on Russians in Minsk.
“One could notice the heightened interest in the subject of Belarus as early as the middle of 2018,” Maryna Zolatava, editor-in-chief of popular Belarusian news portal TUT.BY, stressed.
Another video that features a Belarusian speaker withdrawing a man wearing a Cossack hat from the car in the Minsk metro is also popular on the Internet. Curiously, however, none of the Belarusian Cossacks (pro-Russian organization) identified the ‘victim’.
“It is not ruled out that Russians made the video in Belarus in order to discredit our supporters of independence and show that Belarusians are no different from ‘Banderovites’,” Ivashyn said.
Yevgeny Spirin, a Ukrainian journalist and former resident of Luhansk, has a quick remembrance of info attacks on the country. Even before Yanukovych’s flight to Russia, hatred- and fearmongering was in full swing in Luhansk. Both Russian media and bloggers spread a story that later appeared to be a complete fiction.
“It was called ‘70 buses carrying Banderovites’. The number of buses was constantly changing: 30, 40, then 70. And they were reported to be going from Kyiv to seize Luhansk. Russian media reiterated Banderovites were about to arrive,” the journalist recalls.
However, it was the Russian green men who actually came to Ukraine. Driving armoured vehicles without number plates, they were set to defend Russian-speaking people of Ukraine. Pro-Kremlin media succeeded in making many residents of Donetsk and Luhansk regions loyal to the hybrid forces.
“Nowadays propaganda is present in different fields, and new media – social networks – is one of the ways of propaganda. It is essential our society not surrender to panic, not share fakes,” Vadzim Mazheyka, an analyst at the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, said.
According to him, the information pressure on Belarus is the background for the current economic negotiations.
“That is the style of the Russian authorities, when they try to strengthen their positions in talks by using certain tools. However, this is also a general media strategy, and there is no need to see a big threat in every small case,” the expert believes.
But what should Belarusian citizens do? We should practise informational hygiene: check information, avoid spreading distorted stories and keep calm.
Belsat.eu, Yaraslau Stseshyk/MS