On Wednesday, 20 November, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, held a hearing on Belarus for the first time in eight years.
Special expert witnesses were invited to take part in the ‘Not-So-Good Neighbors: Russian Influence in Belarus’ hearing.
They were asked to examine how Russia most effectively penetrates Belarusian society, spreads disinformation and uses hybrid tactics to influence the political landscape at a pivotal moment. Speakers decoded Russia’s tactics in Belarus and explored how the U.S. can help promote the sovereignty of Belarus, the text on the cse.gov reads.
Among them were Freedom House Senior Program Manager for Eurasia Sofya Orlosky, U.S. Agency for Global Media Research Media Analyst Franak Viacorka, CEPA Russia Program Director Brian Whitmore, and International Strategic Action Network for Security (iSANS) Monitoring Unit head Andrei Yeliseyeu.
Andrei Yeliseyeu: “Kremlin aims at putting Belarus under the complete influence, essentially to turn Belarus into a part of Soviet Union to achieve this goal, Kremlin applies political, economic and propagandistic pressure on the Belarusian authorities and Belarusian society.
It sees Belarus as an integral part of the so-called Russian world.
Russia wants Belarus to cease a large part of its sovereignty towards Moscow in exchange for further economic support. Kremlin conditions future oil and gas deals and alone assistance to Minsk the deeper integration within the so-called Union State.”
Sofya Orlosky called on the West not to be deceived by the process of liberalization in Belarus, since this already happened in 2006, 2008 and 2010, and each time it was followed by a new cycle of repression. The representative of Freedom House also noted that the integration process within the Union State remains opaque.
“Neither Belarusian nor Russian officials have presented the updated documents only reassuring the public the first stage of the integration will cover just economic policies,” Orlosky said.
She stressed that Belarus “will never be truly independent if its government continues to play by the Kremlin’s rules. If the United States wants to help Belarus become more resilient, it should do so first of all, by strongly encouraging genuine democratic reform.”
In addition, she called for support for independent media in Belarus.
Franak Viacorka noted that the Russification process is closely related to the tightening of the anti-democratic regime in Belarus. According to the witness, Belarus authorities are turning a blind eye to strengthening Russian dominance in the Belarusian internet segment.
“Kremlin has established many local news websites, networks and hundreds, hundreds of communities, groups and channels on social media. They are not Pro-Putin, rather anti-western, anti-Polish, anti-liberal, and of course, anti-Belarusian.”
Viacorka believes that the reopening of the U.S Embassy in Belarus can help in building a direct dialogue with Belarusian people, intensify media literacy and digital journalism, as well as exchange programs.
Brian Whitmore stated that Belarus is strategically important for the West and its importance will likely to increase in the very near future.
“It is in the interest of the United States and its allies that Belarus maintains its independence, sovereignty and that’s economic and military dependence on Russia be minimized. We can take steps to assure that Belarus becomes less dependent on Russia economically such as helping its fledgeling high-tech sector.”
Featured image: U.S. Helsinki Commission