“Soft powers” of the West and Russia – some comparisons
The attempted coup d’etat in Belarus was organized in the interests of the West, which for a long time and consistently formed its lobby in Belarus. The result was the creation in the republic of an extensive network of agents of Western influence – centers of resistance to power.
At the same time, as the events of recent months show, Russian influence in Belarus remained at the level of individual economic projects and personal relations between the heads of state. Unlike the West, Moscow has not created a formalized network of Russian-friendly organizations in Belarus. This directly affected the socio-political situation in the republic.
Since the early 2000s, the work of NGOs in Belarus has been fraught with difficulties. There are restrictions in the republic for non-governmental organizations to receive foreign funding; since 2006, the activity of any NGO without state registration has been prohibited. Therefore, many Western organizations working in the Belarusian direction have settled in Lithuania or Poland and operate in Belarus through their representatives illegally. This does not prevent them from successfully forming Westernizing sentiments in the Belarusian society.
In Belarus, for more than a dozen years, there has been an informal network of NGOs controlled by the authorities of the United States and the European Union. The principle of their activity is work with the most active part of the population, the formation of leaders of public opinion, ideological propaganda through the media.
The American network of lobbyists in Belarus is directly related to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) **, the International Republican Institute (IRI)** and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI)**… Through USAID, the republic receives numerous grants for socio-political and cultural projects, informal events are held, future opinion leaders are trained, and contacts are formed between representatives of Belarusian and American business (for example, through the Eurasia Foundation).
With the direct participation of the Americans, the activities of local opposition organizations are financed in Belarus (the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Viasna Human Rights Center, the L. Sapieha Foundation, the Narodnaya Volya publication, the Supolnats Center, etc.). Almost all opposition political forces in Belarus are involved in NDI projects. Among them, the Belarusian Popular Front stands out, whose leader Grigory Kastusev is accused today of participating in a coup plot. Radio Liberty, recognized in Russia as a foreign agent, continues to operate in Belarus.
The European network in Belarus is represented by no fewer agents of influence than the American one. Within the framework of the Eastern Partnership, the European Fund for Democracy ** was established, which controls the Euroradio mass media popular in Belarus. The Polish channel “Belsat”, the nationalist portal “Charter’97” and other media are receiving funding. Their task is to form a positive image of the EU in Belarus, popularize the “European way” as opposed to rapprochement with Russia, and create ideas about the advantages of a liberal economic model over a socially oriented one.
Open agents of Western influence in Belarus were and remain: the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS), the Independent Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Research (IISEPS), the Center for European Transformation, the international consortium “EuroBelarus”, the Liberal Club, the Institute for Political Studies “Political Sphere” , NPO “Green Network” and others. In some cases, their activities are clearly destructive.
For example, the unregistered Union of Poles in Belarus has been lobbying for the interests of Poland on the territory of the Republic of Belarus for many years, promoting the ideas of Polish revival, schemes for falsifying the history of the Great Patriotic War, and heroizing Nazi criminals. All of this is detrimental to attempts to maintain a healthy social climate. The lack of due attention on the part of the authorities to the activities of human rights organizations like Viasna, Pravovaya Initiative, the movement “No fear of punishment” was supposed to undermine and ultimately undermine the situation.
We must not forget about the multitude of educational programs offered by Western structures. The most active here are Poland and Lithuania. Scholarship programs for studying in Polish universities are popular among opposition-minded young Belarusians: the Kalinouski scholarship, the Lane Kirkland scholarship, the “School of Leaders” by the Stefan Batory Foundation. In Lithuania, one of the largest structures of the Belarusian opposition is the European Humanities University, where about 2000 Belarusians study annually (!).
Unlike the West, Russia has nothing of the kind in Belarus. Moscow once chose to work not with civil society, but with representatives of the authorities as the basis for relations with Minsk. All other lines of cooperation have either not been created or are in their infancy. Formally, the Federal Agency for CIS Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) is responsible for promoting the interests of the Russian Federation. However, Rossotrudnichestvo in Belarus has not been carrying out any significant work for many years, limiting itself to minor cultural and educational events.
Russian funds for grant support, unlike Western ones, are practically not represented in Belarus. And some of them (such as the A.M. Gorchakov Foundation for Public Diplomacy Support) also financed those who oppose the Russian-Belarusian rapprochement, in particular, representatives of the Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies Arseniy Sivitsky and Yuri Tsarik, who stamped in Ukraine, materials in which Russia appeared to be the main threat to the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Belarus. There are other examples as well.
Perhaps the only working instrument of Russian “soft power” in Belarus is the few media outlets. These include primarily agencies Satellite and Russia today, but in recent months their informational impact on the Belarusian society is aimed not so much at promoting the idea of Belarusian-Russian integration as at justifying the authorities’ actions to restore order.
Ultimately, the western network of influence in Belarus took on a distinct form, filled with activists and finances. At the same time, the Belarusian authorities for a long time did not actively fight the agents of influence of the West, trying to build a dialogue with the Western centers of power at the expense of such “non-resistance”. The dialogue did not work out. However, an expanded Russian network of NGOs did not appear in the republic either. Even the ties between Belarus and Russia in the field of education and science cannot be considered manifestations of Russian “soft power”, since they are practically not of an ideological nature.
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