By Paul Goble
Moscow is working to expand its influence in eastern Belarus, something that it has been able to do without much opposition in part because Minsk has no strategy on the development of these regions, experts from that part of the country said at the annual conference of the Belarus Security Blog.
Aleksandr Gelogayev of the Belsat news agency summarizes the presentations of three such experts (belsat.eu/ru/news/belarus-security-blog-rossiya-polzuetsya-bezynitsiativnostyu-minska-v-vostochnyh-regionah-belarusi/). In important ways, they confirm recent conclusions by the iSANS group (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/05/change-of-russian-ambassadors-wont-slow.html).
Andrey Strizhak of the REP union from Homel says that there have appeared in his region a network of pro-Russian websites. Seventy percent of their programming is devoted to local and regional news, and 30 percent to propaganda. In addition, Russians are supporting pro-Russian paramilitary groups like Cossacks and the Union of Naval Veterans.
Local officials in Homel, he continues, are so weak on these issues that they sometimes play into the hands of the Russians but sometimes react by cooperating with local Belarusian activists to oppose what Moscow is doing.
Yury Stukalov of Mohylev’s Center for Urban Initiatives says that local officials are undergoing a generational change. The older and more authoritarian and pro-Soviet types are being replaced by younger and more Belarusian-oriented people. But this varies place by place and region by region. It is not the result of a concerted Minsk policy.
Indeed, he continues, “there is no all-Belarusian strategy for work with the regions. Everything depends on specific people. Each region [of the country] is its own separate world.”
And Sergey Nerovny, publisher of Volny Gorod in Krichev, adds that unfortunately as cadres are shifted about, those being sent to the regions of Belarus are often “international trash,” that is, they “do not feel a personal connection with Belarusian independence and are prepared to sell it out if they are given more money. These same figures,” he continues, “regularly become figures in corruption cases.”
But like Stukalov, Nerovny says that despite economic problems that are making many look toward Russia, some local and regional officials, feeling the absence of support from above, are turning to independent-minded Belarusian activists and standing up to Russian activities.