Staunton, July 28 – In part because they can get news not just from Moscow but from Ukraine and in part because they have close ties to both Russians and Ukrainians, Belarusians are now deeply split between those who back Russian policy in Ukraine and those who support the Ukrainian government.
As important as this is as a barometer of Belarusian reaction to these events and to what can happen when there are multiple sources of information, this division may be even more important as a bellwether of the rise of a strengthened Belarusian nationalism among the people of that country.
On the Russian military affairs portal, Topwar.ru, today, Mikhail Moshchensky puts it bluntly. Belarusian society, he says, “has split into two camps,” one supporting the Russian forces in southeastern Ukraine and the other backing Kyiv in its efforts to restore Ukrainian control.
And the Russian military commentator adds that “for a long time, it has been thought that the issue of nationalism in Belarus is something from the realm of the fantastic. But the war in a neighboring fraternal country has been able completely to split Belarusian society” and spark real nationalism among many of its members.
This split is dividing families as well as the society, Moschchensky says, and it reflects the fact that although “the overwhelming majority” of Belarusians get their news from Moscow television, many in southern Belarus listen to Ukrainian channels. Moreover, there are “thousands of Ukrainians who live and have assimilated” in that country.
The official Belarusian media are not helping the situation, he continues. “The Belarusian Republic television channels never (!) praise Russia. True, they do not curse it either,” except during the so-called “gas wars.” And with regard to Ukraine, Minsk simply reports what is happening rather than giving “any analysis.”
As a result, Belarusians are divided and not only in their opinions. Some Belarusians are going to fight in Ukraine for Kyiv, while others are going to fight for pro-Russian forces. Anti-Moscow Belarusians and anti-Moscow Ukrainians are currently training in rural areas of Belarus, Moshchensky says.
No one knows the exact figures involved, he continues, noting that those with a Belarusian passport could fall afoul of that country’s law on mercenaries which imposes a three year prison term for those who fight for foreign countries. According to Moshchensky, the Belarusian KGB would be happy to apply this law equally to both groups.
What appears to have sparked this article is the appearance of leaflets in Belarus calling on Belarusians to support Ukraine and to prepare themselves for the possibility that Moscow will turn its attention to Belarus next. Moshchensky provides a photo of the leaflet and a translation into Russian of what it says.
Written by Zyanon Paznyak, a Belarusian opposition figure who has political asylum in the United States, the leaflets are entitled “For Ukraine and Belarus.” They say that Belarusians “do not have to be afraid of an imperial threat from Moscow.” Rather they must prepare themselves “to defeat the fascism” it now represents.
Belarusians must understand, Paznyak continues, that “the Russian-Ukrainian war is also our war” because “there is being decided the future not only of free Ukraine but also of Free Belarus.” If “the Putin fascists” defeat Ukraine, then, “when they will attack Belarus, there will be no one to help us.”
“Therefore,” he says, “help Ukraine. I call on Belarusian men who can bear arms to go as volunteers to Ukraine and join the detachments of the Ukrainian resistance to the occupiers.” That will benefit Ukrainians and will give Belarusians important “military experience in the struggle with fascism.”