We have monitored and analysed 1325 articles* (523 Belarusian and 802 Russian) published by leading media outlets in Russia and Belarus between December 1 and December 31, 2020, regarding Belarusian-Russian relations. Media monitoring focused on Russian publications referring to Belarus, Belarusian publications quoting Russian media outlets, and top-ranking articles indexed by Google News and Yandex News when searching for "Belarusian-Russian relations." **
This report covers such topics as who borrowed content from whom, what information sources were used, and which references the media most frequently mentioned or quoted. Finally, we analysed and compared the key messages communicated by Belarusian and Russian media outlets.
- The state news agency BelTA and an independent news portal TUT.BY were equally frequent sources for the Russian media, indicating that they strive for a balanced approach when covering bilateral relations and developments in Belarus. Belarusian media primarily referred to the leaders of both states when covering bilateral ties.
- Belarus and Russia's leaders retained their positions as frequently mentioned public figures in both Belarusian and Russian media; however, in the Russian press, Tsikhanouskaya was mentioned more often than Putin.
- The most popular narrative strands in the Belarusian media concerned the Russian covid-19 vaccine, gas price negotiations and Russian officials rhetorical support for the official Belarusian interpretation of the fight against protesters.
- As in November, the most frequent narratives in the Russian media related to the troubles of the Belarusian ruling regime, including Western sanctions and the persistence of protests, which are dispersed using force. A newly significant topic was the International Olympic Committee's decision to ban Lukashenka and other Belarusian NOC executive committee members from participating in the Olympic Games.
Belarusian media continued to positively report about Russia, whilst Russian media were more negative regarding Lukashenka and Belarus.
Analysis of information sources
Monitored Belarusian media outlets referred to 961 information sources, whilst their Russian counterparts referred to 1428, including references to other media outlets, public bodies, institutions, and individuals when reporting facts and direct quotes.
Aliaksandar Lukashenka was the most frequent source of information for both Russian and Belarusian media outlets. His principal opponent, former presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was frequently cited only by Russian media outlets.
Belarusian media in December primarily referred to the leaders of both states and to TASS when covering bilateral relations.
In November, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was a prolific source for Belarusian media. The picture in October and December was similar, while in September, Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov and the Belarusian news agency BelTA were frequently referenced sources. This means that when covering Belarusian-Russian relations, Belarusian media are mainly reporting official statements.
In December, the state news agency BelTA and the TUT.BY independent news portal were equally frequent sources for the Russian media, which indicates that they are attempting to take a balanced approach when covering bilateral relations and developments in Belarus.
The Belarusian TV channel CTV appeared amongst the frequently referenced sources in Russian media in December, as it was a convenient source for citing video reports from meetings with Lukashenka and interviews with Belarusian officials (RBC used it more often than others).
Key figures in media articles
In respect of integration-related matters, the Belarusian Media mentioned 405 persons, and Russian, 429. We include people identified by their first and last names regardless of whether an article was directly about them. We did not assess who played a greater or lesser role in the story; the score is determined by the number of documents mentioning a particular person in the reporting period.
Belarusian and Russian leaders retain their positions in terms of frequency of reference in the media of both states in December. It is worth noting that for the Russian media, Tsikhanouskaya was mentioned more often than Putin when covering Belarusian-Russian relations.
Analysis of messages communicated
In December, Belarusian and Russian media outlets followed different narratives, with little overlap.
Reports related to the Sputnik V Russian covid-19 vaccine dominated Belarusian media in December, along with harmonisation of gas prices and the rhetorical support from Russian officials for the Belarusian regime’s interpretation of the fight against protesters.
As in November, the most frequent narratives in the Russian media related to the troubles of the Belarusian ruling regime, including Western sanctions and the persistence of protests, which are dispersed using force. A newly significant topic was the International Olympic Committee's decision to ban Lukashenka and other Belarusian NOC executive committee members from participating in the Olympic Games. Coverage of this topic in the Russian media took three primary forms:
- stating the facts without revealing the reasons behind the IOC decision (prevailing);
- stating the facts and indicating that this is an IOC response to the political persecution of athletes by the Lukashenka regime (minority);
- using the story to repeat claims of double standards applied by the West, create linkage to the “unfair” punishment of Russian athletes by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and imply an international conspiracy against Russia and her ally, Lukashenka.
Belarusian propaganda wrote positively about Moscow, whilst Russian media provided negative coverage of Lukashenka and Belarus
Analysis of less frequent narratives grouped by broader topic shows that in December, as in previous autumn months of 2020, Belarusian Media referred to Russia in favourable terms, whilst Russian media perspectives regarding Belarus/Lukashenka tended negative.
On the margins, the Russian media focused on the ex-President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko’s confession that he initiated the operation against the Russian PMC Wagner in Belarus, an incident which sharply exacerbated Belarusian-Russian relations before the Belarusian presidential elections.
In the Belarusian and Russian media in December, there were infrequent references to Poland’s alleged plans to seize part or all of Belarus with the help of NATO. This narrative aligns with the assertion that “Poland has become the main operator of the ‘colour revolution’ in Belarus”. However, the media also referred to Polish and NATO responses to these allegations.
In attacks against Poland, some Belarusian state media used the rhetorical technique of vague innuendo, emphasising that Poland’s involvement in the Belarusian protests was not accidental. For example, the BelTA report from the CSTO Summit said: “According to Aliaksandar Lukashenka, external interference was the cause of the aggravation of the situation in Belarus.“ The point being, I quote, “in the historical belonging of the Belarusian lands to Poland.” This is openly stated. Can I, as the president and the Belarusians, agree with this? It turns out that where we live today, these lands do not belong to us. It is known to whom [they belong]. This is how they act,” the head of state noted.”
The Russian national media, such as RIA Novosti, Vesti.Ru, did not pursue this line of reasoning; they only quoted Lukashenka’s statement: “A military group is being created in NATO to seize the western Belarusian lands.” Lenta.ru drew general conclusions based on the Lukashenka’s statement: “From the very beginning of the mass protests in Belarus on August 9, Lukashenka has regularly accused Poland, the Baltic states, and Ukraine of financing the opposition and coordinating rallies.”
* Due to an extensive coverage of Belarusian-Russian issues, we reduced in number the media outlets subject to monitoring.
** 523 articles in 12 Belarusian media (Belarus 1, Belsat TV, BelTA, Nasha Niva, ONT, SB. Belarus Today, Sputnik Belarus, CTB, Euroradio, Naviny.by, Onliner, and TUT.BY) and 802 articles in 12 Russian media (Vedomosti, Vesti.Ru, Izvestia, Interfax, Kommersant, “Kommersant FM”, RBC, RIA Novosti, TASS, “Ukraina.ru”, Ekho Moskvy, and Lenta.ru).
In Belarus, the most extensive coverage was provided by Sputnik Belarus (19.24% of all articles), TUT.BY (14.4%) and Naviny.by (12.6%). In Russia – Lenta.ru (20.9%), Interfax (13.6%) and Ukraina.ru (13.1%). In Belarus, four TV Channels and nine online media outlets are subject to regular Media IQ monitoring (please see the list of Belarusian media outlets in attachment 5).