Protests in Ukraine, Investment from Iran, Presidency in the CIS - Belarus State TV Digest

Over the last two weeks Belarusian state Channel 1 has regularly covered the protests taking place in the eastern regions of Ukraine. It also commented upon the economic repercussions of the crisis for ordinary Ukrainians and an increase in living costs.

Lukashenka visited a few state enterprises. In one of them he met with happy workers who thanked him for their favourable workplace conditions. At another company, things took a different turn and he reprimanded the management.

Minsk will be taking over the presidency of the Commonwealth of Independent States, after Kyiv rejected to chair the organisation.

Internal Affairs

The Belarusian Leader Visits a Well-managed State Company. State TV covered Lukashenka’s visit to several state enterprises, including one that is famous ‘Sluck belts’. In its nearly 20 minutes of coverage, state TV showed how the factory is the inheritor of the cultural legacy of Sluck belts which were famous throughout Europe. The head of state expressed his enthusiasm and support for the revival of manufacturing these traditional belts and other similar initiatives.

A state TV reporter also went into great detail explaining the technology of how the belts are produced. Later, the head of state met with some women working in the factory. They were thankful for having such good working conditions, and also for the prevailing peace in the country.

The report's narrator emphasised that Lukashenka has changed his plans at the last minute and decided to visit also another company. On his way there, he spoke with people who were gathered on the street. They asked him for increased wages. The general atmosphere was from this segment appeared to be generally positive, and the Belarusian leader was in his element, joking with the crowd.

And Reprimands for Bad Management. The head of state visited another state enterprise, this time a meat-processing plant. From the outset, the footage on state TV showed a dirty and neglected enterprise. According to the narrating reporter, the absence of strong leadership was the reason for the plant's desperate appearance. Lukashenka immediately dismissed the director of the enterprise and ordered to improve things by 1 September. The managers will be held legal responsible for the negligence of the enterprise, the report concluded.

Belarus Encourages More Investment from Iran. Lukashenka met with Ali Larijani, the chairman of the Iranian parliament. The report emphasised that both countries had maintained close economic ties and their friendly relations. The coverage notes that Iranian companies have invested over $700m in Belarus.

In the past the countries planned to carry out a joint oil and gas production project as well as a facility for processing Iranian diamonds. However, in 2013 the USA and EU imposed tough sanctions against Iran, and Minsk and Tehran were forced to cease their work these projects as a result.

The Belarusian leader was actively trying to persuade Ali Larijani that investing in Belarus would bring Iran significant financial gains. Tehran could demonstrate to everyone that the country ‘exists, but also will persist for a long time, and to make it worse for our enemy, it will be flourishing,’ he said.

Lukashenka Praised the State's Official Trade Unions. Lukashenka met with the head of the pro-government (state-run) trade unions, Leanid Kozik. They discussed the level of preparedness of their sanatoriums for their potential foreign and Belarusian guests who will soon be arriving to watch the Ice Hockey World championship. Lukashenka commented that these places would also serve the Belarusian public once the championship is over.

Kozik also reported on the state of the nation's trade unions and commented that the situation remained ‘normal and there is nothing to be worried about.’ Albeit there being 23,000 organisations associated with the official trade unions, he confirmed that he was well aware of what people were saying and what they wanted.

Lukashenka also thanked the trade unions for their ‘calm, quiet and unobtrusive work organising the local elections.’ A number of trade unions’ activists not only sat in on the electoral commissions throughout the country, but also were elected to the local government bodies.

International Affairs

The Collective Security Treaty Organisation Discusses Regional and International Security. One of the main topics remained Syria and Ukraine. The coverage relayed that the CSTO urges Kyiv to curb the activity of radicals and disarm illegal military units. The CTSO believes that the situation in Ukraine should be settled in compliance with its Constitution.

Kyiv Should Deal with Its Problems on its Own. Nikolay Bardiuzha, general secretary of the CSTO, said that international organisations, such as his own and the EU, should not interfere in the internal affairs of Ukraine. ‘The very people of Ukraine themselves should be the ones to work out a position towards for settlement of their problems,’ Bardiuzha emphasised.

Minsk to Take Over Presiding CIS after Kyiv's Rejection. The coverage points out that Belarus ‘was always an active participant in [many] integration processes and advocated for the preservation of Commonwealth of Independent States.’ And while Minsk has quickly reacted, it has done so 'with understanding' with regards to Kyiv's decision. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, thanked their ‘Belarusian partners’ for their decision.

While presiding over the organisation, Minsk wants to focus on security issues. So far, state TV reports, the members of the CIS having been arguing for the immediate stabilisation of the situation in Ukraine and continuation of a multilateral dialogue.

Ukraine

‘Conflict in Ukraine Concerns the International Community’. The opponents of the new authorities in Kyiv continue their protests in a few Ukrainian cities, including Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk. The protesters reject the legitimacy of the authorities in Kyiv. According to a Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative, the extremist ‘Right Sector’ has also entered Ukraine's eastern regions. That information, however, remains unconfirmed - the report notes.

Members of the Ukrainian Parliament argued over the official status of Russian language. The Communists advocated for elevating its status to that of a second state language, whereas the nationalists from Svaboda disagreed with their proposal. ‘The political and social crisis in Ukraine seriously concerns the world community,’ the reporting journalist concludes, while not delving into more details.

Costs of the Political Crisis. Beginning 1 April Ukraine will pay up to 80% more for gas. Thus, Kyiv is planning to negotiate its current contract with Gazprom. The report also discusses the ongoing protests in Ukraine's eastern regions. However, the tone of the protesters has softened, they note. An atmosphere of unease also remains in the western regions of Ukraine. In Lviv, protesters seized the office building of the general prosecutor and demanded his dismissal.

Kyiv: Massive Military Costs and No Perspective for NATO Membership. Despite its economic difficulties, the Ukrainian authorities will not cut back on its military expenses. Kyiv has planned eight joint military drills with NATO. The coverage also made mention of a statement by Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish Minister for Foreign Affairs, that NATO is not even considering Ukraine's membership in the military alliance.

Meanwhile, Brussels is reviewing possibly imposing further sanctions against Moscow for its annexation of Crimea.

Recently the Russian Ministry of Defence has opened up its archives and published on its web site documents on the activity of Ukrainian nationalists in western Ukraine during World War II. The documents show the development of a nationalist movement in the country, but also its relation to the Nazis and its part in repression aimed against peaceful people.

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.

Paula Borowska is an analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre. Originally from Bialystok, she studied at the University of Gdansk and the University of Bologna.

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