The Belarusian military understands this.
How does Ukraine wage the information war? Why has the Ukrainian media been creating a positive image of Lukashenka for a long time? What will happen to Lukashenka's army if it crosses the Ukrainian border?
The Charter97.org website discussed this with Oleksandr Kovalenko, the Ukrainian military expert and information operations specialist.
— What is the main rhetoric used by Russian propaganda against Ukraine?
— The rhetoric of the Russian occupiers is that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are shelling Donetsk, residential buildings and residential areas. They have been disseminating it for eight years. The phrase 'they have been bombing Donbas for eight years' is the main template for their fake stories.
After each shelling of Donetsk and other settlements, it was possible to determine by geolocation that they were shelled by the occupying Russian troops and units of the separatist forces, in order to simulate this kind of threat from the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
All the events are fully documented, and there are a huge number of investigations on this issue. There is large-scale and chaotic shelling of residential areas by rocket artillery of the Russian occupiers.
Even the residents of Donetsk themselves say on social media channels that the shelling is carried out by the occupation troops. Moreover, even the 'Vatniks' (derives from the cotton wool jacket and means Russian patriots - Ed.) say this.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces are really shelling Donetsk, it's true. At the same time, they use high-precision weapons, in particular, the Excalibur ammunition. Their targets are exclusively ammunition depots, fuel and lubricants depots, maintenance vehicles, bases with equipment and military bases.
— Does Ukraine manage to counterattack and impose its information agenda?
— If we consider the period up to February 24, 2022, then it was a very complicated process, because almost every episode fabricated by Russian propagandists had to be investigated separately, literally everything had to be analysed.
Now it is easier, because any information reported by the Russian media and propagandists is immediately perceived as a fake. This really makes our task easier, because you don’t get distracted by some insignificant issues that you couldn’t miss before. Now our organisations, such as StopFake, InformNapalm and others, are focused on something more global, on some bigger problems.
Russian fake stories have never sparkled with some kind of ingenuity, and now they are degrading to an incredible level, like the story from 2014 about the 'crucified boy in panties'. Now the level is about the same, absolutely unproven, often without any factual evidence.
— Let's talk about the Ukrainian information field. Why had the Ukrainian media been creating Lukashenka's image as a 'reliable economist' and some kind of independent figure? As a result, this led to the fact that Russian tanks went from the north to Kyiv.
— The fact is that there are several views for the perception of certain leaders in our information field. We had, for example, such a party (now it is already banned) as the Opposition Platform - For Life. It was pro-Russian, one of its leaders was Viktor Medvedchuk, well known to everyone.
He controlled a huge number of information platforms thanks to Russian funding. This includes regions, districts, even villages. He even owned regional TV channels and so on.
They spread rhetoric that Aliaksandr Lukashenka was a 'reliable economist', that he 'holds everything in his hands', and that he has 'everything like in the Soviet Union'.
The initial tactics of the Opposition Platform - For Life political party were the same as that of Russian propaganda, it includes the USSR nostalgia, about some strong business executive ruling the country, but not a businessman or, for example, a film actor.
The cultivation of such a personality took place through these resources, and then spread to a more 'shadow segment', this party fed it. Therefore, in this case, we are talking not only about the Opposition Platform for Life political party, information was similarly disseminated through the resources of the former Communist Party and others, which were eventually banned. This media continued to operate in Ukraine since freedom of speech cannot be banned.
— Belarus remains a platform for missile attacks on Ukraine. How can Kyiv solve this problem?
— To be honest, almost from the first days of the invasion of Ukraine, I was a supporter of a retaliatory strike by the Armed Forces of Ukraine on military infrastructure in the territories where this infrastructure is located. I support strikes on military infrastructure on the territory of the Russian Federation, on military units, military bases, depots, and so on. I also support strikes on the territory of Belarus, and on the military infrastructure of Russian units, which are deployed precisely on the territory of the country.
We had this opportunity from the first days of a full-scale invasion, even without Western weapons. Everything depends on the political decision.
— In your articles, you describe Lukashenka's army as the 'army in writing'. What will happen to it if it enters Ukraine?
— There is a quite small chance for such a development of the situation. What is the army of Belarus? Actually, conditionally combat-ready units of the Belarusian army are no more than 20 battalion tactical groups. At the same time, I do not just say the word 'conditionally', the Belarusian army has absolutely no real combat experience. Here we often call the Belarusian army an 'army in writing', there are 'carpet knights', carpet strategists, and carpet military leaders without any combat experience. They don't even have any serious experience in peacekeeping missions. The Ukrainian army had it.
Actually, the Belarusian army can constitute sabotage groups.
I didn’t just say that there are 20 battalion tactical groups. This is the actual offensive potential of the Belarusian army. In this regard, I recall that when the Russian occupiers reached the northern bridgehead through the territory of Belarus, the Chernihiv, Kyiv and Sumy regions, they used the resources of 40 battalion tactical groups with the most modern equipment. Everyone saw how well their war machinery burned. It was precisely modern military vehicles, and not what is now being transferred to the Donbas and Zaporizhzhia, or to the Kherson bridgehead.
I will not even compare this potential with 20 battalion tactical groups of the Belarusian army, it's like night and day. If something like this happens, it will be just a meat grinder for the Belarusian army and its 'carpet knights'. Belarusian military leadership is well aware of this.
— The Ukrainian army is quite successfully fighting against the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation. Are there ways to further complicate the task of the occupiers in the Black Sea?
— Yes, for sure. There should be a phased deblockade of the Black Sea. Now we can observe the first stage of this process. Today we ensure the destruction of available targets. There is information that there were fire damages to the Snake Island and the 'Boyko derricks'. We can say that Ukraine is beginning to regain control over the Black Sea. The first stage has begun.
Today, Russian warships are trying to keep their distance as much as possible so as not to approach our coastline, because they understand that we are using anti-ship missile systems since they have no effective defence against it, their sea-based air defence is rather weak. Today, they can rely exclusively on submarines, as well as rocket attacks.
On the other hand, the further advance of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions may raise the question of the presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet near the temporarily occupied Crimean peninsula. Indeed, as the Kherson region is de-occupied, we will get closer, for example, to Sevastopol, which is the main base for the deployment of Russian warships, including both warships and submarines. Their submarine fleet, Varshavyanka-class submarines, is the most vulnerable target raised in naval bases. It is only necessary to reach a distance that allows the most effective use of anti-ship weapons to destroy these targets.
— What do you think, is it realistic to liberate Kherson in the coming months?
— It's not that simple with the liberation of Kherson. We can approach the borders of the city in the foreseeable future, this is true. I wouldn't put it past that we can already reach the line of Kherson by the beginning of August. But the main problem is fighting in the streets of the city. The Russian occupiers will hold it, if they are given the task of holding the city as much as possible.
The civilians will suffer, there will be destruction of civilian infrastructure, residential buildings, districts, and so on. This is the most negative scenario, and the Armed Forces of Ukraine wish to avoid it.
Therefore, the best possible option is to create conditions that would be a prerequisite for the encirclement of the Russian occupation group in the Kherson region. This is possible, for example, in the case of complete de-occupation of the Zaporizhzhia region, cutting the southern bridgehead, cutting it in the eastern and western parts.
They will have only two options: either they will have to withdraw their troops from the Kherson region to the temporarily occupied Crimea, or remain in the Kherson region and then face captivity or destruction. This is exactly the scenario that is more realistic in order to save the greatest number of lives of both the civilian population and the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in order to avoid really serious bloody battles that can take place in Kherson.
Although I admit the third scenario, that the occupiers will leave Kherson and retreat beyond the Dnieper as the Armed Forces of Ukraine approach the city.
I even admit that the occupiers can undermine the Antonivskiy Bridge during the retreat as an option.