On Sept. 9, the Belarusian state TV channel ran a segment about a pro- demonstration backing President Aleksandr Lukashenko that took place in Minsk a day earlier.
“Those who speak out for the salvation of the nation and a peaceful and safe life continue to express their strong position,” the anchorman said.
“The day before, non-apathetic Belarusians who are against interference in the internal affairs of our state, against fakes and the fragmenting of society, gathered in Minsk’s Victory Square."
Eagle-eyed observers quickly recognized among the protesters condemning foreign interference in Belarus’ affairs an actual, well, foreigner.
Belarusian state TV interviewed the man, who is not only a Russian citizen, but is running for a seat on Moscow’s city council.
The man, Anton Tarasov, a Communist Party of the Russian Federation candidate for the Moscow City Duma, claimed that Western media are “manipulating” people in Belarus.
He also attacked Lukashenko’s opponents, who have protested across the country in the wake of the disputed Aug. 9 presidential election, in which Lukashenko claimed victory.
At no time was Tarasov’s name or citizenship revealed, leaving viewers with the impression that he, like the others in the protest, was a local.
It is not clear whether ATN Belarus-1 knew Tarasov’s identity. But it’s not the first such incident – there’s a history here.
Russian state media used actors in a similar way during the 2014 crisis in Ukraine. Individuals claiming to be local citizens appeared in interviews to express views that aligned with Moscow’s interests in the region.
Among the most famous “actors” on Russian state TV was Mariya Tsypko, who appeared in several different segments posing as a local resident from several different cities in Ukraine. She frequently claimed to have witnessed atrocities purportedly committed by Ukrainian armed forces or people loyal to the Ukrainian government.
Another example: Galina Pyshnyak, who claimed to have witnessed Ukrainian soldiers crucifying a young boy after retaking the city of Slovyansk from Russian-led forces in Donbas. Not only was her story debunked, but it was found that she was from Donetsk, where Russia’s proxy forces held control, not Slovyansk, well over 100km away.
In 2018, Russian television's state-owned Channel One ran a story on the anniversary of Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan revolution that portrayed the country as worse off. A segment featured a “Ukrainian” student lamenting the cold in his apartment due to high costs for gas. The poor “Ukrainian” was later revealed to be Vitaly Yurchenko, a Belarusian citizen from Minsk.