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Are 'Russian puppeteers' behind the new Belarusian website?
Are Mazepin and Babich behind the new website?/Euroradio collage
A few months ago a new Internet media outlet appeared in Belarus - the "Busel.Online" website. The portal publishes small investigations of the Belarusian economy, smuggling schemes and the political situation. The text authors are unknown: the materials are not signed, there is no information about the editorial board.
Telegram channel "Belorusskiy poryadok" (Belarusian Order) discovered a connection between the "Busel" and an organization from Russia as well as, possibly, Russian oligarch Dmitry Mazepin. Euroradio tried to find out if this was the case.
From Indonesia to the 'Mayski Ukaz'
According to WHOIS data, originally the domain busel.online belonged to someone in Indonesia. At the time it was not updated. Probably it was just bought by some cybersquatters for resale.
In the fall of 2020, the site's owner changed for the first time. Later the data were hidden, but back on October 24 it was still owned by 'Mayski Ukaz'(May Decree).
This Russian public association was created after Vladimir Putin signed the so-called May Decrees of 2012, which set the Russian government a number of tasks for the development of the country. "The May Decree" provided information support for the implementation of this program.
In the fall of 2020, a Russian organization bought a domain with the Belarusian (for example, it is not found in the Ozhegov dictionary) word "Busel" in the name. What is this about? As the association explained to Euroradio, it "is the owner of a number of domain names, periodically acquiring new domain names on the Internet, including for the purpose of transferring the rights of their administration to third parties".
"The domain name Busel.online was, among numerous other domain names, acquired by the May Decree. At present it is administered by an independent team of journalists, which includes Belarusian "pen sharks," including those previously subjected to repression," noted the May Decree.
The public association stressed that they don't interfere in the editorial policy after the transfer of the rights of the site administration. They just buy domains for some purpose and give them to "independent teams of journalists".
According to the Belarusian Order, a group of analysts led by political analysts Andrei Suzdaltsev and Dmitry Bolkunets may be behind the editorial board of Busel. This assumption is based on the fact that Bolkunets often refers to Busel in his telegram channel. And the views expressed at the website and the political scientist are broadly similar.
However, Bolkunets himself denies that he belongs to the editorial board of Busel.
"I am not a journalist and have never been one. I keep reading tales about myself, especially those that are born in the inflamed mind of the KGB and are thrown in through the trash channels controlled by them. In previous years, the rector of the Higher School of Economics kept receiving orders from Minsk to fire me because I was 'destroying the Union State'. I kept receiving threats of my extradition if I did not stop dealing with the Belarusian issue.
Last August Mister Voskresenski, at the instigation of his curators, accused me of "having passed 30 thousand rubles from Miller for the purchase of laser pointers." Now there's some "Busel". Simultaneously with the latest throw-ins, I get messages threatening to "cut off my head and kick it to the Mongolian border". Do I need to comment further?" Dmitry Bolkunets answered Euroradio.
And he emphasized once again that he had nothing to do with the project.
Euroradio checked the telephone number to be used for contacting the registrar and site administrator (as of March 4) using the GetContact service. It shows how the owner of the number is recorded in other people's phone books. So, the majority has it written as "Reg.ru support". But one person has it as "Dmitry Bolgunets," and another has it as "Dmitry Site Reg.ru".
This fact alone does not prove anything. Someone could have deliberately created a contact "Dmitry Bolkunets" with this number in his phone and provided the data to the GetContact service, and then waited for us to check. But together with the other circumstances, it looks interesting.
The main "donors" (i.e. those who repost "Busel" in Telegram and creates views) are Dmitry Bolkunets, Andrey Suzdaltsev and a network of pro-Russian channels working in Belarus ("Minsk Semiboyarshchina", "The Bulba", "Diletant"). In the very first weeks of Busel's existence, the channel was unexpectedly reposted by Nezygar. Such a large channel doesn't repost little-known channels by accident.
Traces of Mazepin... and Babich?
If we evaluate the content of the outlet, the suspicions of a "Russian trail" get even stronger. For example, they went as far as holding a quiz about whether Belarusian is a dialect of Russian, and one piece mentioned "Ukrainian nationalists."
Belarusian Order links the appearance of "Busel" to the interests of Dmitry Mazepin. The businessman, who has Belarusian roots, was quite active after August 2020. He declared the need to create the "Committee for the National Salvation of Belarus" and initiated the admission of repressed Belarusian students to Russian universities.
We did not find any direct confirmations of Mazepin's connection with Busel. But one of the May Decree founders, Rinat Gizatulin, worked at URALCHEM and is now the head of public relations at Uralkali. Dmitry Mazepin is one of the owners of both organizations.
The network of telegram channels that repost Busel's content is united by a great liking for former Russian ambassador to Belarus Mikhail Babich, who scandalously left his post. During Babich's presence, Mazepin joined the Belarusian-Russian Business Council. At one time, when Babich was the Volga Federal District presidential envoy, he was in touch with the businessman and visited his enterprises. Another coincidence: Busel has an economic bias, and the Belarusian Foreign Ministry called Babich an 'accountant'.