Updated at 13:48,15-08-2017

Putin's soft power concept: Russias centres of science and culture to prepare Belarus for annexation?

Tanya Korovenkova, BelaPAN

Russias 'centres of science and culture' are established in Belarus with the sole purpose of expanding the borders of the 'Russian world' and preparing Belarus for its annexation to Russia, Aleh Trusau, chairman of the Francisak Skaryna Belarusian Language Society, said while commenting on the recent opening ceremony for a such a centre in Brest.

Russias 'imperial culture' is being imposed on Belarus through TV channels, the Russian Orthodox Church and such centres, while Belarusians do not know enough about their own culture and about Russia's pro-democracy culture, Mr Trusau said.

The new Russian centre in Brest will lead to the further Russianization of the city, said Iryna Laurouskaya, a local architect and civil society activist.

'I cannot understand our local authorities who thoughtlessly allow such pompous opening ceremonies to take place,' Ms Laurouskaya said. 'Everything has already been Russianized in Brest. I do not know why the Russians believe that there is a lack of Russian culture here. Actually, we should talk about [Russian] expansion. I am very much concerned about this and irritated by this. I would very much like our city to be polycultural, but it should primarily be Belarusian.'

The Russian Centre of Science and Culture in Brest, opened on June 21, became the second such centre in Belarus. The first centre was opened in Minsk in late 2010 and another one is expected to be opened in Homel next year.

The opening ceremony for the Brest centre was attended by, among others, Sergei Naryshkin, chairman of the State Duma (lower house of the Russian federal parliament), Russian Ambassador Alexander Surikov and top officers of Russia's General Consulate in Brest.

According to Russia's newspaper Kommersant, the establishment of Russian centres of science and culture abroad is one of the measures to create a positive image for Russia. Such centres are established by the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation, commonly known as Rossotrudnichestvo.

Last year President Vladimir Putin called on Rossotrudnichestvo to become the main force in implementing Russias 'soft power' concept. Under Mr Putin's directive, the governments annual funding of the agency was increased 4.5-fold to almost 9.5 billion rubles.

Russian analysts describe Rossotrudnichestvo as Russias response to the US Agency for International Development (USAID), while Rossotrudnichestvo head Konstantin Kosachev refers to his agencys activities as part of ideological warfare for influence.