Suicide Triggers Changes in the Belarusian KGB

Valer Vakulchyk

On 16 November, Alexander Lukashenka appointed Valer Vakulchyk as Chairman of the KGB. Vakulchyk remains one of the least famous Belarusian security service officials and the Belarusian state leader trusts him a great deal.

A week earlier, on 9 November, Lukashenka discharged the previous KGB head, Vadzim Zaitsau, whom he suspected of being complicit in “betrayal of the state’s interests, corruption and nonfeasance”. Recently, the KGB has been in the news in connection with several mysterious events such as the death of KGB Colonel Kazak and dismissal of the head of Military Intelligence, KGB Major General Zakharau. It addition, this summer’s teddy bears stunt seriously damaged the reputation of the KGB and the Belarusian authorities in the face of the whole world.

Lukashenka wants to reform the Belarusian KGB. However, he realises that reforms may put him in conflict with those state security officials who will not benefit from the changes.

KGB Crisis

Former KGB head Vadzim Zaitsau lost Lukashenka’s trust. On 19 November, Lukashenka claimed that the reason for his removal was the “moral and psychological atmosphere in some KGB departments”. State Secretary of the Security Council Leanid Maltsau was acting head of KGB for a week. He said that the discharge was related to the suicide of KGB Colonel Alyaksandr Kazak. According to Maltsau, “there still remain a series of other issues that require close investigation”.

Maltsau promised that Zaitsau could return to his position if the investigation confirms his innocence. However, Zaitsau will not return, as Lukashenka has serious claims against him. Only the people close to the Belarusian president know the exact nature of the “serious issues” mentioned, but we can hazard several guesses. 

First, the mysterious death of KGB Colonel Kazak. The Belarusian authorities give the official version as suicide. However, the KGB at first denied Kazak’s death. This looks suspicious and has caused rumours. For example, Kazak could have known about the corruption schemes inside the Belarusian governing elite and some officials could have benefited from his death.

Secondly, the uncertainty of the KGB’s actions back in July, when the Swedish PR-company Studio Total organised the so-called “teddy bear landing” in Belarus. The KGB denied an obvious fact for a long time then, and looked at the very least inadequate as a result.

Third, Belarusians learned the details of the post-Square 2010 criminal cases. Zaitsau supervised these cases. Several Belarusian politicians, including ex-presidential candidate Ales Michalevic revealed information about torture in the KGB detention centre. Another ex-presidential candidate, Andrei Sannikau, stated that Zaitsau had threatened to inflict damage to the health of Sannikau’s wife and son were he not to act as a witness against himself. Both ex-candidates have since escaped from Belarus and Lukashenka was able to blame the former KGB for this as well.  

The authors of the Belarus Security Blog list several possible reasons for Zaitsau’s dismissal. First, “deficiencies in organisational and personnel work.” The analysts noted that in 2012, suddenly and without apparent reason the head of Military Intelligence, KGB Major General Zakharov, was dismissed. Secondly, they point to the struggle inside the governing elite and redistribution of spheres of influence on Alexander Lukashenka by the Belarusian security forces.”

The system of the current Belarusian governing elite remains very non-transparent. The attack on the Lithuanian Embassy in Minsk on 6 November and the blast near the KGB building in Vitsebsk on 11 November could be connected with the crisis in the main state security service of Belarus as well.   

Who is Vakulchyk?

Belarusian society does not know much about the new KGB boss, and he rarely gives press conferences or interviews. Valer Vakulchyk comes from Brest Region and was born in 1964. The Belarusian media do not even know the exact place of Vakulchyk`s birth.

The new KGB boss studied in the Kharkiv guard higher tank command school and the Belarusian Presidential Academy of Administration. He also graduated in advanced courses of counter-espionage of the USSR KGB.  

Vakulchyk comes from frontier troops. Alexander Lukashenka’s elder son Victar, who is the Presidential Advisor on the national security issues, also served in the frontier troops. Connections between them could facilitate Vakulchyk’s new appointment.

The new KGB boss has great organisational skills and preserves absolute loyalty to Lukashenka. Vakulchyk served in the KGB in 1991-2008, and after that Lukashenka appointed him to head newly created structures on several occasions.

In 2008, the Belarusian authorities formed the President’s Operative Analytical Centre. Alexander Lukashenka appointed Valer Vakulchyk as a head of the new most secretive state security institution. According to Belarusian Partisan, Victar Lukashenka facilitated this appointment. The main task of the Operative Analytical Centre is control over top government officials.

In 2011, the authorities created the Investigatory Committee. Valer Vakulchyk headed the new structure. He supervised several important criminal cases against bureaucrats who had abused their positions: for example, the case of former Chairman of Polatsk city executive committee Tachyla or Deputy Interior Minister Poludzen. 

What Will Happen to the KGB?

The criminal cases against the nomenclature and control over the top state officials clearly show that Lukashenka relies on Valer Vakulchyk. The new KGB head is neither more democratic nor less democratic than his predecessor. There should be no illusion: a person who works as KGB head follows Lukashenka’s orders and cannot play any political role.

On 19 November, Lukashenka said that some people in the KGB want to “feel free and not to go to work, and forget that they have shoulder-straps”. He suggested that they should look for new jobs. Moreover, Belarus hinted that he might reduce the number of KGB officials from 12,000 to 3,000. Where these people will go is not exactly clear.

It will be Vakulchyk's task to deal with it. Changes inside the KGB will happen as a follow-up to the reforms of the  police and nomenclature. These three columns have been the basis of the authoritarian government for a long time.

Ryhor Astapenia

Ryhor Astapenia is a Development Director at the Ostrogorski Centre, and editor-in-chief of Belarusian internet magazine Idea.

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