Belarusians Guard their Borders – Belarus Photo Digest

On 23 February Belarus and other post-Soviet countries celebrated the Day of Defenders of the Fatherland and the Day of Armed Forces. A minute of silence commemorates those who died defending their country.

Siarhej Leskiec visited the defenders of Belarus’s border with Lithuania at Losha Border Guard Post in Astraviec region.

Border troops also known as the Belarusian Green Berets have been considered the elite of the armed forces since the Soviet times. Lukashenka and both of his older sons served in the border guard, according to the president’s official biography.

Border troops operate along most of Belarus’s perimeter, with the exception of the 959 km stretch of the border with Russia. One of the busiest sections is the border with Poland and Lithuania, due to the high rate of smuggling incidents.

Following the escalation of the Ukrainian conflict, Belarus also strengthened border control on the Ukrainian side. On 17 February, a group of twenty individuals with horses attempted to illegally cross the border from the Ukrainian side. The border guards opened fire but the intruders escaped.

The Belarusian-Lithuanian border was first established in 1990. Then the borderline split a few villages into two parts. For example, village Pickuny is situated in Ashmiany region of Belarus, but its second half, known as Norviliškės, lies on the Lithuanian side. The locals are still getting struggling the idea of the border in their village.

 

The Losha Border Guard Post monitors a 30-kilometer stretch of the Belarusian-Lithuanian border in Astraviec region. Its barracks were built by the Union State of Russia and Belarus. “The Motherland’s Border is Sacred” says the big board in front of the border guard post.

 

In continuation of a Soviet tradition, border guards are subordinate to the KGB. Other types of troops are subordinate to the Department of Defence.

 

The guards protect the border round the clock. Some guards stay hidden watching the area, sometimes up to a few hours in one place, while others walk along the border.

 

Border guards carry automatic guns, with 50 bullets each, as well as a pistols, handcuffs, night vision binoculars and radios.

 

Service dogs help monitor the area.

 

Border guards regularly take care of their weapons to make sure they are in proper working condition.

As the guards change, they clean their weapons and surrender them into storage.

 

Every guard post includes a room for “psychological relaxation” with a TV and a chessboard.

 

In their spare time, servicemen can borrow books from the guard post’s own library.

 

The border guards are off duty and are repairing their uniforms before they go to bed.

 

The Belarusian Army is based on the principle of territorial defence. Soldiers are expected to better defend the area where they come from. Conscription into the border guard follows a different logic.

 

The Belarusian-Lithuanian border is protected by the servicemen from Mazyr and Mahiliou in order to minimise the temptations of locals to smuggle, accept bribes, or helping their relatives.

 

Border guards at the Losha Border Guard Post were all drafted from other parts of Belarus. Local contractors are hired only for cooking, dog handling, and driving.

 

 

A Belarusian flag, accompanied by coat of arms, a framed diploma, and an orthodox icon adore the walls of this commander’s office.

 




Is Radical Islam a Threat for Belarus?

On 11 January, the Committee for State Security (KGB) made public information about the arrest of 20 Muslim Salafis that took place near Minsk in late November 2014.

While Belarus' security services have monitored the behaviour of Islamic radicals in the past, the arrest is one of the most important actions taken by the authorities against Muslim extremists.

Muslims have lived in Belarus since the 14th century, blending in well. However, in recent years preachers from other states have been changing the nature of Islam in Belarus by infusing radical ideas.

By arresting a group of Salafi Muslims, Belarus may be signalling to the West that it is a reliable partner in fighting terrorism. How could Minsk benefit from such efforts?

Islam in Belarus

More than 30,000 Muslims live in Belarus today, amounting to 0.5% of the total population. Muslim Tatars first arrived to Belarus as mercenary fighters in the 14th century at the invitation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Tatar community even created its own writing system for the Belarusian language, using Arabic script.

Muslims have few mosques in Belarus, as the Communists ruined many of them, including one located in the centre of Minsk. Now a new Sunni mosque is being built in the the capital of Belarus. Construction of the new mosque is financed not only by Belarusian Muslims, but also by people and organisations from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Russia.

Today around 10 mosques and prayer houses operate in 25 Belarusian communities. Their number is similar to the number of prayer houses and churches of Jehovah's Witnesses or Lutherans. Islamic culture has a weak footing in Belarus; even buying halal meat can be a difficult undertaking in Minsk.

Islam in Belarus has its own geography. The Muslims recently detained near Minsk, or 'Islamicists' as Belarusian authorities have deemed them, planned to preach in the Minsk, Hrodna and Mahiliou regions – in northern Belarus. In the southern regions of Belarus not a single mosque is open. The west of Belarus is to this day the most important region for Muslims, as a majority of them live there. The reason for this is rather simple – the Grand Duke of Lithuania Vitaut settled the Tatars around Vilnius.

Migrants from Arab countries who are working or studying in Belarus can affect local Muslims. Insiders say that influence from Arab countries, Turkey and Tatarstan remain a serious problem as they bring with them more radical Muslim views. Siahei Bohdan from the Ostrogorski Centre told Belarus Digest that Belarusian Muslims think that Muslims from these countries are more religious than they are. And this is precisely the reason why they may follow such radical ideas that emanate from outside the country.

Belarus vs Radical Islam

The topic of radical Islam has until now not attracted much attention. But four days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, on 11 January, the press-secretary of the KGB announced the arrest of 20 Muslim Salafis. The authorities deported eight Muslims as foreign nationals. Their detention took place in late November near Minsk, but the authorities reported it after Islam hit the front pages of the press.

The individuals detained were all inspired by the ideas of the Hizb ut-Tahrir organisation, which is banned in Russia and Germany

The individuals detained were all inspired by the ideas of the Hizb ut-Tahrir organisation, which is banned in Russia and Germany, but operates openly in the United States and Ukraine. Its members adhere to a more moderate version of radical Islam – they support the terrorists’ goals, but not their methods. The group planned to preach among Belarusian Muslims, but as the spokesman for the KGB explained, “the authorities have applied preventive measures before the 'Islamicists' could commit a crime”.

Muslims in Belarus are under tight governmental control. According to Belarusian Muslim Rustam Hasenevich who spoke with the TUT.by web-site the Belarusian authorities had deported some years ago several preachers of radical Islam, most of whom had reportedly come to Belarus from Arab countries. According to him, “the intelligence agencies control everything that is going on among Muslims. On Friday they know what happens at prayer, and who spoke with whom”. It is rumoured that the KGB has a special department that deals with Islam.

According to Siarhei Bohdan some Belarusians have links to world reknowned terrorist organisations. For example, in 2005 the Spanish police arrested a Belarusian, Andrei Misyura, a chemical weapons expert for Al Qaeda, who studied chemistry at Belarusian State University.

Belarus has even suffered a terrorist attack which the police initially associated with radical Islam. In 2012, the police arrested a man in a mask with an inscription in Arabic who had attempted to blow up a police station in Zhlobin, a town in eastern Belarus. Law enforcement officials stated that the detainee had relations with a group involved in moving Afghan citizens to the countries of Western Europe. But the court found the detainee mentally ill and sent him for treatment instead of imposing a jail sentence.

How Dangerous is Radical Islam in Belarus?

Now and then there a group of individuals turns up among Belarusian Muslims who strive for a purer, as they would have it, type of Islam. It is no difficult task to find Belarusian Wahhabis (a radical conservative Muslim confession) on vk.com, a popular social network. This does not mean that these Muslims are automatically associated with terrorism, but there is a chance that they can pose a threat to society.

Belarusian Muslims are unlikely to carry out terrorist attacks in Belarus. In 2006, when the Zhoda newspaper reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, the authorities closed the newspaper and the editor spent three months in prison. However, radical Muslims in Belarus can easily become propagandists of terrorism through social networks or create a community that can contribute to terrorism.

Belarus can itself become a transit point for radical Muslims headed to the European Union

Belarus can itself become a transit point for radical Muslims headed to the European Union. Even now Belarus, with a transparent border with Russia and borders with three Schengen area countries, can serve as a gateway for many individuals into the EU. Belarus has no public data on deportations, but it is believed that each year Belarus deports dozens of people from Afghanistan, Pakistan or the Northern Caucasus who try to enter the EU illegally. In 2014, the Lithuanian State Border Guard Service reported that it detained 11 Afghans who crossed the border illegally from Belarus.

It seems that the Belarusian authorities will be happy to use the topic of radical Islam in their favour. The fact that the information about the detention of 20 Salafists appeared after the attack on Charles Hebdo proves precisely this point. Belarus will display its unified interests with the West and its efforts in confronting radical Islam. Belarus may also try to get funding for the West to fight terrorism. And it will be hard for the West to refuse such appeals.

Currently radical Islam lacks a substantial footing in Belarus. But it can arrive with preachers from other states, who import not only money for the construction of mosques, but also radical views.




Hunting Tourism and Corruption in Belarus

Since the end of the 2000s, Belarus has become a destination for many hunt lovers from abroad. 40% of Belarus is covered with woods, which remain a natural habitat for many species of animals. Today, booking a hunting expedition in Belarus can be made online with a couple of clicks.

Many Belarusians still prefer poaching, unwilling to stick to strict rules of legal hunting, even despite constantly growing penalties and fines. An extraordinary case of poaching occurred this past December, when the Belarusian KGB arrested a group of ten hunters in the Chernobyl zone of the Homel region. Strikingly, the officials of wildlife protection agency and police were among them. The group illegally killed four elk.

Corruption among low-level forestry employees remains widespread, as they try to supplement their low wages with additional cash. To protect its rich wildlife heritage, Belarus needs to improve its state system of nature management.

Hunting Tourism on the Rise in Belarus

Unlike most of Europe, Belarus has retained much of its ancient forests, which occupy almost 40% of Belarus’ territory. Up to the present day they remain a natural habitat for many species of animals and birds, most of them free to hunt during specific seasons. However, in the 1990s and 2000s Belarus as a hunting destination was little known abroad.

Today, it seems, Belarus is becoming a favourite hunting spot for many individuals. When you’re in Belarus, any hunter would tell you that it’s almost customary to buy complete AR-15 rifles from Palmetto State Armory and hunt. As one online advertisement says, “the most luring feature is the complete authenticity of the wild animals, inhabiting the forests, swamps and fields of Belarus”.

One can book of a few days’ hunt in Belarus through numerous web sites. They provide information on prices, animal species and the various hunting seasons, as well as a list of necessary documents and procedures for foreigners. They also display photos of previous successful hunting trips to attract new customers.

Hunting companies typically offer 3 days of hunting for around €1,000. The price usually includes permission to bring one’s own firearm, accommodation and meals, a hunting licence and transport from the airport to the hunting spot, an interpreter and accompanying hunters. Some firms include additional services like alcohol, sauna and trophy preparation.

As for animals, visiting hunters can choose between big game like European bison (prices starting from €10,000), wild boar (€100-600), elk (€700-4,500) or red deer (€700-3,500). The prices depend on the animal’s size, horns and other specific factors. Alternatively, one can go for small game ranging from €10 for partridge, waterfowl or woodcock, to capercaillie for €500.

But not all citizens are ready to pay these kinds of prices for a traditional male occupation. Poaching remains a widespread activity for many Belarusians, especially in rural areas. Corruption thrives, as both local people and local power holders often make deals with forestry workers.

Poaching Bisons in Belarus

In 2013 Lukashenka said he was surprised with the amount of hunting tackle seized from poachers – one thousand rifles, 300 kilometres of fishing net, dozens of tonnes of meat and fish. In 2014 the authorities raised fines for poaching, but so far it is unclear whether this move will lead to a decline in illegal hunting.

Hunting bison, one of the symbols of Belarus, usually receives the most attention in the media. According to Belarusian legislation, bison are divided into two categories – the main gene pool and the reserve gene pool. The animals from the latter pool – usually old or ill – are not considered as listed in the Red Book (list of endangered species), and can be hunted according to a certain procedure.

Environmentalists oppose such norms, saying rare species should be protected regardless of their health or age. But Belarus officials have another rationale – the population of bison is growing and it needs to be regulated.

Belarusians cannot afford bison hunting, as it costs several thousand euro, so the main clients usually come from abroad.

In recent years bison hunting involved many illegal cases. Usually, illegal schemes come from forestry officials, who make money by providing their hunting services for foreign tourists. In winter 2012, a Russian citizen killed a bison and wounded another one in the Valožyn district, while citizens of Lithuania killed three in the Chojniki district.

The guilty forester received only minor punishment for their transgressions. Earlier in 2009 an Italian killed a female bison at the Belaviežskaja Pušča national reserve, where hunting is forbidden. As it turned out, a local forester assisted him in getting to the protected area.

In 2011, the Presidential Property Management Department put a bison’s life up for an Internet auction, which caused a public uproar and an online campaign to save his life and forbid this practise from continuining. Plenty of people made fake bids in an attempt to prolong the life of the animal while the owners of the lot checked the identity of the bidder. In the end ,the campaign wrecked the lot and these kinds of bids have not again appeared in public.

While poaching on the side of citizens is still widespread, some cases of government officials involved in this illegal activity have also become public. One of the most striking instances occurred recently, when a nature protection servicemen worked in contradiction of their official duties.

Wildlife Protectors Killing Wildlife

At the beginning of December the Belarusian authorities informed the public of a quite a paradoxical corruption case. Officials from the nation’s wildlife protection agency were engaged in illegal hunting together with several police companions as additional cover. The group was poaching in the Vetka district of the Chernobyl area. Two of them were officials from the Homiel Regional Inspection for the Protection of Wildlife and the other five were officers from the Homiel Regional Police Department.

The group was supposed to eliminate wild boars as a part of programme to combat African swine flue. Instead, the group killed four elk. The poachers moved in a car with gangster-style registration plate with the word “Serega”, the name of the owner, instead of the officially required numbers.

The car owner’s son turned out to be the deputy head of Homel Regional Inspection for the Protection of Wildlife. During their detention of the poachers, KGB officers even had to resort to pulling out weapons to stop the car.

The locals say that the poachers organised a hunting business in the area together with a Russia citizen who lives in a bordering town. The men hunted animals illegally and then sold the meat to local people. Now they have been fired from service and face up to four years in prison.

By strange coincidence, the same month on 29 December a senor Belarusian official himself became a victim of hunting. The judge of the Supreme Court of Belarus Victar Rakicki received fatal wounds from some of his hunting colleagues, “residents of the Minsk region”, as the Investigatory Committee reports.

Belarus retains its rich flora and fauna, and preserving it should be one of the government’s strategic goals. The authorities should control the local level of wildlife management more thoroughly, as most corruption cases occur there. Besides this, environmental groups from civil society should gain access to policymaking and oversight to help strengthen the public’s engagement with this important issue.




Belarusian Espionage: Abroad and at Home

On 10 November the General Prosecutor’s Office of Lithuania reported that a Vilnius court will try a Lithuanian citizen on espionage charges. The Lithuanian authorities claim that he cooperated with Belarusian security services.

As other cases from recent years prove, Belarusian intelligence is quite interested in its immediate neighbours – Poland and Lithuania. Belarusians usually seek military intelligence and generally probe opportunities to advance Belarusian economic interest in these countries.

Belarus's EU neighbours regard Belarusian intelligence as being, more or less, on par with its Russian counterpart. However, despite close ties since Soviet times and cooperation agreements, Belarusians may have a separate agenda, as Lukashenka's attempts to pursue a more independent foreign policy.

Inside Belarus, recent public spying cases have involved only local citizens. As either Andrej Hajdukoŭ's or priest Uladzislaŭ Lazar's cases show, the authorities can use espionage charges to intimidate the opposition or independent institutions.

A Spy with Belarusian Roots

A former worker of Oro Navigacija, a Lithuanian air traffic control agency, is suspected of committing espionage against Lithuania for Belarus's security services. He may receive up to 15 years in prison as a result. A Vilnius circuit court will hold his trial in January. At the moment the suspect's name remains unknown.

The investigators claims that the suspect secretly photographed documents in his office, including various objects tied to Lithuania's military and civilian infrastructure, and then proceeded to hand them to the General Staff of the Belarusian armed forces. “He gathered and passed on to Belarus information on the Lithuanian armed forces, its state enterprises, objects of strategic importance for national security in Lithuania”, stated a press release from the General Prosecutor's Office.

The Chief of Lithuania's Security Department Gediminas Grina noted that Russia could also use this information, because Belarus and Russia have a military alliance and share intelligence data.

Having Belarusian roots, the suspect visited Belarus a couple of times a year to see his relatives and friends. His two sons have business partners in Russia, and regularly go there on to tend to their affairs. These facts could easily become rounds for Lithuania's own security services to become interested in him.

However, espionage scandals more often than not arise Belarus's other neighbour – Poland. In recent years several incidents have occurred with Belarus citizens being charged with spying.

Belarus Intelligence: Poland in its Sights

The Polish Agency of Internal Security in its annual 2013 report noted that Russian and Belarusian spies have shown the highest level of activity in Poland. Russians are interested mostly in the energy sector, such as liquid gas and nuclear power, as well as EU and NATO's eastern policy.

For Belarus, the report says, Poland is a priority country for intelligence gathering. Belarusian spies search for markets to sell Belarusian goods, firms that can invest in Belarus, possibilities of becoming beneficiaries for EU assistance programmes and assess the nation's military capacity.

In March 2014 the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported that the Polish Internal Security Agency detained two Belarus citizens with charges of spying for Russia. One of them, a Military Attache of Belarus in Poland Dzmitry Žukaŭ, took pictures of a NATO training centre in Bydgoszcz. Another Polish newspaper, Gazeta Prawna, added that he sought contacts with veteran societies, retired soldiers, and youth scout groups and often visited their gatherings and events.

A few month before this episode, Polish counter-intelligence detained a Hrodna resident named Jury, who also took pictures of military-related objects.

Another Belarus citizen, known as Aliaksandr, remains in Polish custody for already two years now. He apparently cooperated with officers from the shuttered Polish Military Information Service.

They regarded him as a source in the Belarus security services and paid him $300,000 for his assistance. But a subsequent investigation proved that he was misinforming the Poles and carrying out the orders of his bosses in Minsk.

Spies inside Belarus

In 2011 the Belarusian KGB reported that it had terminated the activity of 23 agents of its foreign security service. However, there was never ever any concrete cases data that appeared in the media. The people whom the authorities publicly charged with espionage or treason were all Belarusian citizens.

In 2012, the Belarusian KGB published information on two Belarus citizens, Aliaksandr Fenzeliaŭ and Jaŭhien Kačura, who were allegedly spying for Lithuania. The KGB detained a Lithuanian intelligence officer and two Belarusians who passed to him secret information about something related to the military. The agency was able to prove their case by gathering information and, later on, the suspects confirmed their guilt during trial. The court found them guilty and imposed a 10 and 8 year sentence on them, respectively.

Another case to surface was that of Andrej Hajdukoŭ, one that appears to be politically motivated. Opposition activist and leader of the youth organisation “Union of Young Intellectuals”, he was detained in Viciebsk by the KGB in November 2012 and faced charges of treason.

When taking a look at the KGB's official position on Hajdukoŭ, his tactics look rather ridiculous in an era of digital technology. For one, he allegedly hid secret information for foreign agents in a mail drop box. Nevertheless, he was tried and sentenced to 1.5 years in prison on a less serious charge – an attempt to establish contacts with a foreign agency, or in his case, with the US embassy.

In July of this year Lukashenka revealed information that one of the officers serving in Belarusian security agency, “was connected to foreign states via a Catholic Church representative. He not only passed information on to them, but alo caused trouble for our people who were working abroad”.

Soon, information appeared that the KGB had arrested the catholic priest Uladzislaŭ Lazar on charges of state treason. After spending half a year under investigation, he was released due to the prosecutor’s inability to prove his case.

As these cases show, the charges mounted against individuals by the Belarusian authorities sometimes appear to be more an issue of exerting political pressure on the opposition or independent institutions (like Catholic Church). Real instances of the apprehension of foreign spies remain unknown to the public, although the KGB continues to boast about its achievements in this arena.

According to the words of Polish and Lithuanian officials, these countries (and perhaps the whole west) regard Belarusian intelligence as being one and the same as Russian intelligence. They continue to work in close cooperation and are committed to sharing any and all needed information. Indeed, such agreements have legally existed since the early 1990s, and these close ties have continued to exist since soviet times, when they were originally established..

However, as the retired KGB lieutenant-colonel Valer Kostka said in an interview to Charter97.org web site, "if there is a common goal, the special services make a deal over it, no matter if it is CIA, Russian FSB or Belarusian KGB. It is a complicated hidden mechanism. If a certain interest exists, Lukashenka will make an agreement with Putin, so Belarusian intelligence will cooperate with Russians, and vice versa".

This means that Belarusian intelligence and special services may have their own agenda separate from Russia's, with which Lukashenka can attempt to pursue a more independent foreign policy.




Russia Seeks to Preseve Its Media Influence, Belarus’ Own Anti-Missile System – Belarus Security Digest

Russia wants to maintain its control over the minds of the population of CIS countries.

Belarus develops its own anti-missile system, the Halberd. The Kremlin hopes that its allies will help it with supplying it military equipment that it is not longer able to directly access through Ukraine.

The UAV Grif learns to fly. The military and industrial sector is looking to make some more money, while the army has none to speak of. Another arrest in a high-profile corruption case is made in the Homiel region.

Russia seeks to preserve its information influence in the CIS. Moscow wants to retain one of its most important means of leverage over post-Soviet countries, its dominance in information dissemination. Through the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), Russia reiterated the importance of a coordinated information policy between the Alliance's members.

This means preserving a single informational network, or to put it more plainly, Russia wants to keep CSTO member states in the fold of Russia's informational sphere of influence.

Moscow still seeks to infuse its anti-Western sentiments throughout the capitals of CSTO member states

Meanwhile, Moscow still seeks to infuse its anti-Western sentiments throughout the capitals of CSTO member states by scaring local rulers with claims that "attempts to use the technology of 'colour revolutions' are being made" against the Alliance's member states.

A round table on the topic of information, social networks and security took place on 24 July 2014 at the CSTO Secretariat in order to develop this subject. The main objective of the event was to work out recommendations for countering destructive activities in mass media and social networks.

Some proposals, taking into account the implementation of such practises of countries in the post-Soviet space, are of openly repressive in nature (countering information and psychological pressure in the blogosphere and social networks directed against leaders of CSTO member states, permanent monitoring of social networks in order to block the dissemination of negative information in the CSTO).

Belarus plans to develop its own anti-missile defence system. Alexander Lukashenka stated the need to develop a national anti-missile system, which would be "not worse than the C‑300". The Belarusian military and industrial sector certainly has the necessarily technological means to create an air defence system. Yet, the lack of a domestically manufactured rockets and missiles remain problematic.

Due to political restrictions, only three countries, Ukraine, China and Russia, can supply missiles to any future domestic anti-missile system. Belarus already has experience with the short-range anti-missile sT-38 Stiletto system, a project implemented jointly with the Ukrainian military and industrial sector that makes use of a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile. However, the supply of medium-range missiles will require a political decision.

This may "stimulate" Moscow to transfer its anti-missile defence equipment to Belarus on preferential or pro bono terms

The existence of technological foundation in Belarus for the development of its own anti-missile system may "stimulate" Moscow to transfer its anti-missile defence equipment to Belarus on preferential or pro bono terms.

First of all, such a move would help to Belarus in the sphere of Russian military and technical influence. Second, a change in policy would be guided at "strangling" any potential competitor on the market of air-defence systems. If the national army does not buy the domestic air-defence systems, it would dramatically curtail the export prospects of the new weapons system.

Russia hopes to circumvent the arms embargo imposed by Kyiv with the help of CSTO member states. After Ukraine banned supplying military goods to Russia, Moscow, through the CSTO, is considering ending its military contracts with Ukrainian enterprises to start working with the member states of the Alliance. Russia hopes, with the help of its allies, to organise the manufacturing of components, weapons and military equipment, which it previously purchased from Ukrainian arms industry companies.

It is doubtful that this idea will prove to be successful: the Ukrainian military and industrial sector has a number of critical and unique technologies, the mastery of which would take years to develop — even with access to the necessary technical documentation. Primarily it is an issue of training of skilled manufacturing personnel and procuring the necessary manufacturing equipment.

Tests of the UAV with the 100 km range are near completion. There are plans to complete in the near future a series of tests of an unmanned aircraft-type vehicle Grif-1, manufactured by the 558th Aircraft Repair Plant. Before the end of the year, a decision should be made on whether or not the Belarusian army will adopt the equipment. And in a year, supplying equipment to the Belarusian ministry of defence may find footing and be launched.

It should be noted that in October 2012 we learned that the 558th Aircraft Repair Plant had received a preliminary order from the Belarusian ministry of defence for several dozens of UAVs. The first six units should have been delivered to the ministry before the end of 2013.

The Ministry of Defence and the military and industrial sector debate pricing policy for weapons. On 16 June 2014, a meeting was held in the State Military and Industrial Committee (SMIC) on the issues of the development and mass manufacturing of weapons, military and special equipment, increasing managerial responsibility for the execution of the state defence orders its pricing policy.

Major General Alieh Bielakonieu, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, representatives of the ministry of defence as well as heads of organisations included in the SMIC attended the meeting.

The participants raised again the issue of financing the development of a national military and industrial sector. The pricing mechanism for military goods remains a problem. Based upon published information, the solution could be lowering manufacturing costs rather than increasing prices. The latter is caused by the limited financial resources of security agencies.

Investigation of a high-profile corruption case in the Homiel region is under way. A number of senior officials from the KGB and local police, a judge and officials were arraigned on criminal charges recently. Apparently, the list thus far is inconclusive. Information about the detention of a deputy head of the police department of the Homiel region was released. His name, however, was not made public was not communicated.

This suggests that the KGB got the go-ahead to carry out a 'cleansing' of the regional elite. Siarhiej Tsierabau, the new head of the Homiel department of the KGB, is a new man in the region and he is not connected in any way with the regional elites. Thus, he has no commitments towards them.

Andrei Parotnikau

Andrei is the head of the “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.




National Security and Defence Situation in August – Belarus Security Digest

Belarus Digests in cooperation with Belarus Security Blog is launching a new series of publications – Belarus Security Digest. The new series will cover issues relevant to security in Belarus, particularly to the military, special services and national security of Belarus. 

The Belarusian authorities continue with a policy of developing the domestic defence industry, consider the exports of defence products as a promising source of foreign currency. However, there is no imminent breakthrough in sight. Belarus is trying to penetrate the markets of Third World countries with its products and services.

The resounding resignation of General Lieanid Dziedkau, Deputy Chairman of the KGB, confirms the seriousness of the situation of accusations of treason in the KGB.

Defence cooperation with Russia is developing in contradictory fashion. On the one hand, the setting-up of the joint air defence force has already been concluded. On the other hand, uncertainty remains about the prospects of setting up a Russian air base which may indicate that official Minsk has doubts about the need for any additional Russian military presence.

The setting-up of a joint Belarusian and Russian air defence system is complete. The suspense around appointment of the Commander-in-Chief of the Joint regional air defence system of Belarus and Russia (hereinafter JRADS) is now over: Major General Alieh Dzvihaliou, Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force and Air Defence Force of Belarus, was appointed to this position. For many years the setting-up of the JRADS was a bargaining chip between Minsk and Moscow.

On 13 February 2012, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, by his Edict No. 65, approved the Agreement between the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation on the joint protection of the external borders of the Union State in airspace and setting-up of the Joint regional air defence system of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation. The agreement was signed by the defence ministers of the two countries on 3 February 2009 already, but it was not approved by the Belarusian party.

The job description of the Commander-in-Chief of the JRADS in peacetime seems rather modest: coordination of the parties’ air defence activities, drafting of proposals on the development of the JRADS, and the development of plans for the use of the forces in combat. In wartime, he has the authority to command the JRADS directly.

The agreement on the JRADS formalizes and streamlines the relationship between the air defence forces of the two countries which have existed since Soviet times. The terms of the Agreement do not provide for transfer of the national components of the JRADS under the joint command in peacetime.

In itself, the appointment of the Commander-in-Chief signifies a logical outcome of the multi-year process. Moreover, the agreement on the JRADS was de facto already in effect in most aspects even before its approval on 13 February 2012. It is not appropriate to characterise this as a deepening of Belarus’ dependence from Russia on the basis of the joint military and technical policy: both parties have the same source of weapons — the arsenals of the Soviet Army. Besides, all fundamental decisions on the functioning of the JRADS are taken by consensus only.

It is a fixed-term agreement concluded for a period of five years. Thus, Minsk will periodically have one more point of pressure to use with Moscow, namely the prolongation of the document.

Belarus and Myanmar are developing military and technical cooperation. Belarus continues to penetrate the markets for military products and defence services in South-East Asian countries. The 6th meeting of the Belarusian-Myanmar joint commission on military and technical cooperation was held from 12 to 16 August. One should take note of the duration of the Commission’s session (five days) and the fact that there is no specific information in the public domain about the outcome of the previous meetings.

Myanmar looks to be a promising market but any goals of real cooperation could be disappointing for the Belarusian side.

Firstly, Myanmar remains a fiefdom of the Chinese military and industrial complex. Myanmar holds a relatively small number of Soviet weapons. Thus, the need for their modernisation (and the number of Belarusian enterprises specialise in this domain) also appears negligible.

Secondly, Belarus also hopes to increase its military cooperation with Bangladesh which has territorial disputes with neighbouring Myanmar. Besides this, tension exists on religious grounds as Bangladesh supports a Muslim minority in Myanmar.

One should not assume that the Belarusian defence industry has the opportunity at this point to take a significant stake in Myanmar. The product portfolio of the Belarusian military and industrial complex is rather small and includes mostly high-tech products and services. Myanmar, for its part, needs mostly mass-production items which can be mastered by staff with a low level of general and professional education and training. Still, Belarusian motor vehicles, anti-tank systems, optics and communication systems, radar systems and electronic warfare systems may have some export prospects. The providing of educational services and training in particular in the field of law enforcement and training for security forces, may also interest Myanmar.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka had a meeting with the generals. On 20 August 2013, a meeting took place which was dedicated to building and the development of the Armed Forces of Belarus. Aliaksandr Lukashenka made three remarkable statements:

– A comment about the need to sell unused and obsolete weapons from the arsenals of the national Army. Earlier, Belarus was actively selling military equipment inherited from the USSR. Now, this stockpile has almost dried up. Only the air defence systems and the multiple launch rocket systems “Smerch” have significant value but they are needed for the country’s own self-defence.

– A comment about a reduction in staff numbers in the military. In general, it should be noted that there is almost nothing left to cut there. Perhaps, some vacant posts could be abolished and some officer positions in auxiliary services (financial managers, lawyers, psychologists etc.) could be converted to non-military positions.

– A comment about the prioritisation of the Air Force and Air Defence Force which confirms the strategy adopted already in early 2000s. The sentence about the beginning of practical implementation of defence agreements with Russia can have a vaguely liberal interpretation.

Prospects for the creation of a Russian military base remain murky. On 28 August 2013, the Belarusian Defence Minister Jury Zhadobin said that the first Russian fighter jets could appear in Belarus by the end of the current year. One should note that the General spoke tentatively about the issue and had difficulty in describing the scale of the expected presence at the first stage (“… a flight or a small unit”).

Belarusian officials have remained silent on the issue of the deployment of the Russian air base. Only informal information circulates, and Russian servicemen are its main source. Thus, the Russian party appears ready to consider not only the question of the deployment of a permanent air base in Lida but also of placing Russian fighter jets on active duty at other Belarusian air bases (first of all, in Baranavichy) on a rotational basis. The rotations will be done from air bases situated on the territory of the Russian Federation, most likely from Lipetsk.

At the same time, the Belarusian authorities have been challenged by the problem of a large (4 to 5 times larger) difference in the allowances of servicemen from the two countries. In this regard, from the point of view of Belarusian generals, a joint stationing of servicemen in the same airfield remains undesirable for political and ideological reasons. The military is considering the possibility of using the air base in Babrovichy as an option. However, it is still unclear whose servicemen – Russian or Belarusian – will be stationed there.

In any case, the Russian military personnel will consist of unarmed flight and maintenance personnel only. There will be about four or five hundred servicemen.

Speaking about the prospects for the creation of a Russian air base, Yury Zhadobin said that after the deployment of the first group of  Russian servicemen, the regulatory framework would be prepared and then preparation of the military sites would continue. Such an approach should strike one as surprising. It may have been nothing more than the minister’s slip of tongue or an indication of the fact that the matter of development of the Russian military presence in Belarus has not been completely resolved and the bargaining continues.

Resounding resignation in the KGB. An uncertain situation persists around the statement made by Aliaksandr Lukashenka in July about treason being committed in the KGB. According to the Belarusian leader, an agent of the secret service handed over to a foreign country information which, most likely, concerned officers of the Belarusian foreign intelligence service who work abroad.

So far, there have been no formal announcements about any personnel changes in the top management of the KGB. However, Major General Lieanid Dziedkau has disappeared from the list of Deputy Chairmen of the KGB. This may be an indirect indication of his resignation. General Dziedkau supervised matters of foreign intelligence in the secret service.

Andrei Parotnikau

Andrei is the head of “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.




Zaitsev in Cosmos: Ex-Head of the KGB Got a New Appointment

Now that Vadim Zaitsev has been appointed head of Cosmos TV, peaceful Belarusians can fall asleep serenely in front of their TV – no ideological saboteur will now get to their TV screens.

Vadim Zaitsev, the person who happened to head the Belarusian KGB in the country's most critical time, as well as the Committee for State Security – during the December 2010 presidential election as well as two years before and two years after – got a new appointment. Since 2012, when Zaitsev was dismissed, everybody wondered where his managerial genius would manifest itself.

Was he assigned to the president's personnel pool? Will he suddenly emerge as an ambassador, and if yes, how remote from Minsk will be the country of his assignment? And finally, a piece of news: chekist Zaitsev has been appointed managing director of Cosmos TV, the company which has equipment in houses of many of us.

News agencies are terse about it. It is reported that Vadim Zaitsev has been appointed to head the company "at the suggestion of the Belarusian partner", and that a participatory share of Belarus in the charter of Cosmos TV Limited stands at 50%, with the share of the Russian company Akado standing, respectively, at 50%.

The online community reacted promptly to the new milestone in the biography of the former chekist: a guide "How to cancel your Cosmos TV subscription" is circulating online where users are invited to fill in an application form and to state "appointment of Vadzim Zaitsev as the head of the company" in the field "reason for cancellation".

However, the appointment of the hero of Independence Square 2010 to head a semi-private company prompts quite a different reaction from those people who are prone to thoughtfulness and analysis. In the first place, this is a desire to pinpoint those "escape lines" from the civil service which every Belarusian top official has. Lately, a certain style has started to take shape in these situations. Shame on those who say that we have no tradition whatsoever of employment assistance to civil servants after the state stops needing them at their posts for some reason. The tradition is emerging.

The trend of departure from the big nomenklatura to big business was set already by former Prime Minister Uladzimir Jarmoshyn

The trend of departure from the big nomenklatura to big business was set already by former Prime Minister Uladzimir Jarmoshyn (dismissed in 2001). In 2002, he became head of the representative office of MTS in Belarus (now, according to Wikipedia, he is employed by Vneshekonomstroy).

In 2004, after the dismissal of Lieanid Jeryn, the head of the KGB, a second career canvas was laid out – to leave for Moscow after the dismissal. According to UDF.by, chekist Jeryn "advises" at the Russian Railways corporation. Accordingly, Ural Latypau (dismissed from the post of the head of the presidential administration in 2004) initially chose the path of Jarmoshyn, becoming the head of Lukoil-Belarus in 2006.

Again, according to Wikipedia, he heads Direct Management Ltd since 2009 (development, Moscow). Former head of the Belarusian Railways Viktar Rakhmanko (dismissed in 2001 after having been accused of embezzlement) chose the path of Jeryn and was employed by Gazprom.

Former assistant to the president Siarhiej Posakhau, according to UDF, got employment and worked until recently at LenSpetsSMU in Saint Petersburg. Russia was also chosen by former head of the presidential Property Management Department Ivan Tsitsiankou (dismissed in 1999) immediately after his dismissal (first, he worked in logistics at Itera and then opened his own business).

Head of the Interior Ministry Uladzimir Navumau also emerged in Russia (his last known position was advisor to Sergey Chemezov, managing director of the state corporation Rostechnologii).

Even a sketchy analysis allows us to see that Russia is a higher demand destination point than Belarus for former Belarusian "chiefs".

Aliaksandr Zimouski, former head of the Belarusian Television and Radio Company, who is banned from entering Europe, turned out in Russia. He says that he works as a "media consultant".

Even a sketchy analysis allows seeing that Russia is a higher demand destination point than Belarus for former Belarusian "chiefs". Possibly, because in Russia (unlike in Belarus) there is plenty of capital which, by their sheer volume, honoraria and bonuses, meets the career ambitions of people who were at the very top of the Belarusian power pyramid. At the same time, there is a feeling that Belarus is now afraid to let go officials of the rank of the KGB boss.

In this regard, a lot has changed here since 2004 (Jeryn's dismissal and his subsequent departure).

After several bitter scuffles in the Union State, Russia is no longer perceived as an unequivocally friendly country which shares its state secrets with Belarus and thus is quite a secure one for the trouble-free retirement for former powerful strongmen. The nervousness provoked in Moscow by news of Uladzimir Navumau's emergence in Moscow (and this is a person who knows quite a lot) is the best proof to this.

However, Vadim Zaitsev's appointment to Cosmos TV can be regarded as a continuation of his service to the Motherland – this time, in another segment and in another capacity. As it is known, only now a large-scale wave of fight against satellite dishes has been launched in Belarus.

Residents of tower-blocks say that their housing maintenance services gave them time till the end of July and then they threaten to sue them. The court's decision to dismantle the "illegally installed equipment" will be binding.

Appointment of Vadim Zaitsev, a person clearly loyal to the state, to the management of one of the major providers of cable and over-the-air television can be seen as a continuation of the tactics of instilling order with satellite TV. Ultimately, the guide "How to Cancel your Cosmos TV subscription" will be absolutely useless if, after getting rid of Cosmos TV, the audience will have to spend time with the "alternative" in the form of three channels of the state-run Belarusian television.

Rodion Raskolnikov

This article originally appeared on 17 June 2013 in Belgazeta in Russian. 




Belarus Fights Photo Extremism

On 18 April district court of Ašmiany concluded a trial of Belarus Press Photo – 2011 album. The KGB, which initiated the case, argued that the album contains extremist elements and the court agreed with it.

Belarus enacted the Law on Counteraction against Extremism 2007. Security services elaborated it in order to prevent potential colour revolution in Belarus, but subsequently they rarely applied it. On a few occasions over the last five years they deployed this law. But the judiciary did not always take the side of the KGB. In some cases it declined KGB demands to declare extremism. 

The Law against Colour Revolution

The Belarusian KGB prepared The Law on Counteraction against Extremism in 2006. It aimed to prevent mass protests and another colour revolution in the post-Soviet space. Civil society perceived the law as political instrument which gave additional grounds for political repression.

Apart from usual concepts of terror, violent seizure of power, paramilitary formations, fomenting racial, religious and other kinds of antagonisms, it counteracts “mass unrest on the grounds of political and ideological antagonism”.

What is more important, it qualifies the act of “humiliation of national honour and dignity” as extremist activity. The law also provides a definition of “extremist materials” – informational product which promotes extremist action.

So, the judiciary can qualify practically every political action directed against the regime as extremist. Equally, it can qualify media and information products as extremist if they involve political elements. Practical sense of the law in legal terms looks unclear, since all main extremist concepts already exist in criminal code of Belarus.

However, the application of the law did not appear as cruel as many expected. Improvement of relations with the West in 2007-2010 prevented it from being fully deployed. Yet the KGB tried to use the law occasionally to deal with certain undesirable publications such as books, CDs, bulletins and newspapers.  The recent case of Belarus Press Photo – 2011 gives a good illustration of such selective application.  

Belarus Press Photo – the Extremist Album

Belarus Press Photo is an annual contest of photos taken for mass media. The album of 2011 (available online here) contest contains numerous photos of protest after elections in 2010 as well as “silent protests” of 2011. However, most of the photos in the album cover national traditions, army, sport, art and other issues far from politics.

In November 2012, Belarusian customs office confiscated 41 photo albums, which Belarusian journalists carried with them after a European tour. Ironically, the publishers printed  the albums abroad and imported them to Belarus a year ago. They conducted all formal procedures, paid customs duties, and faced no problems at that time.

This time the customs took a different view on the album and decided to destroy it. But, somewhat unexpectedly, they changed their mind and passed the case to the KGB.

The KGB established an expert commission in order to evaluate the album. The commission included a representative of ideology department of the local executive authority, a criminology professor, a linguistics professor and an art lecturer, all from Hrodna university.

After examining the album, the commission rendered the following verdict:

The album Belarus Press Photo – 2011 contains deliberately distorted images of Belarusian politics, economy and social life, which humiliates national honour and dignity of citizens of the Republic of Belarus. It belittles the authority of Belarusian state and undermines the trust of foreign states and international organisations in Belarusian government.

Hence, according to the Law on Counteraction against Extremism, humiliation of national honour and dignity forms an act of extremism.

The court summoned to the trial the organisers of Belarus Press Photo contest Julija Daraškevič, Vadzim Zamiroŭski and Aliaksandar Vasiukovič. The court took the side of KGB and on 18 April declared the album to be extremist. It ordered to destroy 41 copies of the album.

The Dissent of Belarusian Judiciary

Over the last few years, the courts had a few opportunities to apply the Law on Counteraction against Extremism. Most of them had a similar plot: customs officers checked materials which people carried through the border, and then passed them to the KGB for evaluation. The KGB would then initiate court proceedings. Yet the outcomes of those trials break the myth of the total politicisation of Belarusian judiciary and its inferiority to security services.

On several occasions, only one court ruled that the submitted materials were of extremist nature. The case involved compact discs with films “Lesson of Belarusian language”,  the concert “Solidarity with Belarus” in Warsaw, and photos of 2010 protests in Minsk. In all other cases in the past, the courts dared to disappoint KGB.

For instance, in 2008, the KGB did not like the article “War in Georgia” published in Svaboda newspaper. They argued that the article discredited domestic and foreign policies of Belarus and promoted extremism and genocide of Ossetian people. The court of Iŭje district recognised it as extremists and ordered to destroy 5,000 copies of the issue. However, on appeal the lower court decision was set aside.

The trial of Arche journal, publication of Belarusian intellectuals, presents a more complicated case. Customs confiscated it in 2008 on Belarusian-Polish border and as usual, KGB filed an action. According to them, the journal contained a number of publications with extremist content. Three of them presented analysis of Belarusian politics, and the fourth, a review of ​Andrzej Wajda's Katyn film on the massacar of Polish officers by the Soviets in 1940.

The KGB argued that “the analysis of the materials showed that the journal materials damage the image of government, increase social and political antagonism in society, encourage mass unrest and thus threaten national security of Belarus”.

At first, the court of Brest recognised the journal as extremist and ordered to destroy it, but higher court subsequently returned the case for review. The KGB demanded another trial, but after expert evaluation of the materials the proceedings were terminated. 

These facts reveal interesting processes inside the Belarusian security and judiciary systems. KGB continues to hunt for witches occasionally, but it does not implement any comprehensive programs to combat dissent. The cases rather depend on initiative of particular department and district.

Second, the courts do not always follow the political needs of the regime and may do their job fairly. Of course, this does not concern largest and most notorious trials, which Lukashenka controls personally. But local and minor issues can be resolved in favour of citizens, not the authorities. 




SMS Devaluation

About a thousand Belarusains received an unusual anonymous SMS text on 4 January.

According to the message the National Bank of Belarus had secretly decided to devalue the national currency by more than 60%. It was predicted that the new exchange rates were to appear immediately after the Orthodox Christmas celebrations – on 8 January.

Belarusian KGB immediately started to investigate the incident. The message turned out to be a provocation. The currency market stayed calm. But the very fact that such things happen reveals tensions in society.

The issue of devaluation has become one of the phobias that the people of Belarus have because of their recent memory of economic turmoils. When it comes to their own money they no longer trust government officials, including the president. 

As prospects for real devaluation in 2013 look more likely Belarus becomes increasingly vulnerable to all sorts of provocations that can destabilise currency markets and even the social situation at large.

SMS Devaluation that Failed to Materialise

The text sent on 4 January around to a thousand subscribers of the leading mobile operators MTS and Velcom contained the same text:

Ermakova (the head of the National Bank – Y.P.) has just signed it and decision has been sent to voblasts and Belarusbank (the biggest commercial bank – Y.P.). From 08.01.13 $1 will cost BLR 14,340 and €1 – BLR 18,116. Urgently withdraw your deposits and exchange the money.

As it always happens, the rumour quickly began to circulate in the social networks. New interesting stories started to emerge. Apart from the general fear of a New Year devaluation, similar to the one which happened in 2009, for many the rumour resonated with independent economists’ projections about high prospects for devaluation in 2013.

KGB: The Provocation Came from India

For an attentive person it was clear from the very beginning that the text could not be genuine. Its authors made a mistake (maybe intentionally): the smallest bank note in Belarus is BLR 10. Thus, €1 could not cost BLR 18,116.

However, for a common citizen all this looked very frightening. Remarkably, the phone number that the texts were sent from in reality belongs to the National Bank’s call center.

So not only the National Bank but even the KGB had to react quickly. They immediately called it “nonsense and a provocation” and said that its perpetrators would be severely punished.

A bit later the KGB categorised the case as “hacking” and said that the messages came from a server located in India. Further investigation is underway.

The press-secretary of the National Bank stated that there were absolutely no reasons to devaluate the rouble and promised its stability.

Indeed, the rumour did not materialise. On 8 January the rate of one US dollar was BLR 8,630 and of one Euro 11,230 – much lower compared to what the SMS had predicted.

The New Year Tradition – Expectation of Devaluation

In fact, in recent years devaluation has become one of the most popular topics which Belarusians often discuss at New Year's celebration.

In 2009 the authorities made an extremely unpleasant New Year gift for the whole nation. Without any prior announcement they devalued the rouble by roughly 20% on 2 January of that year. The government chose very tricky timing: the people were still celebrating and did not pay much attention to what was going on around. But when they recovered, millions realised that they had lost thousands of US dollars because of the government’s decision.

Belarusian economist Leonid Zaiko calculated that overall the citizens lost about $1 billion from that devaluation.

Needless to say that for many Belarusians that was huge money. The government’s act left a deep psychological scar. And in 2011 the scar became even deeper.

Amidst the raging economic crisis in 2011, the authorities devalued the national currency first in May and then in September. As a result, the value of the national currency went down by almost three times. The losses suffered by people were very painful.

Importantly, in the previous cases the National Bank and the government never even tried to prepare the citizens for their harsh decisions. On the contrary, they made official promises that no need for devaluation existed and that people could relax.

Not surprising, therefore, that today the Belarusians have little trust in what officials say about money. Many even tend to listen to what the head of the National Bank, Prime Minister or Lukashenka say and do the opposite.

Since the devaluation of 2009 each year at the end of December long queues form in front of currency exchange offices. Having the government’s dishonesty in mind, thousands of people prefer to exchange some extra Belarusian roubles for hard currencies before another New Year arrives. They do it just in case.

Is Devaluation Likely in 2013?

At the moment the authorities do not see much point in devaluating the rouble. Even though the last months of 2012 turned out bad for the country’s foreign trade, overall last year was comparatively good for the current account balance.

The National Bank has slightly more than $8 billion in gold and foreign exchange reserves (by the IMF standards). This sum cannot pay for three months of imports and, therefore, is low. But it is still enough to make some tactical currency interventions.

Moreover, the liquidity (Belarusian roubles) is concentrated in the reserves of commercial banks. So the currency market does not feel the pressure of the additional 40% Belarusian roubles that the National Bank issued in 2012.

However, future problems are looming large. Many factors point to a probability of devaluation throughout the year.

First, the country is again facing foreign trade deficit and it is hard to say what can become its foreign trade locomotive (like solvents were in 2012). Second, Belarus has to pay the record sum of $3.1 billion in its foreign debt. Finally, the problems with exports might necessitate a devaluation to help exporters.

In the light of these factors the SMS case seems highly symptomatic. Bad economic policies make Belarus vulnerable to all sorts of shocks and provocations. One day they may destabilise not only the financial market but even the social situation in the country.




Suicide Triggers Changes in the Belarusian KGB

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



Interpol Clashes with BBC over 2011 Minsk Metro Bombing

On 30 July, BBC showed a controversial documentary about the 2011 terrorist attack in Minsk where 15 people died and over 200 were injured. It questioned the guilt of the two men convicted and subsequently executed for it. The film provoked a strong reaction from the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol).  Interpol labelled the BBC documentary as based on "biased speculation". 

Back in 2011, Interpol publicly endorsed the preliminary results of the investigation which preceded the trial of two convicted young Belarusians. The international organisation was involved in the investigation and dispatched its experts to Minsk where it offered technical assistance. Now some in the Belarusian opposition criticise this international organisation for its failure to condemn the Belarusian regime. Interpol, however, insists that the official investigation was conducted professionally. 

Emotions Against Evidence

The full BBC documentary is no longer available online – but a brief transcript gives a taste of it. The film blames the official investigation and relies primarily on anonymous sources. The author of the documentary John Sweeney describes how doubts about "the guilt of the two men convicted for the bomb have arisen. Now the Belarus KGB is being accused of planting the bomb, rigging a show trial and torturing confessions out of the two suspects".

However, the whole narrative of the BBC report appears to be built on one story told by the mother of one of the bombers. She gives her own, very humane but hardly impartial, version of what happened. According to the BBC journalist, the campaign to rehabilitate her son launched by Lyubov Kovalyova might even threaten the Secretary General of Interpol who is American.

In addition to Lyubov Kovalyova's story, the report contains a quote from Natalya Kolyada, co-founder of the Belarus Free Theatre. "This was a KGB bomb. There are no facts whatsoever to prove something else." In its previous March report, the BBC covered the topic in the same way by quoting the mother and anonymous sources.

Interpol had to respond to the BBC report because the journalist essentially publicly reduced the organisation to an accomplice of a dictator. It insisted that, the “presumption of innocence of defendants … was not breached".  The Interpol statement also noted:

It is regrettable that none of the information provided by INTERPOL about the nature and strength of evidence obtained during Belarus's criminal investigation into the Minsk terrorist metro bombing was included by the documentary maker, who preferred instead to rely solely on biased speculation.

Both Belarusian investigators and Interpol draw attention to the publicly available CCTV footage. Criticising the BBC, Interpol asks, “it is not clear whether the journalist making the documentary saw any of the CCTV footage himself, or is relying on second-, third- or possibly fourth-hand information". Interpol officials believe that the CCTV footage explicitly proves at least some episodes concerning the bombing on 11 April.

Moreover, Interpol points to other forensic evidence such as apartment rental records, phone records, clothes, bomb materials, and numerous interviews with eyewitnesses. In other words, they highlight that the defendants' confession (according to the BBC documentary obtained by torture) was by far not the only basis for conclusions reached by Belarusian investigators.  

Some activists and media raised a number of legitimate questions concerning the trial, claiming in particular that the ICTV footage had been edited or that no traces of explosives had been found on the cloths of the bomber. A number of other procedural issues looked questionable. Yet the substantive doubts have not been conclusively confirmed by experts.

The BBC documentary also accuses the Belarusian regime not only of the disappearance of four political opponents in 1999-2000 – something which has been accepted by many as the regime's crime – but it also puts forward a completely new accusation, much to the surprise of those who follow the situation in Belarus: "More than 30 others, the BBC has been told, were also killed by the death squad".

The journalist implies that these 30 persons were also political opponents of the regime. Neither the source, nor additional details to explain this accusation were provided. Even the most radical opposition groups never accused Lukashenka of killing so many political opponents.

When Belarusian Courts Can Get It Right

The case shows how it is easy to manipulate facts when dealing with a complex investigation in a country with a deplorable record of human rights. The Belarusian government, as always, cared very little about transparency and publicity. The EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said that both men had not been accorded due legal process. British Europe Minister David Lidington claimed that independent reports had "raised serious and credible concerns over the standard of evidence and fairness" of the process.

Of course, much of this criticism has been linked with the EU's concern about the death penalty in Belarus – the only European country which still uses it.  Yet it is important to avoid explicitly denouncing this serious crime or even ridiculing the Belarusian tragedy. In May, the mother and sister of Uladzislau Kavalyou were invited to Poland where they met the wife of the Polish president and got extensive media coverage. This hardly helps with the goal of struggling with the dictatorship in Belarus or improve ties between two countries. 

Some in Belarus and abroad tend to criticise the regime in Belarus without a bit of substantial evidence. This culminated in an action on 16 March when a number of internet activists urged people to bring flowers to the metro bombing place for the two convicted men and show solidarity with them. Several dozen people showed up. A similar action also took place in Moscow. 

Dismissing the entire Belarusian state as a dictatorship is a mechanism that does not help to actually influence what is going on in the country. Such an attitude destroys the very foundations of the state, undermining the future of the Belarusian government after Lukashenka is gone. Some parts of the Belarusian state do function more or less as they should, and according to Interpol the investigation of the 2011 metro bombing proved it. 




Independent Pollsters Will be Prosecuted – Belarus Politics Digest

Fines for unsanctioned polls. The House of Representatives approved in the first reading a bill of amendments, which would establish administrative liability for non-licensed public opinion surveys. The fine would in particular be established for “illegal” polls asking people about their opinion about political situation the country, a national referendum, or parliamentary and presidential elections. It would equal 20 base rates (about $240) for individuals and up to 100 base rates (about $1,200) for legal entities.

New IISEPS survey. In June, the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS) conducted a survey of public opinion on major issues of life of Belarusians. In particular, the experts observe stabilization of the "economic health" of Belarusians, but also an increasing number of people who believe that Belarus needs changes (77.3%). Also, Alexander Lukashenka's electoral rating has dropped to 29.7% compared to March (34.5%).

Council of the Republic adopted the draft law on KGB. On June 22, the upper house of Parliament adopted the draft law "On the State Security Bodies of Belarus". The law establishes the basic tasks, activities of state security, the responsibilities of the president and government in the field of the state security. The bill defines the conditions and limits of the security organs with regards to physical force, special equipment, weapons and military equipment.

Art-Siadziba ousted. Pavel Belavus, the Art-siadziba director, was summoned by the premises owner (the administration of the Horizont plant) that they must leave the office by July 23 and that their contract that had to expire at the end of October has been cancelled. The reason for it was the fact that they violated fire safety and numerous other regulations.

Amnesty International declares Pochobut prisoner of conscience but he is released shortly. In a statement on June 26, Amnesty International has declared Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut a prisoner of conscience detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression. On June 30, Andrey Pochobut was released from the Grodno prison under travel ban. 

Opinion of animal defenders taken into account. The claims of CSOs involved in animal protection, as well as ordinary citizens were taken into account and the draft law "On the treatment of animals" was sent back for revision. It was reported by the internet community "Right to Life."

Uruccha protesters dispersed by police. Leanid Mazhalski, one of the leaders of a group of people protesting against a infill construction in Uruccha city district was detained in Minsk on July 5. The hearings in court are scheduled for July 17. It should be noted that inhabitants of Minsk protested against the construction of six blocks of flats for riot policemen in the district. The construction works are going on in spite of their protests.

National Gender Policy Council’s structure approved. The Council of Ministers approved internal regulations of the National Council for Gender Policy. Along with numerous government officials, the Council will include representatives of at least three women CSOs: Gender Perspectives, Young Christian Women Association and Women’s Independent Democratic Movement.  

The draft law on state social contracting adopted by the Parliament. On June 27, the House of Representatives adopted the amendments to some laws on social service. One of the most important parts of the bill is introduction of the mechanism of social contracting that allows nonprofit organizations to get funding from the state budget.

Deputy Minister participated in the CSO training. On June 26-27, NGO "ACT" together with Mogilev oblast executive committee held a training on "Social contracting basics" for Mogilev officials. Among the speakers there were the deputy chairman of the Mogilev Regional Executive Committee Valery Malashko, as well as Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Alexander Rumak.

International 

EU creates pro-democracy fund. On June 25, EU member states agreed to create a European endowment for democracy aimed to encourage "deep and sustainable" change in societies struggling under oppressive regimes, EU observer informs. The fund should become operational by next year and will primarily target EU neighbouring countries such as Belarus, where people are routinely jailed for showing opposition to President Alexander Lukashenka.

PACE committee statement on Belarus. The Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), in a statement on June 26, urged the Belarusian authorities to "open up political space" ahead of September's parliamentary elections. The statement called on the Belarusian leadership to promote a democratic and fair parliamentary campaign and to ensure freedom of expression, association and assembly, as well as political rights for all opposition movements.

Ashton calls on authorities to stop harassment of opponents. In a statement on June 29, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has called on the authorities in Belarus to stop the harassment of the opposition, media and civil society, expressing deep concern at a number of recent incidents.

Worst of the Worst 2012. A new Freedom House report "Worst of the Worst 2012: The World’s Most Repressive Societies" highlights those countries that earned the lowest possible scores (Worst of the Worst) or fell just short of the bottom scores (On the Threshold) in Freedom in the World 2012, Freedom House’s annual global assessment of political rights and civil liberties. Belarus was deemed to be “On the Threshold” together with Burma, Chad, China, Cuba, Laos, and Libya.

Linas Linkevicius appointed as Lithuanian new ambassador to BelarusLinas Linkevicius, a former Lithuanian defense minister, has been appointed as the Baltic state's new ambassador to Belarus, said a spokesperson for the Lithuanian embassy in Minsk on July 5.

UN appointed a special rapporteur on Belarus. On July 5, the United Nations' Human Rights Council adopted a resolution and  agreed to appoint a special rapporteur to monitor the situation of human rights in Belarus and to make recommendations for its improvement. The 47-nation council voted to create the post, as proposed by the European Union, by 22 votes to 5, with 20 abstentions. Belarus does not recognize the mandate of the UNHRC Special Rapporteur on Belarus and will not cooperate with him, the press service of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus said.

Belarusian envoy speaks against the appointment of rapporteur on Belarus at UN Human Rights Council. Mikhail Khvastow, Belarus' permanent representative to the UN Office in Geneva, said on June 28 during a session of the UN Human Rights Council that there was no need for the appointment of a special rapporteur on Belarus.

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.




Belarus Corruption Wars

Belarusian authorities recently made a number of arrests among the top employers of state administration and companies management as a part of their war against corruption.

Albeit corruption appears to be a serious problem in Belarus, the latest intensified actions of fighting look more like a propaganda campaign. They also raise questions about internal games within the Belarusian KGB and other security services.

Transparency international ranks Belarus 143 out of 882 countries in terms of perception of corruption. Although the low level corruption in Belarus (police, hospitals, courts) appears to be not such a serious problem as in Russia, corruption at the top levels is very serious. Anti-corruption campaigns seem to deal more with the symptoms of corruption rather than its underlying causes. 

Arrests at the Top

Belarus has a long history of corruption wars. In 2009, KGB arrested Anatolii Gramovich, the head of Department of Financial Investigations. Paradoxically, the one responsible for fighting with corruption found himself under suspicion of abusing his power. Later on, Gleb Berdickii the executive of Secretariat of the Council of Republic, on the basis of similar accusations was arrested.

Two other high-flying officials shared the same fate. In December 2011, the Supreme Court condemned Igor Lazarenok (former executive of Belarusian air forces) to 9 years imprisonment and confiscation of property. He was accused of receiving material benefits for making favourable decisions. At the same time, due to suspicions of abuse of power, KGB arrested deputy of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Evgenii Poludzen.

They all have politically important positions in the administration. Such a “sudden” ostracism of these politicians had in the first place political reasons.

Arrests at the bottom

Already since the beginning of 2012 the KGB has intensified its actions to fight corruption, at that time particularly targeted at state enterprises management.

In February 2012, due to charge of accepting the bribe of 32 thousand dollars, the ex – director of the ‘Medplast’ enterprise –  a part of petrochemical concern ‘Belneftekhim’ – had sentenced 6 years’ imprisonment.

In April this year, KGB arrested deputy head of Administration Department of a penitentiary establishment in the south of Belarus. Intervention took place due to charges of abusing his competence for improving life conditions of some of the imprisoned, for what he was paid with the cars.

This June, KGB arrested 29 employees of the Gomel Miasokombinat, one of the  biggest meat processing company in Belarus. therein addition, three police officers had been charged with participation in the organized group responsible for theft of the production surpluses. Importantly, the investigation proved that, as in the previous cases, top management was involved in the criminal dealings.

Anti-Corruption Campaign or Just Window Dressing?

These rather spectacular arrests of top officials and managers of state-owned companies may suggest effectiveness of the ongoing campaign of war on corruption. Nonetheless, a closer look at these arrests may suggest otherwise.

The arrests are widely used for propaganda purposes to reach certain domestic objectives for the wider population of Belarus.

Furthermore, these actions can aim to signal to the society that the authorities can still control the situation in the state and, furthermore, struggles for fairness among citizens.

At the same time, keeping on mind that economic crisis are not so good, these arrests can positively influence the way the current president Alexandr Lukashenka is perceived in public opinion.

More importantly, these arrests is a result of internal struggle between various clans within security services of Belarus. Those who are charged of corruption can simply appear as not loyal enough to the strongest clan to manage the key state companies. 

What next?

The recent cases of arrests among the top state administration and management employers can demonstrate the intensification of campaign against corruption.

But the fundamental problem in Belarus is not that its officials are particularly dishonest. The authorities do not respect the rule of law, courts are not independent and underpaid officials will also be tempted to supplement their salaries with bribes. Others may simply have tough luck with being not a member of the “right group” and end up in prison for something, which the members of the “right group” are allowed to do with impunity.

A long-term solution would require more transparency and equality of all before the law at all levels, including the very top.




Does Belarus Need A Shadow Government in Exile?

Former Belarusian colonel Vladimir Borodach published his manifesto on 1 June in which he promised to overthrow the government in 3-5 years. The idea looks unrealistic both for his opponents and potential supporters, but received much publicity in the Belarusian press because it reflects the general fatigue of opposition "losers" and their unsuccessful actions.

As an example, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis said in his interview for Carnegie Europe on 15 May that he was tired of all the plans for supporting the opposition in Belarus. He suggested that it would be better instead to create a transitional council that might be backed by the U.S. But in fact direct support of Belarusian society at large is much more important and realistic than planning alternative government structures abroad.

KGB Officers As Advocates of Democracy?

Vladimir Borodach and his comrade Anufry Romanovich, a former KGB agent, claim that they have organised several meetings of retired officers in Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine over recent months. They aim at creating the Council of National Revival which would unite opposition forces to topple Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka.

They tend to use extremely radical rhetoric, saying that leaders of their organisation should be ready to sacrifice themselves and their families to win the battle against Lukashenka. From their point of view, only force is effective when dealing with the Belarusian regime.

What is more important, they say that almost all Belarusian opposition leaders are controlled by secret services and thus the Council should be situated in exile.

The Only Country With Opposition Military Junta in Immigration

It is better to gain voters' sympathy rather than threaten authorities with revolution without the proper support of the Belarusian public

Despite radical moods in some opposition organisations, most main stream Belarusian politicians, activists and analysts rejected the idea. They say it is better to gain voters' sympathy rather than threaten authorities with revolution without the proper support of the Belarusian public.

Prominent political observer Valer Karbalevich says with irony that the Borodach’s initiative is exotic for the world that has not ever seen opposition military junta in immigration. Former presidential candidate Alexander Kazulin highlights the need for opposition consolidation within the country, not outside it. And Alexey Pikulik from the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies (BISS) adds that survival of such immigration structures depends only on grant aid.

As analyst Yuri Chavusau noted, an opposition in immigration lacks legitimacy because authorities concentrate their propaganda on the opposition's detachment from Belarusian society. Moreover, voters may feel distance and think that such opposition does not reflect their interests.

Moreover, any transitory council outside the country would not be able to function effectively without international recognition. Borodach has already asked Washington, Brussels and Moscow for help. But Hans-Georg Vick from the organisation "Human rights in Belarus" (Berlin) thinks that such recognition is impossible, because it does not correspond to the interests of the main geopolitical actors in the region. 

And if it so, that’s for better: an attempt to create "a national unity government" on 19 December 2010 resulted in large-scale repression against civil society and political opposition. This crackdown could have been provoked by Russian intelligence services who manipulated several opposition figures to break off Belarusian contacts with Western countries, as former economic adviser to Russian president Andrei Illarionov suggests.

History of Belarusian "Shadow Governments"

Actually, there is nothing unique in Borodach’s proposal. Transitory councils have been used in Syria and Libya to prepare the ground for foreign intervention. But this scenario is not only undesirable but unrealistic in Belarus which is supported by the Russian military.

In the late 1990s Hienadz Karpienka led the National Executive Committee – a shadow government formed by ex-deputies of the 13th Belarusian Supreme Soviet (Parliament). But he unexpectedly died from cerebral haemorrhage on March 31, 1999. His colleague, former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenko disappeared under suspicious circumstances a month later after his attempt to create the Union of Officers.

Both politicians were very popular and their example shows how any serious attempts to create alternative institutions of power may end in Belarus.

Belarusians already have the Council of the BNR – the oldest existing government in exile. The short-lived Belarusian People’s Republic (BNR) was declared on March 25, 1918 during World War I. Then its officials were forced to leave the country after it was taken over by the Soviets. The government serves as a symbol for Belarusian democrats, and many argue that there is no need to have another one.

It is important to support the existing institutions instead of multiplying new organisations

Finally, Belarusian opposition and civil society is largely represented in other countries. The Office for a Democratic Belarus functions in Brussels, the Solidarity with Belarus Information Office operates in Warsaw and the Belarusian Human Rights House had been set up in Vilnius. It is important to support the existing institutions instead of multiplying new organisations and thus widening the split between different opposition groups.

What Does Belarus Really Need In Place of A New Grant-Seeking Office?

The idea of uncompromising struggle against the regime gets some backing from radical activists. For example, Viacheslau Dzianau who is responsible for last year’s "silent protests" says that it is topical, because people are tired of indecisive politicians who are ready to coexist with Lukashenka for decades.

However, those who want to bring democracy to Belarus should not give money to a marginalised fiery-tempered group which does not represent any significant group of Belarusian society. The only reason why his initiative received so much attention in the Belarusian press is the weariness of Belarusians with both the authorities and the  opposition which were unable to change anything in their lives. This raises hopes that some external forces will magically transform or put an end to the Belarusian regime without the involvement of society itself.

But only Belarusians themselves are responsible for what is going on in the country. Thus it is much better to focus assistance efforts on society at large: to abolish visa regime with Belarus, to offer more opportunities for Belarusian students and youth professionals and to establish broader ties with Belarusian officials and businessmen. And of course, it is essential to increase support for Belarusian civil society.

Such long-term measures would not bring immediate results. The most promising means to help foster democratic transition is to help Belarusians view their country from a different perspective. As a result of more integration between Belarus and the rest of Europe by means of education and more openness, more and more will feel responsible for their country and capable of actually changing it, not just talking about it. And then they would be able to formulate alternative policies and form a truly influential government of national unity – from within the country, not from exile.




The Role of Security Services in Belarus Politics

To understand the balance of power in Belarus it is important to understand the role of the siloviki (the security services). Although they affect political decision-making and the degree of violence in domestic politics they are not a predominant group within the ruling elite. 

Modern History of Belarus Security Services

In 1999 – 2003, heads of security (KGB, Internal Ministry) and controlling (Committee of the State Control, Prosecutor's Office) bodies headed by Viktar Sheiman an old ally and friend of Lukashenka had significant influence on the foreign and domestic policy of Belarusian authorities.

Sheiman served as Prosecutor General and State Secretary of the Security Council. Regardless of what position Sheiman held, he chaired extended meetings of the heads of security and controlling bodies. 

The controlling and repressive mechanisms, led by Sheiman, were directed against the opposition campaign to hold an alternative presidential election in 1999. In the same year, under Sheiman's leadership, opposition leaders, who could become dangerous rivals to Lukashenka in the presidential election of 2001, were eliminated: former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka and former Deputy Prime Minister Viktar Hanchar. Unknown persons inflicted fatal injuries to Hienadz Karpienka.

In 2001 – 2002, under the leadership of the second-ranked person in the State, Sheiman, independent trade unions were persecuted and the directorate of enterprises were cleansed of likely opponents of Lukashenka.

After January 2004, when Russia set a course for reducing subsidies to Lukashenka's regime, Sheiman began losing his positions within the main bodies of power.  On 24 January 2004, Russia fully suspended deliveries of gas to Belarus. Lukashenka faced the following demands: to sell the controlling stake in Beltransgaz for $800m or to face an increase in gas prices to the market level.  Survival of Lukashenka's regime was now dependent on the efficiency of the economy.

In 2007 – 2008, the group of siloviki disintegrated. On 7 July 2008, Lukashenka removed Sheiman from the position of the State Secretary of the Security Council. The significance of this position in the hierarchy declined. Lukashenka's eldest son Viktar, who is now Assistant to the President for National Security Matters, became the  unofficial curator of security and controlling bodies.

In 2008 – 2011, Viktar Lukashenka replaced Sheiman's appointees amongst the leadership of the security bodies with his own trusted men. However, one can speak only figuratively about the existence of a group of siloviki under Viktar Lukashenka's leadership. Viktar Lukashenka's group includes many civilians, young businessmen and officials, with whom he studied at the Foreign Relations Department of the Belarusian State University. It is known that one of the reasons for Viktar Lukashenka's personal animosity towards Viktar Sheiman was that the latter was interfering with the development of private business.

After 19 December 2010 

After the events of 19 December 2010 many experts were saying that the siloviki once again became a predominant group. Heads of security agencies involved in repression push Lukashenka towards further deterioration of relations with the West, because political liberalisation in Belarus and rapprochement with the West means a threat of prosecution to them.

There has been a certain movement towards economic liberalisation and privatisation. It means a lesser role for the controlling and law enforcement agencies in the political system in Belarus.

The siloviki do not exert pressure on the decision-making process in the Council of Ministers. The government works in a quiet mode. The discussion is not around who should be punished (as it happened frequently while Sheiman was in power), but what should be done.

Since 19 December, there were no cases of criminal prosecution of top managers of major industrial enterprises and big private businesses. The arrest of General Director of Belvneshstroj Viktar Shautsou in October 2011 is quite in line with the pattern of controlled corruption which exists in Belarus. He appropriated about $10m which was more than what is allowed.

At the same time, criminal proceedings were initiated against Deputy Interior Minister Jauhien Paludzien and General Ihar Azaronak. Personnel changes took place in the top management of the Interior Ministry.

There have been no instances of struggle between law enforcement bodies for control over state-owned companies or instances of takeovers of private businesses by the siloviki. During the existence of Sheiman's group such cases were quite frequent. For instance, top managers of the KGB and the Interior Ministry fought over top managing positions in the Zhlobin Steel Plant for their men.

Currently people from security and controlling agencies tare not frequently to positions in the Presidential Administration. In 2001, former Interior Minister Yury Sivakou (Sheiman's man) was appointed Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration on Personnel Matters. He was responsible for supervising the personnel management in the executive vertical. Now, the Presidential Administration is rather a civilian body. And this is the most important body in the political system of Belarus.

The siloviki have not received the carte blanche for widespread repression in Belarus after 19 December. After 19 December 2010 repression is much more prevalent than ever before. However, repression is directed against those opposition groups which, in the authorities' opinion, were involved in the attempts to storm the House of the Government. Repression against other opposition groups and NGOs is localised and pin-point in its nature.

After 19 December, there has been no significant expansion in the staff of security and other controlling bodies. The establishment of a new agency – the Investigation Committee – has been done by recruiting employees of the existing agencies.

Who is Pushing the Repressions?

Finally, one cannot reaffirm that these were the siloviki who pushed Lukashenka into unleashing repression on 19 December. There were background factors indicating that under certain changes in the situation, on 19 December, the authorities would stop following the scenario of liberalisation and would act according to a different scenario, a scenario of repression.

In 2009, Lukashenka said that the establishment of a public consultative council at the Presidential Administration was an initiative of Uladzimir Makiei, which he took rather negatively. In 2010, he said that he saw no sense in letting thirty opposition activists to get into the parliament, as "the West will be happy at first, but then it will ask for more anyway".

Lukashenka received many arguments to conclude that the independence of Belarus is what matters most for the West. From the context of his statements that followed, in his opinion, the West can close their eyes on many things that were happening in Belarus for the sake of its independence from Russia.

Repression of 19 December and in the following period should not be explained solely by emotions and Lukashenka's fear of revolution. Lukashenka acts and speaks in the framework of a certain contract with the nomenklatura. What Lukashenka says about opposition reflects to some extent the nomenklatura's attitude towards the opposition. A fragmented opposition represented by conflicting groups, with no leader and no program, is not only unable to speak to the majority of voters, but also to the nomenklatura and the directorate.

The West and democrats in Belarus have to deal with a nomenklatura frightened by an attempt at revolution. The Belarusian officials sometimes have irrational motives, fears and emotions. But their calculations and rational choices, including in relations with the West, play a much greater role.