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Cracks seem in Lukashenko's safety forces

Aleksandr Lukashenko, the 26-year-old President of Belarus who fraudulently won the presidential election on August 9, relies on two factors: support from Russia and support from the powerful Belarusian security services. Patience in Moscow with Lukashenko may be low, as the recent visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Minsk shows, but the Kremlin does not yet seem ready to give up Lukashenko.

A more promising sign that Lukashenko's days in power may be numbered is emerging among the Belarusian security forces. This may come as a surprise given the extreme violence police and other security forces have used over the past four months against thousands of Belarusians protesting Lukashenko's efforts to steal the elections. The Ministry of the Interior is the largest law enforcement agency in the country with around 130,000 employees. It forms the backbone of Lukashenko's regime – and what happens in its ranks shapes the political situation in the country.

Defects in the ranks of the police and security services could turn the tide. If those carrying out Lukashenko's orders to use brutal methods against demonstrators realized that those orders were wrong and no longer obeyed them, the regime would collapse like a house of cards. And there are signs that this is happening.

Those who carry out Lukashenko's orders are faced with a difficult choice: comply with a discredited leader who is committing human rights abuses against his own people and complicit or do the right thing and decide, together with their fellow citizens, that 26 terrible years under Lukashenko are enough . Security officials need to understand that one day there will be a serious investigation into who did what – and now they need to decide whether to join the investigators or investigators.

The outflow of staff from the Home Office and other law enforcement agencies began during the presidential campaign and continues to this day. Employees began to quit in the weeks and months leading up to the election, when Lukashenko used security services to obstruct opposition candidacies. Methods such as initiating criminal proceedings, arresting opposition members, preventing gatherings and rejecting signatures collected for candidates were used. Some Interior Ministry officials did not show up for work on the day of the election.

According to information from our organization, the International Strategic Action Network for Security, the pace of the Ministry's defections increased after election fraud and massive violence against peaceful demonstrators. At the end of August, there were more than 300 reports of dismissals of officials in the Department of the Interior. The loss of staff continued in September and then decreased significantly. By November 1, the workforce in the Minsk City Internal Affairs Directorate had decreased by around 18 percent. Another security department in Minsk, the Central District Internal Affairs Department, has lost 29 percent of its staff. Many of the dismissed employees have since been supported with funds from the Belarusian diaspora, which has also provided moral support.

A number of active and former members of various law enforcement agencies have realized that Lukashenko is unlawfully holding onto power. They have come together in By_Pol (short for Belarus Police), a network of officials from the internal services, border troops, the public prosecutor's office, the criminal police and the secret police (which are still named after the old Soviet initials of the KGB). . You have decided to stand with the Belarusian people instead of the discredited Lukashenko. They just don't want to be at war with their own people, friends and families. There are also more and more new defectors.

Aleh Talerchyk, who has resigned from the attorney general's office, is one of the defectors. "I want to support the brave Belarusians who have been oppressed," he said. Talerchyk and a number of other highly qualified professionals recently left the attorney general's office to object to the treatment of their fellow citizens. They are joined by more and more doctors and medical professionals who have treated the seriously injured by the police and security forces. The evidence includes gunshot wounds to the head and various parts of the body, open chest wounds, splinter wounds, injuries from explosives, stab wounds, thermal and chemical burns, air pressure bomb trauma, and signs of torture.

By_Pol compiled records on more than 1,100 cases of torture and serious injuries among civilians between August 9 and 21 alone. The number of cases has tragically only increased since then. The documentation serves as the basis for the identification of the perpetrators, since the time and place of each violation can later be compared with available recordings from surveillance cameras, other video material and the communication between direct participants in the suppression of the peaceful protests.

And since By_Pol is already a significant network within the Belarusian power structure, the list of those who seem to be directly guilty of abuse is growing. Some of the information comes from interviews that By_Pol members conducted with civilian victims who have left Belarus.

While the officers organized in By_Pol remain loyal to their country, they do not recognize Lukashenko as their president and instead regard opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya as the election winner – and thus as the legitimate president of Belarus. After all, because of their inside knowledge of the political situation, they were given access to information about the election results that contradict Lukashenko's claims to victory. Independent surveys support their claim. According to a poll of Belarusian internet users commissioned by Chatham House, Tikhanovskaya received 52 percent of the vote, compared with just 21 percent for Lukashenko. According to another public opinion poll, the name of which cannot be used since independent polls are illegal in Belarus, Lukashenko's vote was even lower – below 10 percent.

The initiators of By_Pol met with Tikhanovskaya in Warsaw during their recent visit to Poland and proposed the creation of a union for security workers. Such a union, supported by By_Pol, would help ensure the independence of the security forces, lay the foundation for a restored Belarusian police force after Lukashenko left, and ensure the loyalty of the security forces to the country and people, not to dictators .

The members of the security service organized in By_Pol could form the core of a new Belarusian police force, which would replace the existing police force and the particularly brutal OMON units that have covered themselves with the blood of peaceful Belarusians. By_Pol could also form the basis for a new prosecutor and law enforcement agency. It could even be used to investigate members of the security services who have committed crimes against their own people.

On December 1, Tikhanovskaya and another opposition figure, Pavel Latushka, announced the publication of a Unified Crime Registration Book. The platform enables victims and witnesses of abuse to provide information that is used to create a unified register of crimes and suspects.

Encouraging more Belarusian security forces to join the ranks of By_Pol and support the registration of crimes should be a top priority for the Belarusian opposition – and also for the West. This could be done by providing financial support to those who lose their paid jobs and by granting immunity in exchange for testimony against abusers.

If this movement gains momentum, it could soon leave Lukashenko without much strength to support him. If Lukashenko has no one to carry out his brutal orders, he will lose his ability to stay in power – apart from Russian interventions. But even then, the struggle would continue, as intervention would turn the Belarusian people, many of whom still have a neutral or even positive view of Russia, against Moscow. After Russian President Vladimir Putin lost himself to Ukraine in a similar way, he cannot afford it.

The encouragement to the demise of Lukashenko's security forces offers the best hope for real change in Belarus. The citizens of the country deserve better – and that includes those who work in the security service and police but have never committed to beat, torture and even kill their fellow citizens.

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