Belarus strongman Lukashenko replaces intelligence leadership, as protests continue

Alexander LukashenkoBelarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (pictured) replaced the heads of the intelligence service and other security bodies on Thursday, as he continues to face the most serious challenge to his 26-year rule. Mass protests have been held in urban centers since last month, when Lukashenko claimed victory with over 80 percent of the vote in the presidential elections, and returned to office for a record sixth term.

Over 7,000 people have been arrested by the authorities in recent weeks for participating in anti-government demonstrations, which Lukashenko blames on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and “the European Union states bordering Belarus”. Regional observers point to the Belarusian military and security services as holding the key to what will transpire in former Soviet republic during the coming months. It is believed that, if the Armed Forces and the security services continue to stand by Lukashenko, the Belarusian strongman is unlikely to leave office.

In a surprise move on Thursday, the Belarusian president reshuffled the country’s intelligence and security leadership, including the head of the State Security Council (the highest national security decision-making body in Belarus) and the director of the State Security Service, known as KGB. Former Defense Minister General Andrei Ravkov, who has headed the State Security Council since January of this year, stepped down and was replaced by Valery Vakulchik, who until recently served director of the KGB. His post in the KGB was filled by Ivan Tertel, a KGB career official, who most recently served as chairman of Belarus’ financial investigative force, known as the State Control Committee. In an equally surprising move, the mayor of Minsk, Anatoly Sivak, was named deputy prime minister.

The reshuffle has been interpreted as by regional observers as an attempt by Lukashenko to surround himself with some of his most trusted apparatchiks, as rumors abound about possible divisions in the country’s military and intelligence services. Meanwhile, the Belarussian strongman is scheduled to meet with the Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and a delegation of senior Russian intelligence officials in the coming days.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 September 2020 | Permalink

Large-scale cyberattacks, Internet disruptions, reported on Belarus election day

BelarusBelarus experienced large-scale cyberattacks that crippled many government websites, while parts of the Internet were inoperative during a national election on Sunday, as large-scale demonstrations erupted all over the country. The demonstrations, which went on late into Sunday night, were sparked by reports that the country’s authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, had secured a record sixth term in office, despite facing a serious challenge from opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Tsikhanouskaya is married to Syarhey Tsikhanouski, a jailed blogger with substantial social-media following among young voters.

On Sunday afternoon, the National Computer Incident Response Center of Belarus (CERT) reported that the servers of the State Security Committee (KGB), the country’s spy agency, had come under sustained attack. The Internal Affairs Ministry’s website and servers had also been affected by what CERT called “a large wave” of cyberattacks. These were first noticed on Saturday, but continued well into the evening of Sunday, according to reports. Other government websites and services were subjected to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, during which online servers crashed after being flooded with requests for information.

Meanwhile, Internet and cell phone users reported having difficulty accessing popular websites like Google, and social media services, including Telegram and Signal. Internet-based cell phone service was almost completely down throughout the country by Sunday afternoon. Beltelecom, the state-owned telephone service provider, said its systems were “experiencing interruptions in access” and “congestion of channels due to foreign traffic in large quantities”. It added that its technicians had not yet determined “whether people or machines” were behind the disruptions in service.

Late last month, the Belarusian secret services arrested 33 Russian citizens, who were allegedly members of the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-backed private military firm. The government of Belarus accused the group of trying to subvert the presidential elections on behalf of Moscow. The 33 Russians were charged with terrorism against the state. Russia has denied claims by the Belarussian government that it is behind an effort to destabilize the former Soviet Republic.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 August 2020 | Permalink

Belarus arrests 33 Russians, accuses Kremlin of trying to subvert upcoming elections

Belarus KGBBelarussian secret services announced on Wednesday the arrest of 33 Russian citizens, who are allegedly members of a Kremlin-backed private military firm. The government of Belarus accuses the Russians of trying to subvert next month’s presidential elections on behalf of Moscow. The 33 Russians were charged with terrorism against the state on Thursday. They are allegedly employees of Wagner Group, a private Russian military company that some believe is in reality a private paramilitary wing of the Russian Armed Forces. However, the Kremlin has denied these accusations and says it has no connections with Wagner.

On Wednesday the state-owned Belarus 1 television channel aired footage of the 33 Russians being placed under arrest by the Belarussian State Security Committee (KGB). The arrests were later confirmed by Andrey Rawkow, secretary of the Security Council of Belarus, an interdepartmental body that supervises national security operations in the country. Rankow said the Investigative Committee, Belarus’ primary investigating authority, had determined that the 33 had entered the country as part of a 200-strong group of Russians working for Wagner, in order to “destabilize the situation during the election campaign”.

Rankow was referring to the upcoming presidential elections of August 9, in which the country’s authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, will be seeking a sixth term in office. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Ukraine in 1991, Lukashenko has ruled the country with an iron fist. This time, however, partly because of the growing coronavirus crisis, his leadership is in dispute more than ever before and opposition protests have gripped the country in recent months.

Meanwhile, the close relationship between Minsk and Moscow has suffered numerous setbacks since 2018, as Russia’s economic struggles have forced the Kremlin to curtail its financial outreach to Belarus. There have been differences between the two countries over the price of energy that Belarus imports from Russia each year. Sensing his faltering support among the population, which is broadly mistrustful of Moscow, Lukashenko has campaigned on a largely anti-Russian ticket this time around, hoping to attract independent voters.

According to Belarussian state television, the 33 Russians were found in possession of Sudanese currency and a Sudanese smartphone card. Sudan is one of the Wagner Group’s most active areas of operation, according to some observers, and in the past the company has used Belarus as a transit center from which it coordinates its operations in the African continent. There were also reports in the state-owned Belarussian media that the 33 Russians were connected with the jailed husband of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a leading opposition presidential candidate. Tsikhanouskaya’s husband, Syarhey Tsikhanouski, is a blogger with substantial social-media following among younger voters. Some now suspect that the government will use this opportunity to bar Tsikhanouskaya from running for office.

Late on Wednesday, Belarus’ state-owned Belta news agency published the names and birth dates of all 33 Russian suspects. Soon afterwards, the government of Ukraine said its intelligence agency, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), had asked it to file extradition requests for the 33 Russians, who are believed to have worked with separatists in eastern Ukraine in recent years.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 July 2020 | Permalink

Belarus announces arrest of alleged Lithuanian spy ring members

Belarus and LithuaniaBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The government of Belarus has announced the arrest of an espionage ring allegedly operating out of the Lithuanian embassy in Belarusian capital Minsk. It appears that the alleged ring consisted of at least one Lithuanian embassy official, identified only as “Mr. F” in Belarusian state documents, as well as an undisclosed number of Belarusian nationals. A brief statement published on the website of the Belarusian State Security Committee, the KGB, said that the Lithuanian official, who is said to be a military attaché at the embassy, was arrested along with several Belarusian members of the alleged spy ring. The arrests reportedly took place soon after members of the spy ring were caught in the act of exchanging information; the KGB press office added that “electronic equipment” and “spy gadgets” of an undisclosed nature were confiscated from the arrestees. Little is known at this point about the precise focus of the accused spies; the KGB claims that they were “engaged in efforts to gain information in the military sphere”. Media reports from Minsk suggest that the activities of the alleged ring were particularly focused on bilateral security arrangements between Belarus and Russia. Belarus, a former Soviet republic, is today one of Russia’s staunchest allies in Europe; since 1994, the country has been ruled by Russophile President Alexander Lukashenko, who often accuses other former Soviet republics —including Lithuania— of stooping to the West. Read more of this post

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Belarus puts on trial members of alleged Polish military spy ring

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Very little information has appeared in Western news outlets of an ongoing trial in Belarus of four army officers accused of spying for Poland. The four, all of whom are Belarusian, are accused by Belarus security officials of collaborating with Polish intelligence agents by providing them with classified data on Belarusian military technologies, as well as with information on Russia’s air defense system, of which Belarus is a partner. A fifth alleged member of the spy ring, who is a Russian military officer, is facing similar charges in Moscow. The four Belarusians were reportedly arrested several months ago by the KGB, Belarus’ intelligence service. The discovery of the alleged spy ring led to a major political scandal in Minsk, prompting the dismissal of KGB’s director, Stepan Sukhorenko, by Belarus’ longtime President, Alexander Lukashenko. If convicted of treason and espionage, the army officers could technically face the death penalty under Belarusian law.