The underground network of Belarusians sabotaging Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and plotting a revolution at home

It is believed more than 1,000 activitists, journalists and human rights defenders are in jail in Belarus. (AP: Tut.By)

While Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been standing by Vladimir Putin, thousands of his people have been planning acts of sabotage and their own revolution.

A vast network of former Belarusian officials, activists, private hackers and ordinary citizens has reached deep into Russia’s war with the aim of helping Ukrainians defeat their invaders.

The Belarusians’ fight is a personal one.

They believe if Russia fails in Ukraine, the people of Belarus will be closer to freedom at home. 

This network had been slowly gaining momentum and members while formulating “a secret plan” for a coordinated uprising against Lukashenko’s regime when Putin’s forces arrived in Belarus in January.

Leaders within the anti-regime network told the ABC the decision was made to start sabotage operations early to hamper Putin’s efforts in Ukraine, help defend Kyiv and ultimately weaken Russia.

They believe a Russia on its knees makes overthrowing Lukashenko — “the last dictator of Europe” — possible.

‘The railway war’

Lukashenko was the only member of the Belarusian parliament to oppose the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. He had formed a communist, pro-Russian faction and by 1994 he became the nation’s first president.

And it’s in that role he has remained.

Under his regime, the people of Belarus have suffered “grave violations of human rights”, according to the United Nations.

For 27 years Lukashenko has moved to crush any opposition to his power. He controls the local media, has detained activists and dissidents and expelled foreign ambassadors from the West.

His grip on power tightened even further in 2020 when he was re-elected in a ballot widely condemned as fraudulent

At the time, there were reports of protesters being tortured, abducted and detained; journalists were locked up, human rights defenders were attacked and ultimately there was no transfer of power.

Lukashenko told the Belarusian people he had won 80 per cent of the vote, but the UN found citizens had been denied a free and fair election and the right to assemble.

Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was forced into exile in Lithuania, but the resistance never died. It got organised. 

And when Russia invaded Ukraine, that network was in a perfect position to sabotage Putin’s army.

Inspired by their “partisan ancestors” who destroyed rail networks and Nazi supply lines in World War II, Belarusian saboteurs inside the country — as well as across the world — came together and launched “the railway war”.

“Our activists destroyed relay boxes and central signalling,” Belarusian police officer turned resistance leader Aliaksandr Azarau told the ABC.

“This action resulted in slowing down the traffic on the railroad and in the first week of our actions, Russian trains had stopped moving at all.”

Belarusian railway workers posted images of damaged infrastructure to Telegram.  (Supplied)

Mr Azarau now lives in exile in Warsaw and leads BYPOL — an organisation of former law enforcement officials determined to restore democracy and “law and order” to Belarus.

When Belarusian protesters were beaten and detained by Lukashenko’s regime in 2020, BYPOL started investigating the actions of the police and found they were using Russian military-style weapons as well as evidence of torture.

BYPOL is now very open about their plan to coordinate an uprising and overthrow Lukashenko and they are proud of what they have already achieved.

“After that week, major trains were running again, then we started new actions, then we launched the third wave of actions, then the fourth,” Mr Azarau said.

“Large traffic jams were created, trains were moving very slowly all over Belarus. Thus, the Russian trains with supplies, equipment and weapons could not reach their destination on time.

“We believe that we helped Ukrainians push the Russian forces away from Kyiv.

“Russian soldiers near Kyiv did not receive ammunition and fuel on time. The Russians often abandoned their military machines and walked back to Russia.”

Images of damaged signal boxes were posted to the Belarusian railway workers’ Telegram channel. (Supplied)

Mr Azarau confirmed to the ABC that BYPOL members inside Belarus were railway workers and performed acts of sabotage on their own employer.

These saboteurs are risking their lives. 

It is estimated more than 1,000 anti-regime activists and opposition members are imprisoned in Belarus, but Lukashenko recently ratcheted up his threats to those who dare undermine him.

Acts of sabotage — or attempted acts — are now considered acts of terrorism punishable by death.

While BYPOL members inside Belarus destroyed railway relay and signal boxes, a group of hackers breached the ticketing system. 

The group Cyber Partisans has taken responsibility.

“Several partisans decided to attack the railways to show that the Belarusian people do not agree with the fact that Russian soldiers can so easily come onto the territory of Belarus,” Cyber Partisans representative Yuliana Shemetovets told the ABC from New York City.

“And also to show that Lukashenko is not a reliable partner for any country, not only for European countries, but also even for Russia, because he cannot secure the movement of goods and trains on his territory.”

Cyber Partisans is also feeding information to those on the ground.

“They also help Ukrainian soldiers … and special agents with the data on Belarusian soldiers, with the data and information on the movement of Russian equipment in the territory of Belarus, they help also Ukrainian activists with anything they can,” Ms Shemetovets said. 

Yuliana Shemetovets says some of the Belarusian cyber infrastructure is easy to breach.  (Supplied: Yuliana Shemetovets)

It is believed thousands of Belarusians are now across the border fighting against the Russian invasion

Cyber Partisans is assisting the Belarusian volunteers fighting in Ukraine as part of the Kalinouski Regiment.

“The major objective for Cyber Partisans right now is to help Ukrainians and to prepare for the uprising in Belarus,” Ms Shemetovets said. 

“The moment Russia is weak, that will be an opportunity for Belarusians to gain power back to them — to the people.”

Lukashenko’s delicate position 

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power since 1994.(Sergei Shelega/BelTA Pool Photo via AP

Lukashenko may have been moving to consolidate his power for 27 years, but some analysts believe he is now in a vulnerable position for several reasons.

The Belarusian opposition is much stronger than it was before the 2020 election.

Alla Leukavets is a Belarusian scholar with expertise in the country’s domestic and foreign policies, in particular Belarus’s relationships with Europe and Russia.

She said Belarusian opposition and anti-regime groups were gaining momentum.

“Never before in the history of Belarus could we see such a great level of organisation and such impactful work. During all the previous elections, Belarusian opposition fought with each other, there was no unity among them,” she said.

The 2020 election was a turning point. Belarusian citizens who did not believe the result was legitimate and took to the streets for the first time, as well as those watching on from home, witnessed police brutality and the overwhelming force of the regime. That did not discourage opposition, but galvanised it.

Police carry a protester during a post-election rally in Minsk in 2020.(AP: Uncredited)

The anti-regime leaders and organisations are united while Russia’s war in Ukraine has, once again, placed Lukashenko under the global spotlight, and this time the world is seeing his willingness to both support and enable Russia’s aggression. 

Dr Leukavets said the domestic politics of Belarus was largely a “black box”, but some opinion polling did indicate growing discontent with Lukashenko’s regime over the deepening relationship with Russia. 

“According to one of the recent Chatham House polls, almost 80 per cent of respondents are against participation of Belarusian soldiers in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And more than half consider that Belarus should take a neutral stance in Russia-Ukraine conflict,” she said. 

In the run-up to the 2020 elections in Belarus, Lukashenko ran on an anti-Russia platform, but when he faced an unprecedented wave of protests, he moved back towards the Kremlin.

“He was very, very much against Putin, but as soon as Lukashenko was challenged by the domestic crisis in Belarus, his stance towards Putin changed, because basically the door in the Kremlin became the only door he could knock on and ask for assistance in order to stay in power,” Dr Leukavets said.

By January 2022, Putin was installing Russian forces on Belarusian soil.

By the end of February, Lukashenko held a referendum to amend his country’s constitution, giving the President even more power and removing Belarus’s non-nuclear status.

The amendments passed, but the West has not recognised the results as legitimate.  

Now, the Belarusian President is in a delicate position. 

His alignment with Russia has cost him on the global stage and increased discontent among his people but, according to some scholars, does not keep Belarus safe from Putin’s plans.

Associate fellow of the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House Anais Marin said Lukashenko’s regime was now extremely isolated and Belarus’s sovereignty could be at risk.  

“What we could be witnessing is in fact the ultimate attempt by the Kremlin to subjugate Lukashenko and fully reintegrate Belarus quietly while all attention is on Ukraine,” she said in a seminar about what Russia’s war meant for Belarus.   

“The question now is to ask: ‘how short is the leash on which the Kremlin is holding Mr Lukashenko and how much does he have left to bargain?’.”

The answer may be that Europe’s last dictator is now just trying to survive.

“He understands that if there are some drastic changes in Russia, if something happens to Putin, if Ukraine wins in the war, this will have repercussions for his power,” Dr Leukavets said.

“And that’s why he’s now trying, he is now testing different options with his negotiations with the West, playing this so called peacemaker card in order to try to save himself.” 

The ‘Victory Plan’

While Lukashenko looks from east to west, the Belarusian opposition is focused on the capital, Minsk.

Somewhere in the world, a database sits on a secure server keeping track of every Belarusian who is willing to rise up and attempt to remove Lukashenko from the President’s home inside the Palace of Independence. 

Only a few people have access to the file because it is one of the most valuable assets in the opposition movement.

BYPOL calls their efforts the “Peramoga” or “Victory Plan”.

Belarus has a population of 9 million people and BYPOL told the ABC it had more than 200,000 people signed up to its plan, including 5,000 people willing to perform “special operations”, or actively sabotage the regime.

Mr Azarau said everyone who is signed up to the movement and its plan will know what role they are to play when the moment comes.

He said some of the specific tasks include creating barricades in strategic places, to form crowds or traffic jams at opportune moments, and to be ready to use whatever access they have to governmental structures to help the cause.

BYPOL president Aliaksandr Azarau said the organisation is determined to restore democracy to Belarus. (Supplied:  Aliaksandr Azarau)

Mr Azarau said there was no “magic number” of Belarusians that needed to be onboard for the timing to be right, but there were a number of settings that would need to be in place.

“We are waiting for a specific time,” he said.

“When Russia will be very sick and when Russia will be have a lot of its own problems and … maybe the Russian authority wouldn’t send troops to Belarus to help Lukashenko — is one point.

“Another point is when people become not too afraid to do something and want to change Belarus and want to go to the streets.”

Mr Azarau said BYPOL did not want to take action before launching their plan, but “we recognise Belarus is an occupied country and if our country is occupied by Russians, we need to fight”.

Now, BYPOL and Cyber Partisans are preparing another wave of sabotage.

Russian forces still hold strategic positions in Belarus, and the anti-regime organisations have warned they will soon be targeted.

“The authorities intensified the railroad protection, the internal troops patrol the area, they even arranged ambushes,” Mr Azarau said.

“That’s why we are reformatting the actions, choosing new places and going to continue our work in this direction.”

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-06-05/belarus-opposition-sabotages-russia-in-ukraine-plans-revolution/101072484

4 comments

  1. “Mr Azarau said everyone who is signed up to the movement and its plan will know what role they are to play when the moment comes.”

    The people of Belarus want freedom. They are just waiting for a catalyst. Ukraine could be this catalyst. It has gathered a tremendous amount of know how in the fields of modern warfare, and it has huge fighting spirits. The Belarusian partisans helped Ukraine throw out the cockroaches from the north, and now Ukraine should return the favor. It can do it and when it moves in, the Belarusians will be there to help. This would not only help free the people, but would also open a whole new can of unfriendly worms for mafia land.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Unfortunately these partisans are only a 1,000 strong. Where is the rest of the population. The chief shit head’s dominance is on shaky ground and if indeed the military is as against the asshole as reported they don’t need our help. They an do it themselves. They don’t have a foreign army causing genocide. Perhaps once we throw the cockroaches out we can help but my feeling is that if that happens, Lukasenko and Putin are dead anyway.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Mr. Azarau said, they have 200,000 people signed up to its plan, including 5,000 people willing to perform “special operations”, or actively sabotage the regime. This is out of a population of around 9 million. I’m sure that once things get underway, many more will join the effort. It will snowball, so to speak.

      Liked by 2 people

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