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.
Belarus’s pro-democracy protests started in May 2020 as Lukashenko, in power since 1994, declared his intention to run for a sixth presidential term. Lukashenko crashed pro-democracy movement in Belarus.
Russia relocated its air defense system from Russian exclave Kaliningrad to Moscow. Belarusian anti-Lukashenko BYPOL and Cyber Partisans are preparing another wave of sabotage in Belarus and Kaliningrad.
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.
Andrzej Kshetussky was one of hundreds of thousands of Belarusians who peacefully protested against the fraudulent re-election of their country’s longtime leader, Alexander Lukashenko, in 2020.
Three years after those protests were brutally repressed, he is now fighting alongside the Ukrainian army against invading Russian forces.
“We lost all protest infrastructure [and] oppositional organizations in the country,” Kshetussky told The Moscow Times ahead of the anniversary of the August 2020 election. “Tens of thousands of people left [Belarus], they were forced to leave. We have 1,000 political prisoners. This is a defeat.”
Like many of his countrymen who took a similar path from nonviolent protest toward armed service, he hopes that helping Kyiv defeat Russia will hasten the downfall of close Kremlin ally Lukashenko and the rise of a democratic Belarus.
“Ukraine’s victory is the first step, a precondition for further regime change in Belarus,” Kshetussky said by phone.
When Russian forces went over the border into Ukraine in February 2022, despite his lack of military experience, Kshetussky enlisted in Ukraine’s Azov Battalion before later joining the Kastus Kalinouski Regiment, a unit of Belarusian nationals fighting for Ukraine.
In one photo from this period, Kshetussky is seen standing in a trench and smiling while holding a Swedish-made anti-tank weapon.
By mid-2022, Kshetussky had left the battlefield and founded the Belarusian Veteran Association, which provides support to hundreds of Belarusians who, like himself, protested in Belarus and then fought in Ukraine.
While Belarus has not directly taken part in the hostilities in Ukraine, it acted as a key launchpad for Russia’s invasion, giving Russian forces a route toward Kyiv from the north. Injured Russian soldiers have been treated in Belarusian hospitals, and missile strikes have been launched from Belarus’ territory.
In recent months, Russia has transferred nuclear weapons to Belarus, while Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group have relocated near Minsk following its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s aborted mutiny.
Belarusian citizens have been largely opposed to Russia’s war in Ukraine as well as to their country’s close alignment with Moscow.
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.”
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