The fraudulent claims to victory of the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko in the presidential elections last August sparked massive protests across the country. After 26 years of miserable incompetence, oppression, poverty and corruption under Lukashenko, Belarusian citizens had had enough.
The authorities’ reaction to the protests in Belarus was brutal. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, more than 27,000 people have been arrested and detained since August last year. Hundreds were beaten and tortured and several were killed. Journalists were particularly targeted by authorities who led Reporters Without Borders to declare Belarus the most dangerous country in Europe for media reporters in 2020.
Most of the demonstrators in Belarus were peaceful. But due to her size and perseverance over many months, Lukashenko appears to have panicked and reacted in the only way he knows: by ordering his sloppy security forces to do whatever it takes to knock them down.
The security services, still known in Belarus by the Soviet-era acronym KGB, are Lukashenko’s only hope of staying in power. However, this relic from the time Belarus was ruled from Moscow is not the only link between Lukashenko’s violence and the former Russian masters of his country. An investigation by BYPOL, a network of former dissidents from the Belarusian security service and the criminal justice system, has documented the widespread use of Russian weapons and ammunition with which Lukashenko’s armed forces put down the protests. This includes many weapons with deadly military capabilities, the use of which on civilians violates international human rights standards.
Reports from Belarusian medical institutions support these findings. In Minsk alone, 1,141 people with protest-related injuries sought medical help between August 9 and 22. Of these, 64 had wounds from military grade explosives; 45 arrived with gunshot wounds. There is also evidence that security forces beat and tortured detainees, including with Russian-style weapons. Many of those detained exposed evidence of torture and the illegal use of weapons. Videos of their scars and injuries have caused outrage around the world.
BYPOL – which stands for the Belarusian Police and has the official name Solidarity Association of Belarusian Law Enforcement Personnel – is an investigative group of former employees of the security services, border troops and the prosecutor’s office, who in response to the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and collect evidence for abuses committed by the Belarusian authorities. They also received a tape in which Deputy Interior Minister Nikolai Karpenkov asked the security forces “to use your weapon and shoot [the protester] right in the forehead, right in the face. “
BYPOL has been tracking photos of demonstrators’ weapons, ammunition and injuries that have been posted on the Internet since last August. Based on this evidence, in addition to first-hand statements and information from sources still in the Belarusian security authorities, BYPOL concluded that the following weapons and ammunition were used against the demonstrators during the demonstrations:
GM-94 grenade launcher manufactured in Tula, Russia by the KBP Instrument Design Bureau. Its main purpose is to provide fire support to infantry in close combat conditions, especially in urban environments, as well as use by special police operations to destroy lightly armored vehicles and create smoke grids and fires. Various models of the Russian-made PK Kalashnikov machine gun were seen among the security forces. Semi-automatic Saiga-12K rifle, made in Russia and similar to the Kalashnikov. MP-353 pistol for firing rubber bullets which can be dangerous at close range. This is the weapon Karpenkov ordered the security forces to shoot in the face of a protester in the shot. VGM93.200 grenade projectiles with a thermobaric charge, which the Russian arms export agency Rosoboronexport calls “to fight terrorists and their means of transport in urban conditions”. These were used in Minsk in August 2020. VGM93.400 grenade projectiles, described by Rosoboronexport as “designed to create a psychophysical and a lightning / bang effect on offenders”, are believed to have been used in Minsk. VGM93.600 shells with strike-stunning action to physically neutralize demonstrators, which are also reported to be used in Minsk. Various spent cartridges and ammunition were found at the site of the protests, including many made by the Izhevsk Techkhrim company in Russia.
Most of these weapons are intended for military use, including the suppression of major civil wars or terrorist attacks, and are rarely used for normal crowd control.
In the record received from BYPOL, Karpenkov also spoke about the construction of camps for political prisoners. He said Lukashenko had approved brutal measures against protesting citizens. “The head of state covers us from all angles with regard to the use of firearms,” Karpenkov said in the recording. “Shoot everything you have.”
It should come as no surprise that some of the weapons used against peaceful protesters were supplied by Russia. According to the BYPOL network, around 90 percent of the weapons and ammunition for the Belarusian security services are supplied in Russia, a large proportion of them in recent years under Russian President Vladimir Putin. We also know that Russian security services trained their Belarusian counterparts in the use of weapons. The Russian head of the foreign intelligence service, Sergei Naryshkin, visited Minsk several times after the protests in August 2020. All of this makes the Putin regime complicit in the mistreatment in Belarus.
Before even more innocent Belarusian democracy protesters are maimed or killed, the brutal crackdown must be stopped immediately. A thorough and independent investigation is required to investigate the use of near-lethal weapons and ammunition, their origins and those who have authorized their illegal use. Lukashenko blames external forces for the protests against his rule, but in reality Putin’s Russia is the only external actor involved in the violent repression of peaceful citizens.