On July 17 Belarusian President Alyaksander Lukashenka dismissed the head of the KGB, Stsyapan Sukharenka as well as his first deputy, Vasil Dzemyantsey. Sukharenka’s replacement is Yury Zhadobin, formerly head of the president’s security forces. Zhadobin’s first task is to clean up the organization, signifying that a major purge is in the offing. However, the reasons behind the dismissals have fueled rumors and speculation in Belarus.
Sukharenka (born in 1957) is a native of Homel’ region, who was trained in Moscow and worked in the organization for more than two decades. He was appointed formally to his leadership position only in January 2005, and played a prominent role in the repressive measures taken against protesters in the 2006 presidential election campaign, when he declared that the United States and Georgia were supporting efforts to stage a coup in Belarus. Zhadobin (born in 1954) is a native of Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, who attended a military academy in Kazan, Russia, and who was employed in the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) from 1990, occupying the post of deputy minister from 1999 to 2003.
Zhadobin’s public career has led some analysts to comment that his elevation signals the victory of the MVD over the KGB in what has recently been a very public feud. In particular, it is alleged that Sukharenka’s main adversary was the minister of internal affairs, Uladzimir Navumau. On July 12 in Mahileu, seven KGB men with militia IDs, together with a member of the Security Council, assaulted the chairman of the State Control Committee, Zyanon Lomats and, after administering a beating, fled the scene. Navumau responded by dispatching agents from the organized crime department of the MVD, who arrested the attackers after a prolonged search and placed them in isolation cells. The KGB men face a criminal trial for the shocking incident.
Discussion about the in-fighting has centered also on the president’s son and Security Council member, Viktar Lukashenka, who is reported by political analyst Alyaksandr Feduta to be the patron of new KGB chief Zhadobin. Feduta also notes that the removal of Sukharenka occurred when his own patron, State Secretary of the Security Council Viktar Sheiman, was on a visit to Venezuela. As the influence of Sheiman over security issues has waned, that of Viktar Lukashenka — by all accounts a colorless and truculent apparatchik — has increased correspondingly. For some time there has been conjecture in Minsk and Moscow that Viktar would be a suitable replacement for his father if the latter ran into difficulties or became ill.
Other analyses have suggested different reasons for the changes in the KGB. These include Pavel Sevyarynets’ citation of Sukharenka’s alleged failure to destroy the anti-government youth front, official mistrust of his heavy-handed tactics, and a clash between the security forces and oil and gas oligarchs. However, such focus ignores the most plausible reason for Sukharenka’s departure, i.e. the spy scandal that was revealed on Belarus’s ONT television station on July 15 by KGB deputy chairman, Viktar Veger.
The case concerns the arrest on espionage charges of five people, including four citizens of Belarus and a Russian, a “Major Yuren,” who evidently confessed to the Russian FSB. The Belarusians include the chief intelligence officer of a Belarusian air defense missile brigade, two people who worked in the area of radio and radar, and a former serviceman from the Belarusian air-defense forces, Uladzimir Ruskin, who was reportedly compromised after attempting to export alcohol from Poland that exceeded official limits by more than five times. The spies allegedly worked with Polish intelligence forces that solicited information about the Russian S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles. Several sources concur that the affair was uncovered primarily through the efforts of the FSB rather than the KGB.
Some salient points can be made about the spy scandal. First, the key question is why it was publicized only last weekend. The “spies” were reportedly “neutralized” in January when Ruskin was arrested. One possibility is that Sukharenka may have tried to raise his standing through the exposure of a major scandal.
Second, the media publicity undermined Lukashenka’s new approaches to the West, essentially alienating Poland and other implicated powers: Union State secretary Ivan Makushok commented that “Poland is not the final customer. The enemy is somewhere across the ocean.”
Third, not only did the KGB appear to be acting independently on this and other issues, but the implication was that it was doing so in close cooperation with Russian security forces, alongside which it was clearly playing the secondary role. That projected image and implied subservience is a far cry from the Lukashenka regime’s recent cries for an independent Belarus.
Lastly, there is no more reason to believe this current exposure of foreign agents operating in Belarus than earlier stories that have circulated in a carefully nurtured atmosphere of suspicion and neuroses. Unfortunately for the former KGB leaders, they may have chosen an inopportune time to launch a new scandal. Lukashenka has now opted to promote a close ally and former MVD man and the anticipated purge of the agency will further enhance the president’s authority.
(Belorusskie novosti, July 17; www.charter97.org, July 16, 18; Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta, Komsomolskaya pravda v Belorussii, July 18; Kommersant, July 17; RIA-Novosti, March 16, 2006)