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‘The president is waiting’ Leaked recording implicates Belarusian KGB in plotting murders abroad on Lukashenko’s orders

Source: EUObserver
Efrem Lukatsky / AP / Scanpix / LETA

An alleged recording of Belarus’s former KGB chairman has revealed that the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko (Alyaksandr Lukashenka), authorized political assassination operations abroad as recently as in 2012. The recording was published by the Brussels-based online newspaper EUObserver on Monday, January 4. Though it has yet to be authenticated, the tape notably includes a discussion of plans to murder journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was killed when a bomb exploded under his car in downtown Kyiv in 2016.

The EUObserver has released an alleged 2012 recording of Belarus’s then-KGB head Vadim Zaitsev (Vadzim Zaitsau) briefing officers from the Alpha Group counter-terrorist unit on planned operations to assassinate several political enemies abroad, including well-known journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was killed by a car bomb in Kyiv in 2016. The tape, dated April 11, 2012, was allegedly “secretly recorded on a hidden device” in Zaitsev’s office.

On the recording, a man’s voice — presumed to be Zaitsev’s — says that “the president [Alexander Lukashenko] is waiting for these operations.” He then goes on to explain that Lukashenko had more than $1.5 million put in a “dedicated account” to fund off-the-books political assassination operations.

Zaitsev says that the KGB “should be working on Sheremet, who is a massive pain in the arse.” He then suggests planting a bomb to kill the journalist (who was living in Russia at the time), so that “this fucking rat will be taken down in fucking pieces — legs in one direction, arms in the other direction.” Apparently, ensuring that Sheremet suffered a violent death was meant to send a signal to other critics of the Belarusian regime: “If everything [looks like] natural causes, it won’t get into people’s minds the same way,” Zaitsev says.

The conversation also includes a discussion of plans to murder several political emigres who had fled Belarus for Germany, including former anti-corruption chief Vyacheslav Dudkin, former prison director Oleg Alkaev, and ex-special forces commander Vladimir Borodach — all of whom are still alive. 

The EUObserver underscores that because the audio quality of the recording they obtained is very poor, experts have so far been unable to confirm its authenticity. Moreover, it was edited at least once — likely to remove data that could identify the person who planted the recording device. That said, a contact from a NATO country’s intelligence service who is familiar with Vadim Zaitsev told the EUObserver that the voice on the tape sounds like ex-KGB chief. 

The “bugged KGB recording” was originally obtained by Belarusian opposition activist Igor Makar: a former deputy commander of a combat group belonging to the Belarusian Interior Ministry’s Almaz Special Anti-Terrorism Unit, who defected to the opposition in 2006. Makar has stated that he is prepared to testify in court on the recording’s authenticity.

Vadim Zaitsev was removed from his post as head of the Belarusian KGB in 2012. Since 2013, he has worked as the head of the television company Kosmos TV. 

Read more

In memory of Pavel Sheremet A look back at one of the most famous journalists in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, murdered in Kiev earlier today

Read more

In memory of Pavel Sheremet A look back at one of the most famous journalists in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, murdered in Kiev earlier today

Summary by Grigory Levchenko

Translation by Eilish Hart

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