Wiretapping controversy now in Belarus
The scale of the wiretapping allows assumptions that secret services were involved. Were these Russian secret services?
Last week, the Belarusian KGB arrested members of a criminal group which specialized on tapping government officials (mostly representatives of the law enforcement agencies - the Ministry of Interior, the Investigation Committee, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and Customs bodies), businessmen and journalists (from the state-owned and independent media).
According to the KGB press service, members of the group tapped offices, phones, as well as hacked email accounts, Skype, WhatsApp, Viber and social networks. This is the first disclosure of such crimes in Belarus and the first of such a large scale: more than 80 searches, 20 criminal cases under Article 203 of the Criminal Code - Violation of the secrecy of correspondence, telephone or other conversations, postal, telegraphic or other communications – were initiated against customers.
The information about customers of the wiretapping, which lasted three years, was not disclosed. However, the fact that the KGB officials made it all public probably means that they wanted to send a signal to some alleged customers. The scale of the group’s activities allows assumptions that it was somehow associated with the secret services. If these were the Belarusian secret services, the aggravation of the war between the law enforcement agencies had started. If, which is more likely, these were the Russian special services, this disclosure would be the first public suppression of their activities and a warning for the future.
Interestingly, there are some similarities between this case and a similar one in 2014 in Warsaw, reported by the Polish media.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.