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Belarus’ embattled opposition is flirting with violence

Toncyber guerrillas, a group of anonymous dissidents, has hacked into the highest echelons of the Belarusian dictatorship. They claim that last year when the country’s authoritarian president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, said he was more afraid of cyberweapons than nuclear weapons, he was thinking of cyberweapons. “Which opposition group can say they have the passport information of all the citizens of the country :)” a hacker identified only as Cyber ​​#3 typed. They have reason to laugh. CyberPartisans, the vanguard of Belarusian opposition radicals, are preparing for action.

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In a safe house in Warsaw, a dissident preparing to return to Belarus nervously fiddles with a lighter. “We’re waiting, but we don’t know what we’re waiting for,” he complained. “Everyone is depressed. Everyone is scared.” The crackdown has caused many to abandon the dangerous game of dissident politics altogether. However, this desperation has led some to consider more radical approaches.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who undoubtedly won the challenger in Mr Lukashenko’s stolen election in 2020, has flown the opposition flag in exile in Lithuania; but Activists want more. “These people want her to be the de Gaulle of Belarus,” said Artyom Shraibman, a political analyst affiliated with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “A leader in exile who can create a PLA. They are disappointed in our chief diplomat.”

So they set about building this army themselves. In December, Cyber ​​Partisans merged with the regiment of Kastus Kalinoussky, Belarusian volunteers fighting the Russians in Ukraine. CyberPartisans say they are using terabytes of hacked data to help Ukraine and some Western countries root out Russian and Belarusian spies.

Kalinoussky regiments and cyber guerrillas say they want to liberate Belarus once they end ties with Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. These groups see themselves as an emerging force that could challenge Tsikhanuskaya’s more measured leadership, according to Katya Glod of the European Leadership Network, a London-based think tank. “We’ve become part of the history of hacktivism,” Cyber#3 said. “The Belarusian opposition has never had its own military unit and its own cyber army before. We have never been stronger.”

“Belarusians need to be prepared,” said Pavel Kutkha, a recruiter for the Kalinoussky Corps in Warsaw, as he sat beside boxes of equipment for his soldiers in eastern Ukraine. The stronghold Bakhmut fought. “The only way Belarus will change is through force. If we want freedom, we must win our freedom with arms and blood.” For now, the focus is on Ukraine; Suddenly appear in Brest or Gomel (two large cities in Belarus), what will happen?

Ms Tsikhanuskaya bristled when asked about the criticism she had received. “You don’t have the tools to do it. You’re not mentally prepared for it,” she said of those who wanted to fight Mr. Lukashenko armed. Not without reason, since she has to maintain a broad church; but frustration breeds division abroad and disappointment among supporters at home. Even so, she now describes Belarus as “occupied” and the men of Kalinoski’s regiment as “heroes”. She connected with ByPol, a group of former security operatives that claims to have 600 members that is training partisans in Poland and conducting operations in Belarus, including attacks on a Russian air base near the capital Minsk.

Mr Lukashenko has used the militants to justify a tougher crackdown. His troops have been conducting regular counterterrorism drills. In addition, they have been hunting down partisans who disrupted Russian military trains at the start of the invasion of Ukraine, and who are still sharing details of Russia’s operations with monitors abroad. Violent or not, his opponents face an uphill struggle.

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