“The special forces team said they are tired.”
An interview with an officer who trained Karpenkov.
We understand that Lukashenko will betray us.
Igor Makar is a former deputy commander of the combat group of the anti-terrorist special unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus called “Almaz”. He worked in “Almaz” for 5 years. Igor coached Nikolai Karpenkov, and he is still a close friend of the head of Lukashenko’s security service, Dmitry Shakhraev. Igor has insider information from his former colleagues. He told Radio Svaboda what he felt when he was beating prisoners, what tortures the police forces have been practicing for a long time, who killed Taraykovsky, and what frame-up Lukashenka’s security service was preparing on the election night.
Igor Makar was born in Grodno in 1977. After serving in the army, in 1997 he started serving in Grodno OMON (special forces team). In 1998 he began working at “Almaz”. Graduated from the Academy of Physical Education and Sports of the Republic of Belarus, later he went to the Law Institute. He left the service and was the head of the security of the former ex-presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin. He is in political emigration since 2006. In 2011, his sister Olga Makar and her son applied for political asylum in the UK due to police persecution and threats to her and her son’s lives. Igor Makar cooperates with the By_Pol association which helps the security forces who refuse to obey criminal orders.
“What are your thoughts on the last Sunday protest, harsh detentions, and escalation of violence by the police forces?”
“The protest mood is not eternal. The state machine, the power structures have much greater functions and abilities to survive in such situations. Lukashenka has a goal to completely strangle all kinds of protests. The fewer people go to protests, the more police officers work. I talked to the special forces team, and they are exhausted, they are trying to do everything to end the manifestations and protests. The fewer people are on the streets, the more get detained.”
“How did you join the police forces, tell us about your career there, why did it end?”
“In 1995–1996 I was a part of “Spetsnaz” border troops. My boss in special training was a man who later joined the president’s security team. All my life I have been involved in sports, participated in competitions. When I came home after the army, I really wanted to work at “Almaz”. I had a good friend working there. There they told me that I need to go through an internship to understand how it works. The deputy head of the detachment advised us to go back to Grodno and get a job in a rapid reaction police detachment, work, understand the essence and then return. That’s exactly what I did. I went to OMON, passed the selection, got a job, and worked there for about a year. ThenI was recalled to work at “Almaz”. I worked at “Almaz” for about 5 years. Resigned as a senior lieutenant.”
“What was your main duty there?”
“Detention of the most dangerous criminals, protection of senior government officials, anti-terrorism.”
“Did you participate in street protests?”
“This function of the division does not include that. During the 5-year work at “Almaz”, we used firearms only once (I had a pistol, an automatic MP5, and an Uzi). Fully armed and equipped we arrived at the presidential residence and waited in two minivans. As I understood there was also some kind of protest. We stayed for 3–4 hours and then left the residence because it was over. It happened in 2002 or 2003.”
“As far as you know, how often “Almaz” forces are being present during protests and when did it start?”
“2002–2004. In 2006 it became very tough. At that time I was already with Kazulin, I was in his security, I saw all the work. Especially in the Palace of Culture of Railway workers in March 2006, when Kazulin arrived at the National Assembly and everyone was seriously beaten there. I managed to leave and hide because Kazulin did not take me with him. He seemed to have foreseen everything. The security officers were brutal.”
“You left “Almaz” when you joined Kazulin. What caused your resignation?”
“When I was appointed as a deputy commander of the combat group, I had many disagreements with the leadership of “Almaz”. All these eventually led to the fact that I just quit. I’ve already talked to Kazulin then. And then I talked to Alexander Vladislavovich, and he said: “Igor, I do not want to force you, just think. If you are with me, you will be with me, if you want to continue working, do so,” and I quit.
I had a close relationship with Kazulin’s daughter Yulia, I really loved her, and we were about to become a family. But due to the political situation and my departure from the country, this never happened.”
“When did you leave Belarus? After Kazulin’s arrest on March 25, 2006, or earlier?”
“I left earlier. Before the elections, Nikolai Karpenkov was calling me all the time (at that time he was the commander of the division). He really wanted me to quit politics because I was a former employee of “Almaz” and it was ruining the face of the division. I collected information from all employees about the lawlessness that was going on, and once I went to my close friend. It was Dmitry Shakhraev, who is now the head of the presidential security service. We had a friendly conversation. At that time he was Lukashenka’s personal adjutant. From the conversation, I realized that neither he nor I would cooperate, we were just fellows, and I left. Obviously, they found this out; maybe I was being followed. Then Karpenkov called me and we set up a meeting. I talked to him very seriously. Very seriously, in the end, he told me: either you leave, or worry about your mother. He made it very clear that everything would be very bad.
We made an agreement with him that I would hand in all the incriminating evidence. He said that then he would organize a meeting and this meeting would be very serious. Was I ready? I said I was. I had no choice. After a while, I met with the Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Naumov. We talked for over 2 hours about everything. I managed to record this conversation, I won’t say how. I am ready to publish it. I published a little and gave Oleg Alkaev some parts from the conversation. I negotiated with Naumov about all the incriminating evidence (they are in Poland), that I would be going to Brest, they would meet me, I would bring everything. We would exchange them and say our goodbyes, and I would not get into politics anymore.
After meeting with Naumov, I went to Kazulin. The next day Kazulin met with seven ambassadors of the European Union. I showed them the tape, they all listened. Naumov said that we would detain Kazulin and I would be the next. There was no choice. I was taken to Moscow by plane, and then the Lithuanian ambassador agreed that I go to Lithuania, later I received political asylum.”
“You mentioned the name of Nikolai Karpenkov, a very famous person now, the head of the Main Command for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, with whom you met and communicated. How would you characterize him?”
“When I worked at “Almaz” Nikolai Karpenkov headed a department in the presidential security service, and they came to our “Almaz” base to train. The commander made me in charge of the training. I trained, showed everything I could, everything that we did. I got along with Nikolai, he always respected me when they came to the detachment, and he asked me to train them.
He is a very loyal person, especially to Lukashenko. He will never betray him, he will do everything. As I see it, his dream is to become a minister. He is doing everything to get this position. By the way, Naumov became the head of the presidential security service by the suggestion of Karpenkov. Then Naumov was assigned as a minister, and this was his merit as well. Naumov himself told me about this.”
“Now “Almaz” has a new generation of guys, but some people you used to work with still remained. Do you know the atmosphere there now? They still are performing duties they are not supposed to. This is an anti-terrorist division, they are not supposed to fight peaceful demonstrators.”
“I can speak about not only “Almaz” but briefly about all divisions. Only people, I would call them armchair people, are in a good mood: investigators, district police officers, and detectives. They understand that they will have to answer for this dirty work later. In special units like riot police, “Almaz”, “Alfa”, “SOBR” they are absolutely inadequate. Telling them to stop and think about people is useless. Lukashenka managed to separate special forces from the people. He dragged the units into aggression, which manifests itself more and more every day. The main reason why people do this is absolute, total impunity. This has been going on for 26 years. Nobody is responsible for anything. Therefore, no one can talk to them normally.”
“I am thinking like an ordinary person, not a soldier who follows orders. If you see an unarmed man, peaceful, how easy is it to beat him? Could you? Have you done that? A person holding a weapon should be asking himself this question.”
“Yes. I don’t remember what year it was when I worked at “Almaz”, I was a young officer in the division back then. “Almaz” was just renamed into an anti-terrorist organization and we were sent to visit prisons. When we arrived at some prisons, we lined up in the corridor in two opposite directions, we were holding batons. The cell opened, prison guards called the name of the prisoner saying: “Out! Run!”. They ran, and we were beating them with batons as hard we could. Then the second, third, fourth prisoner.”
“Swearing all the time?”
“Sure. People writhed in pain on the other side. Then the same last names were called again, and they ran back to their cell. It was around 2000–2001. I remember it being a prison in Zhodino. We held our training there, and the head of the prison said that we need to show strength because there were people who disagreed with the regime, they did something wrong. There were five or six chambers. They beat them terribly. This is a common practice both in the riot police and in “Almaz”.”
“Similar video from the Okrestino detention center was recently leaked and it shocked people. Why did no one know about such a “common practice” before?”
“No, this information was confidential, these people were not political prisoners. When regular people started uniting now, such units as riot police are being sent to fight their own people. They are all embittered. Some of them justify this by the fact that they work day and night since every Sunday, Saturday there are protests. They are poorly paid. On the first days, they were given bonuses for each day. Now nobody says anything because there is no money. And they won’t, so the officers are angry and use force. We had a training in “Almaz” to harshly detent every criminal, there is no other way because your life is in danger. But if you handcuff the detainee, whoever he was, you stop. You must not beat a handcuffed person, you cannot mock him. What the riot police is doing now is inhuman.”
“What you did to the prisoners was an order. It seems that now such an attitude towards people is an order, not a wish, is that so?”
“Certainly. This is used in prisons and isolation wards, not against one or two, but against a large number of people. If 15–16 protesters are in the isolation ward, it is very simple — stand in two lines, chase one by one, and beat them with truncheons. You can’t think of anything better, because what we did in prisons involved several people, you hold hands and beat them with batons from both sides. The person could not keep standing after that. It was just a mess. It was very brutal. I don’t think they do that now.”
“What were you feeling when you were doing it?”
“Nothing. It was just an order. Absolutely nothing. I just did it, that’s all. But with time, after a year, two, three, four… That is why I had a disagreement with the head of “Almaz”, once I argued strongly… When those who wanted to enter “Almaz” were selected (same as I at one point), there was an obstacle course, then sparring. During sparring sessions some of our guys simply maimed people. There was one guy from the presidential security service who wanted to join “Almaz”, he was trained, but on the other side, there was a person who had better fitness skills. As a result, he broke his back. Terrible. I expressed my opinion, but they told me that it was none of my business.”
“Everyone saw the photographs from the Sovetsky District Department of Internal Affairs, where people stood by the wall with their hands up. Those who went through this say they had to do it for about 5–6 hours. Is it common as well?”
“Yes. When I worked in the riot police, this was done with detainees who violated the law or committed a crime. You put one, two, or three detainees against the wall, hands up, and they stand like this for 30–40 minutes, they can’t do it any longer. When they lowered his hands, you just punched them with a baton, and the detainee raises his hands. And because of all this suffering, you get testimony from them, they tell the truth about the things they did or did not do.”
“You no longer work there, you’ve been in political emigration for many years, recently you took part in the International Congress of Belarusians. What is your opinion on what your former colleagues are doing? What is your human and law assessment?”
“I condemn their actions. Moreover, they are committing a crime. The employee of “Almaz” who shot Taraikovskiy convicted of a crime for which he can be sentenced to punishment. It was a pump-action shotgun that can only be applied from 50 meters. Every employee must be aware of this. I do not understand why the soldier shot. There were only 20–25 meters away which led to death.
There were two more wounded with rubber bullets. They were hospitalized and the doctors rescued them. This is inappropriate behavior, because an officer of the division, especially working at “Almaz”, knows at what distance a pump-action shotgun can be used. It is used to stop a wrongful act. Less than 50 meters is fatal. In the video we see a man with his hands up, there is evidence of weapon use, but for some reason no one does anything. I believe that every case should be investigated. Take video facts, find out the identity, and prepare for trial.”
- You say that the special forces are tired, angry, and want to stop everything as soon as possible. Is there a way to talk to them, convince them?
“No longer. I tried about a month ago. I watched the video from each action. I’ve seen a lot in my life, but I was terrified. Five riot policemen attack people, girls, and guys and simply beat them up with batons. I tried to talk to my friends, even those who work in the department now, to talk with those who are directly involved in the crackdown, with the riot police. My friends talked to the riot police officers and said: “Igor, you don’t even need to try, nothing will change.”
You can watch Prokopyev’s video about Sergei. Yes, everything is beautiful, fine, but this is not working now. Asking not to beat the protesters, because this is a peaceful action because these are your people because they pay you a salary and you are a state employee — this no longer works. In one conversation, an OMON officer said that they understand everything, but they will not stop doing it because they have already done so much that there is no turning back. I quote: “Today we are at war, for us everyone who goes out on the streets to peaceful protests is an enemy, and we will hold back until we can.” My friend said that Alexander Lukashenko will betray them. The same happened with “Berkut” in Ukraine, with Riga and Vilnius OMON after the collapse of the USSR. And he said: “We understand that he will betray us, but now we stand as one for one. And we shall stand until the end, there is no turning back.”
“Are there many people who quit just like you?”
“There are. Some of the people who worked with me at “Almaz” are now “in civilian clothes”, mainly in Russia to earn money, with their families. Nobody participates in politics.”
“What would you say to peaceful protesters who know that they can be detained, beaten, maimed, and still come out to protest? What should they do? How can they protect themselves?”
“I talked to people who now work in the system, who are very tired of it. Tired of the current structure of power, and those who protest, and the whole situation. The first thing I would like to say to the people who go on the streets is a huge thank you. I understand that the Belarusian people exist, Belarusians exist as a nation. What has been done is a huge plus. If a person is ready to go out, they have to go out, but only peaceful actions are needed. So, there will be detentions, possibly harsh, jail, fines, but you need to endure because I think that we can win this fight against Lukashenko. He will no longer hold his power. Do not under any circumstances take radical actions. There will be provocations, and this will play into the hands of Lukashenko. We need only peaceful actions. Endure to the last. Even if 100 people come out, it will already be good. Just be in a chain without anything illegal. Just peaceful actions. Stay for a bit and go. If someone does at least something — hang up a flag, write words of support — everything will go to the common piggy bank.
About provocations. On election night, my anonymous source contacted me and said that provocations were being prepared, that snipers were training in the presidential security service with sniper rifles and automatic pistols. At the shooting range, they shot at targets wearing riot police officers’ uniforms. According to the source, a provocation was being prepared — shots at the riot policemen, and as a result — a very serious crackdown of the actions, even with deploying the army.
When I found it out, I wanted to reveal it quickly, but it didn’t work out very well. Everyone thought that this was a provocation on my part. Dmitry Shakhraev, the head of the presidential security service, is a very close friend of mine. It happened that we are on opposite sides, but we still remain friends. He was the teacher in my division, he was an example to me. We are close, and I would not want him to commit a crime. If there was a provocation and when Lukashenko’s regime collapses, he would go to prison. Literally two days before the elections in Belgium and France, they agreed to publish this information, and, fortunately, the provocation never happened.”
“Do you have any optimism about the future?”
“Small, but I do. Now it is my personal duty to make this dictatorial regime created by Lukashenko, this repressive machine, end so that the people live peacefully in a normal country.”
“You’re saying now it makes no sense to convince the security officials. But as a former special forces soldier, what would you try to tell them?”
“As a former employee, as an officer, I made my last call. Maybe someone will hear that. I address all employees involved in dispersing peaceful protests. Don’t commit a crime. If you are afraid of being fired (some say that they are watching each other), just pretend, raise the baton, but do not hit people, delay, and if possible, release. Let the man run away. Gather information for the future, because everyone will be responsible for everything they did. I agree with Pavel Latushko that if there is not enough evidence, because someone was in a balaclava, there is a lie detector, and every employee who worked at that time will go through it. Think about your family and future, about your people, because you belong to these people”
TEXT: Anna Sous