Following the contentious 2020 Presidential election in Belarus, which saw incumbent Alexander Lukashenko claim victory despite widespread protests and accusations of election fraud, several members of the country’s security forces defected from the government. On October 20, 2020, some of them joined forces to create the Association of Security Forces of Belarus (BYPOL), a dissident group of former law enforcement officers who oppose Lukashenko’s rule and seek to have him toppled (1). Since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the group has claimed participation in partisan activities against Russian forces in Belarus (2). From disrupting rail lines, to firearms training, and even damaging a Russian spy plane with a drone, BYPOL’s capacity to inflict violence on the Belarusian state and its allies has grown.
History & Foundations
Alexander Lukashenko was first elected President of Belarus in 1994, becoming the ex-Soviet state’s first, and so far only, head of state. Lukashenko’s Belarus has been described as a 'mini version' of the Soviet Union by numerous political scientists, as the former Soviet farm manager has restored "the old Soviet economic system with only marginal market economic elements; gradually increasing political repression; and close political relations with Russia". These elements have been implemented as the main pillars of his leadership position (3).
In the 2020 presidential election, political activist Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya challenged Lukashenko for the office. Lukashenko claimed victory, but widespread accusations of election fraud led to country-wide protests. Subsequent acts of repression and violence by state security forces only intensified much of the population’s anger, with many calling for Lukashenko to step down. At this time, a group of law enforcement officers led by Lieutenant Colonel Aliaksandr Azarau began defecting from the state and calling on other security forces to do the same. These officers formed BYPOL (Association of Security Forces of Belarus) to oppose the President (4).
Ideology & Objectives
BYPOL does not seem to espouse a singular political ideology. In a video published on their YouTube channel, Azarau claims the group seeks “the establishment of rule of law, respect for human rights, and the transition to a free market economy." (5) The group supports Belarussian political activists, including the 2020 election challenger Sviatlana Tshikhanouskaya. It views the defeat of Russia and the toppling of Vladimir Putin as equally crucial to the overthrow of Lukashenko given the two countries union and geopolitical partnership (6).
Military & Political Abilities
The group claims to have 200,000 members signed up for its Peramoga (Total Victory) plan. According to Azarau, each member is assigned certain tasks to be performed, either actively or as part of an eventual widespread uprising. Tasks to be performed include sabotage, creating roadblocks, organizing protests, or taking control of state functions (7). In videos on its YouTube channel, BYPOL volunteers can be seen doing target practice, throwing molotov cocktails, and doing medical training in either Poland or Ukraine. Several of its members are said to be on the front lines of the war in Ukraine (8).
On the 5th of March 2023, BYPOL claimed to have attacked a Russian A-50 spy plane stationed at a runway in Belarus. The group later released video of a drone landing on the plane’s radar dish and Belarusian authorities eventually admitted that the aircraft was damaged in a drone attack. Along with BYPOL’s participation in the Rail War through acts of sabotaging rail lines supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the group seems capable of at least some partisan activities in their home country (9).
Approach to Resistance
BYPOL’s early internet content consisted mostly of investigations of police brutality in Belarus. One investigation saw BYPOL release supposed audio of Belarusian officials creating unsafe conditions for detainees. Naming and shaming officers charged with abuse is a common BYPOL tactic, along with calls for state officials and security service members to defect to their side (10).
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022, BYPOL has stepped up its armed activity. In addition to the aforementioned acts of sabotage, the group claims to have several members serving on the frontlines in Ukraine. If and when the group implements its Peramoga plan, it is likely the group will need to step up its armed activity against the state (11). Well familiar with the inner workings of the Belarusian state and security forces, BYPOL members will have many cards up their sleeves and knowledge to work from when they choose to take a more direct approach against Lukashenko.
International Relations & Alliances
BYPOL is designated a terrorist organization by the Belarusian government (12). Unable to operate openly in their homeland, the group is now based in Warsaw, where Polish authorities have given them refuge. They also remain sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause, considering Russia a joint enemy. Lukashenko claimed the perpetrator of the attack (on the A-50) was arrested along with more than 20 accomplices and that he has ties to Ukrainian security services. However, “both BYPOL and Ukrainian authorities rejected allegations that Kyiv was involved”(13). According to its website, BYPOL has “associates” located in Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, the USA, Sweden, Australia, Belgium, Germany,Georgia, Israel, Ireland, Italy, Canada, Cyprus, Russia, Slovakia, Montenegro (14).
The group works closely with some other Belarusian opposition groups, such as the Cyber Partisans. Both have been active in the Rail War, with BYPOL members destroying relays and Cyber Partisans hacking ticket systems. In August of 2022, BYPOL and Azarou joined the United Transitional Council (UTC), led by 2020 Presidential candidate Sviatlana Tshikhanouskaya. The group is not recognized as the legitimate government of Belarus by any international state or entity. Other Belarusian opposition figures have also expressed displeasure with the UTC, stating that nobody elected its members and it is no better than the Belarusian People’s Assembly (15).
Despite its short history, BYPOL has shown its willingness to attack elements of the Belarusian state and attract a number of former police and military members to its cause. Whether it can overthrow the Lukashenko government will only be seen when it puts its Peramoga plan into action.
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - Peleschuck, D. (2021, March 19). The Ex-Cops trying to take down Europe's last dictator. VICE. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from https://www.vice.com/en/article/93wpx7/belarus-alexander-lukashenko-bypol
(2) - Associated Press (2023, March 10). Anti-Russia guerrillas in Belarus take on 'two-headed enemy'. ABC News. Retrieved March 12, 2023, from https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/anti-russia-guerrillas-belarus-headed-enemy-97762221
(3) - Dickinson, P. (2021, October 29). Europe's last dictator: The rise and (possible) fall of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Atlantic Council. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/belarusalert/europes-last-dictator-the-rise-and-possible-fall-of-alexander-lukashenko/
(4) - Peleschuck, D. (2021, March 19). The Ex-Cops trying to take down Europe's last dictator. VICE. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from https://www.vice.com/en/article/93wpx7/belarus-alexander-lukashenko-bypol
(5) - Azarau A. (2022, September 9). Стало известно кто реализует План ПЕРАМОГА – BYPOL (Video). Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaJhCKXKP_0
(6) - Associated Press (2023, March 10). Anti-Russia guerrillas in Belarus take on 'two-
headed enemy'. ABC News. Retrieved March 12, 2023, from https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/anti-russia-guerrillas-belarus-headed-enemy-97762221
(7) - Hyatt, L. (2023, March 6). Belarusian dissidents Eye Belarus' mobilization as a time to strike. The Baltic Times. Retrieved March 15, 2023, from https://www.baltictimes.com/belarusian_dissidents_eye_belarus__mobilization_as_a_time_to_strike/
(8) - Azarau A. (2022, September 9). Стало известно кто реализует План ПЕРАМОГА – BYPOL (Video). Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaJhCKXKP_0
(9) - Newdick, T. (2023, March 7). Ukraine Situation Report: Belarus admits Russian A-50 radar jet damaged in drone attack. The Drive. Retrieved March 12, 2023, from https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/ukraine-situation-report-belarus-admits-russian-a-50-radar-jet-damaged-in-drone-attack
(10) - New BYPOL investigation into torture in detention centers • News. Voice of Belarus. (2022, December 27). Retrieved March 12, 2023, from https://www.voiceofbelarus.org/belarus-news/new-bypol-investigation-into-torture-in-detention-centres/
(11) - Clark, E. (2022, June 4). When Putin sent his troops into Ukraine, a 'secret plan' to undermine him was quietly put into action. ABC News. Retrieved March 11, 2023, from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-06-05/belarus-opposition-sabotages-russia-in-ukraine-plans-revolution/101072484
(12) - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. (2022, August 31). Belarus designates group of Ex-Cops who oppose regime as terrorists. RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Retrieved March 12, 2023, from https://www.rferl.org/a/belarus-bypol-cops-terrorist-lukashenka/32012826.html
(13) - Newdick, T. (2023, March 7). Ukraine Situation Report: Belarus admits Russian A-50 radar jet damaged in drone attack. The Drive. Retrieved March 12, 2023, from https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/ukraine-situation-report-belarus-admits-russian-a-50-radar-jet-damaged-in-drone-attack
(14) - A union of Belarusian security officers - аб'яднанне сілавікоў беларусі. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2023, from https://bypol.org/en/
(15) - Богуславская, А. (2022, August 9). Как оппозиция Беларуси пытается объединиться – DW – 09.08.2022. dw.com. Retrieved March 12, 2023, from https://www.dw.com/ru/perestante-rugatsja-ili-kak-oppozicija-belarusi-pytaetsja-obedinitsja/a-62750017