20 April 2019, Saturday, 6:11
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Uladzimir Kobets: How I was recruited by KGB

98

Andrei Sannikov’s campaign chief has told how he had been forced to sign a collaboration agreement at the KGB.

Uladzimir Kobets has written an article for charter97.org website. He gives details of what he had to come through after the arrest on December 21, 2010.

For a month and a half I am staying beyond Belarus, and here I have learnt that “criminal prosecution to me” had been dismissed. As it turned out later, such a decision had been also adopted concerning the accused and suspects in the case of so-called “mass riots” on December 19, 2010, which have not come to trial.

The letter signed by the senior investigator of Minsk city executive committee police captain Dyshchenka, representative of the Investigation department of preliminary investigation of the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs of Minsk city executive committee, was simply thrown into the postbox, as a Christmas card, not a serious document.

The time has come to give an answer to the question, to which I did not dare to answer while I was staying inside the country: on what conditions people had been released on recognizance from the KGB remand prison?

I will answer unequivocally: on conditions about which Ales Mikhalevich told: written undertaking to “voluntarily” collaborate with the state security bodies in realizing their constitutional obligations…”

There was simply no other way out of the KGB remand prison in those days.

Only inmates of women’s cells were released without signing such documents (Natallya Radzina, Iryna Khalip, Anastasiya Palazhanka), after non-cooperation documents were received from them.

Why am I talking about that only now?

Firstly, my mind of a former state servant even now refuses to take as reality the things that had been happening in the KGB remand prison. Only professional assistance of an expert in disaster psychology has eventually helped me to become free of the nightmares haunting me.

Secondly, I took the threats against my family, myself and my friends very seriously. Threats were uttered even after my “release”, and their aim was to make me work for the KGB.

Thirdly, I knew that when the case comes to trial, I will have an opportunity to tell everything there.

When I left the KGB remand prison, I told the whole story to Vyasna human rights centre. Ales Byalyatski and Valyantsin Stefanovich have been supporting me over all these months and tried to help me.

I am sure that an individual approach had been chosen for every political prisoner, that is why this is anyone’s guess what had been happening to the persons released first (they are not speaking about that publicly) or to those who were released before the end of 2010.

Many of the things happening in the former NKVD internal prison, have already been revealed by Ales Mikhalevich, Alyaksandr Atroshchankau, Andrei Sannikov, Iryna Khalip, Natallya Radzina.

Tortures

We were in total informational isolation. We were brutalized by fighters of an unknown unit in masks with shocker batons and truncheons. We were searched, told to get naked, to squat, we were made to stand in stretch-put position and hit on our legs by boots, we were told to run up and down a steep staircase handcuffed, while we were insulted and hit on our legs again.

One can guess that “a masks” approaches by a panting that grows louder. In this breath one can hear excitement, pleasure from guaranteed impunity. One expects a blow in this moment, and gets it, several times per “a session”.

After such standing in a cold gym during a search while someone is roaring: “Quicker!”, it is hard to put on your clothes back, muscles disobey. And sitting on matrasses like in a theatre, several (from 3 to 5) “masks” enjoy the spectacle, waving truncheons and shouting.

I graduated from the Belarusian State University, and I am used to treat the leadership of my alma mater with due respect. When the former vice-principle of the BSU, leader of Minsk branch of the United Civil Party Anatol Paulau (Anatoly Pavlov) was made to undress next in a row, the association with a Nazi concentration camp became almost complete, only a fire was to be made from books.

Walks in “stone bags” turned into mockery – they started from our run downstairs accompanied by shouts: “Do not tail away!!! Look into the floor!!! Hands behind back!!!” We were ordered to go around in a circle, not to stop, not to talk. If there was an elderly person (there were such people) or a person with leg problems, it is practically impossible to walk for an hour or two non-stop. It was forbidden to stand or make exercises.

When frosts started after a thaw, the yards for walks turned into a stating-rink. Sometimes we noticed blood traces – someone from Amerikanka rpisoners failed to keep one’s balance on the ice, fell and bled.

Visits of supervision prosecutor, about which journalists often asked, happened in the presence of the remand prison chief. It was him, the new chief of the KGB remand prison, Alyaksei Arlou (Alexei Orlov), who smiled cheekily and asked us whether we had any complaints or requests. And the frame of the prosecutor was looming somewhere behind the door. The prosecutor didn’t enter the cell, and it was noticeable through the doorway that he thumbed his nose – the smell of the cell was disgusting to him.

My cellmate was so naïve to ask when the TV would be turned on. The remand prison chief turned his back on us and promised: “We’ll put it on.” Right after the prosecutor’s visit, inspectors and masked people darted into the cell shouting: “A scheduled search! Everyone out! Hands behind your back!” You wanted a show – but a shakedown was offered to you.

The main objective of tortures was to twist the psyche of a man in such a way to make him indifferent what he signs and to make him believe that long years in prisons and camps are expecting him in the future.

A subtle cynicism is to use family, including children, in the games of the KGB. Thus, on the third day I was told after interrogation that I would be released under a written pledge to appear at short notice. The lawyer was asked to go out, I was allowed to make a phone call home.

However, instead of release, I was convoyed to the city prosecutor’s office, where a silver-haired old man announced without being unglued from his papers: “You know everything, you were in the headquarters, you’ve heard everything.”

A “shkonka” (a plank bed) could not even fit into the overcrowded cell number 18, where I was thrown. Instead of a new set (a mattress, a pillow and a blanket) which was taken away from me, I was given a new one: a cloggy thin mattress, a plaid blanket falling to bits and a dirty pillow with brown streaks.

I was to sleep on the concrete floor right next to the door. In the morning I could hardly unbend my joints, and my frost-bound back was aching intensely…

Recruiting

In that period active interrogating without a lawyer and recruiting started. Earlier one of the operating officers made it absolutely clear that they had been gathering intelligence not only about me, they collected information about my wife, my close friends. Now all of them, including the family, became hostages of my course of conduct.

At all the next “interrogations” an operative with a higher rank was working together with a psychologist. He asked immediately: “How do you think, why all other leaders of initiative groups have been already released, and only you are here?”

Certainly, I could not know that, but I noticed there was a catch in the question. Threats followed: “You will have a long trip!” They demonstrated knowledge of my biography details, they demonstrated some financial documents, which I saw for the first time.

Investigators were interested by two questions: finances and plans of the opposition for December 19. I was astonished that they knew in detail who and what had been saying in our campaign headquarters. Watergate seemed an innocent childish mischief at that moment, and I told them so. It turned out that Andrei Sannikov and members of his election team had been kept under constant external observation. All movement, all contacts with people had been recorded by KGB operatives.

KGB operatives declared expressly that neither the prosecutor’s office nor the court decide anything: they would just formalize what had been decided by the KGB (“kontora”). I could easily believe that after all the things I had experienced and seen.

After a many-hour session of brainwashing, demonstration of all kinds of documents, including financial ones, the situation seemed fatally hopeless to me: the total lawlessness was depressing, there was no use to appeal to common sense or justice.

Finally, the condition for release from the KGB remand prison on recognizance was announced: I was to write an agreement “on voluntarily assistance to the state security bodies of Belarus in realizing their constitutional responsibilities”.

At that moment I decided for myself that I should break away from the KGB by any means. I wrote the text under dictation of an operative. There were no commitments in the text except holding confidential; the fact of signing such a document.

A polygraph was an indispensible procedure. They wanted to find out whether I had another citizenship except Belarusian, whether I worked for foreign intelligence services or whether I got into financial dependency from foreign citizens. Questions about the events of December 19 and financial issues were asked as separate parts.

“Release”

I was released late at night, without documents, money and phone. A day after I was given a special SIM card and obliged to activate it, and stay in touch all the time.

In a few days I addressed Vyasna human rights centre, where I told about what had happened and was happening to me. Later it became known about Mikhalevich’s escape. Unfortunately, I did not have a second valid passport, as he had, and besides, to flee understanding that my escape could become a reason of return to the remand prison of Natallya Radzina and others released on recognizance, as well as threats to my family didn’t allow me to find an easy and quick answer to the question what should I do.

On the next day after Natallya Radzina’s escape I received a phone call from the KGB and was ordered to stay at home and be online on the web. I was called every half an hour, they checked whether I had run away too.  They probably thought it would be a massive escape. They demanded t call everyone and ask where the journalist is.

I didn’t call anyone certainly, and I was very happy that Natallya managed to fool the KGB.

KGB offers

I was amazed by several proposals received from the KGB. First of all, they offered to take part in the parliamentary election. It seems that they are planning to create a KGB faction there.

They also offered to realize my own project, no matter what it would be. They said: you can receive financing and do nothing at all. T my observation that it is illegal to get external financing they answered: we have wide experience of such work, we have schemes…

After refusal and “collaboration” sabotage direct threats and blackmailing followed. I could not put off departure any more.

I understand perfectly well that by making this statement I am certain to become a target for attacks by the KGB and their agents. I was promised serious problems and discrediting in case I would do something of the kind. After the statement of Ales Mikhalevich I was told that secret filming had been used against me as well. I understand that. But I had not planned to act in any other way.

Valyantsin Stefanovich (Vyasna human rights centre):

- I knew about the situation with Uladzimir, I heard it first-hand. In fact, right after the measure of restraint was changed for him for a written undertaking not to leave the place, and he was released from the KGB remand prison, he came into Vyasna office. Ales Byalyatski knew about that as well. Then we met with him many times in the city, so that no one would trace whom Uladzimir meets with, as he was under constant surveillance, serious psychological pressure was exerted on him, he was forced into collaboration.

Uladzimir did not want to cooperate, and from the very beginning of our meeting we started to discuss how to find a way out of this complicated situation. My advice was to tell about all the events publicly and make a public statement about refusing any contacts with the KGB, and to go abroad to avoid possible negative consequences.

We also planned a joint press-conference, which we intended to hold in Vilnius or in other place safe for Uladzimir. I believe he has done everything right, and I call upon everyone who had been forced to sign any documents about collaboration with the KGB under pressure, threats or probably even tortures, to tell about that, otherwise you would not be able to break this vicious circle and become discredited for the rest of your life.