Mysterious death could have KGB links

by Tom Washington

The death of opposition activist and journalist Oleg Bebenin has thrown a murky light on both the circumstances of his demise and those who might be behind it. Those close to the dead man claim foul play, and dark rumours are circulating about President Lukashenko's cash-strapped government.

In the lead up to Belarusian elections speculation is bubbling about rebel undercurrents in the regime and the motivation of potential perpetrators is far from straightforward - with some pointing the finger at Minsk's modern-day KGB.

"I was on the scene and I must say that I do not believe in Oleg's suicide. There is a lot here that is very questionable," leader of Charter 97 and presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov told Moskovsky Komsomolets. Bebenin was a member of the group.

An unlikely suicide

"What I get from this is the impression that nobody thought that he had any signs of depression. But it would be rather difficult to prove that it was suicide," Jana Kobzova at the European Council on Foreign Relations told The Moscow News.

There were certainly strange circumstances. "There was not a crumb of food around," one witness said. "And two bottles of Belovzhskogo Balsam, which he wouldn't have drunk even at gunpoint, seeing as he was one of the country's leading whisky experts."

"And there was some [Balsam] at the wheel [of his car]. He had to go to the cinema and people were waiting for him, but he sent a text message saying not to wait for him at the cafe but go straight on to the cinema."

Of his body, "His feet were stood on the ground, not hanging. And there was a scratch on his hand." There was no note.

KGB implicated

If Bebenin, who leaves behind a wife and two young children, did not take his own life there are lively conspiracy theories.

"It is not in the interests of Lukashenko for this guy to be dead because it sheds the obvious suspicion that the government were behind it," said Kobzova. "There are rival factions in the regime and the most radical is the security forces." The more Lukashenko pays his overtures to the EU the more Belarus has to open up and, "the less breathing space for security forces."

The death of a high profile activist and journalist could derail discussions with Europe and thus undermine Lukashenko's regime whose western advances the KGB, as they are still called in Belarus, look on with disfavour.

And the security forces have some unlikely allies here. Charter 97 also believes that the EU should sever relations with Belarus while Lukashenko is still in power, as his concessions to human rights have been perfunctory.

"The pre-election season in Berlarus only highlights that this will be a politically sensitive case - both for Minsk and Brussels," says Kobzova.


Partners: Social Network