How riot police (OMON) and law enforcement officers in civilian clothes work at protests in Belarus. Tactics, the use of special equipment, and what they are afraid of
One of the darkest sides of the current protests in Belarus is the incredible violence by representatives of the security forces against civilians. The cruelest, most often, were and remain riot police officers (OMON or in English SWAT).
A special police detachment has its origins in Belarus since October 3, 1988, and today, according to the latest data, there are 1,368 employees in their ranks, the largest representation in Minsk is 627 people. According to human rights organizations, in modern Belarus, riot police are often used as an instrument of repression.
Protests in Belarus have been going on for more than 120 days, every day people get up in the chain of solidarity and try to demonstrate their attitude in any way: whether it be hanging a white-red-white flag on the balcony (for which they are given up to 15 days of arrest) or buying marshmallows in a store in a combination of the same colors.
But the main day for protests is Sunday - when the largest number of people take to the streets, representatives of power structures also take over to "work". In addition to riot police, others take part: representatives of the internal troops, special forces of special purpose, employees of the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (GUBOPiK), and even traffic police officers, who not only block roads but also help in the detention of drivers, are almost always involved in the crackdown.
As a rule, all routes and any other information related to protest activities are in open channels in Telegram. That is, in 1-2 days the security forces already know where people will gather and where they will go (if the march has a specific theme). There were protest marches when people gathered at the Stella of the hero city, in the center of Minsk, and only then moved in some direction. In other Belarusian cities, especially in small ones, the gathering has always been somewhere in the center.
This state of affairs allowed law enforcement agencies to train and improve their work over time. They learned to "occupy" the rally point and then very successfully disperse people. By the end of autumn, the number of detained citizens increased significantly, which then prompted the protesters to change tactics, which we will discuss below.
How the protests were dispersed until November 22
The main goal for the security forces has always been to prevent protesters from gathering in a critical mass when at least 40 thousand people gathered. The authorities were betting on a complete shutdown of the mobile Internet in the morning, but this did not prevent people from converging with each other, especially with the ability to make calls and send SMS.
On Sundays, when the protesters already knew the final gathering point (now we are talking about Minsk), they moved from all districts and usually walked in small groups to the city center. It was here that the first arrests always began. Typical "minibuses" with paddy wagons began to circulate through the city streets in search of small columns, the most sluggish ones were caught and thrown into these vehicles.
An important role in the work of the security forces is played by the plainclothes officers who can coordinate the work of their colleagues (by joining the protesters) and help in subsequent arrests. Some of them even went to marches and tried to lead the crowd in the wrong direction.
In August, September, and early October, protesters managed to gather in a column that exceeded 100-200 thousand people. Then the security forces began to concentrate on the gathering points, with a large number of equipment and security forces, and to push the protesters away, in fact, preventing them from uniting in this large column.
Despite this, people retreated to the nearest courtyards, regrouped, and then still gathered in a large crowd at another point. They marched through the streets of the city, but later the security forces learned to “break the columns”, abruptly driving into the column from the side, using a lot of their vehicles.
The bulk of the arrests, as a rule, took place after the end of the marches, when people began to disperse home. The first candidates were always those who walked with flags and symbols. Basically, the security forces worked in numerous groups and detained several people at a time, without risking heading towards a large crowd. Almost always, they used flashbang grenades to create fear, in some cases they used weapons with rubber bullets, water cannons, and various firecrackers.
In November, the number of detainees on Sundays each time exceeded 1,500, and the protest changed direction.
With the onset of the first frosts and the continuing increase in detainees on Sundays, the protest decided to change its main tactics. It was decided to organize district marches, where there is no one large column with a hundred thousand people, but they all broke up into smaller ones according to their district. In Minsk, many residents participate in district chats, where they coordinate with their friends and neighbors. People gather at some point, which is agreed in advance, and march through the district. There are dozens of such points in Minsk. Naturally, the security forces cannot cover everything, so they throw their forces at a maximum of a third of them.
The number of protesters, if had reduced, then not much, but the number of detainees has significantly decreased. People have become more mobile and are less afraid of arriving security officials and their special equipment.
What are the security forces afraid of
Despite the fact that the security forces have weapons, transport, special protection, and the law (which is always interpreted in their favor), they do not attack a crowd of people if the number of protesters is at least 2-3 times greater than their number. They may try to push people back, but they don't get too close because they realize that they might be rebuffed. Mass detentions only happen when there are more of them, and they can take advantage of this situation.
Representatives of the security forces are afraid when the protesters do not run away from them and stand in one place, or even worse when they go in their direction and resist.
Tearing off the masks and recording what is happening on video also does not have the best effect on their image, which further spoils the overall picture.
It should be noted once again that the security forces are just like everyone else, they go to the same shops, use public transport and take their children to kindergarten. But it seems that those of them who can think critically and perfectly understand what the whole current situation will lead to are much more afraid than people who risk everything, every time when they go to protest.
Prepared by: Alexander Boltrukevich firstname.lastname@example.org