Article by Pavel Latushko in the Dutch publication NOS
Original article in NOS
There is a "rail war" going on in Belarus. Hackers and railway workers paralyse train traffic by blowing up switchboards, disabling signals and hacking into IT systems. These actions lead to trains stopping or having to be manually moved along a section of track at snail’s pace.
Through such guerrilla actions, railway guerrillas succeed in thwarting the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Supplies of arms, fuel and food to troops in north-eastern Ukraine are mainly delivered via the railway network of Russia’s ally Belarus. Rebuilding the weakened battalions around Kiev and Chernihiv is also hampered by the railway war.
The implications for world trade are also significant. The New Silk Road, a rail route between China and Europe, runs directly through Belarus. According to financial news agency Bloomberg, almost 1.5 million containers were moved along this rail line last year, accounting for about 4% of total trade between China and Europe.
"Switchboards were burned in several regions and sections of track were temporarily blocked," said Belarusian opposition leader Pavel Latushko. He was a minister under Lukashenko from 2009 to 2012, but later turned his back on the dictator. "We try to support the partisans in every possible way. They show that the population does not support the war."
For a long time, the authorities did not comment on the sabotage. However, at least 38 railway workers have been arrested and accused of terrorist acts. Additional patrols have been organised along the route. A Telegram channel of railway activists has been called "extremist".
Video footage was released this week showing arrested railway workers "confessing" to taking part in acts of sabotage. Belarusian authorities have been known to record such "confession videos" under pressure.
"Belarus has a history of sabotage on the railway," says Pavel Latushko. "During World War II, Nazi Germany’s offensive against the Soviet Union on Belarusian territory was thwarted by partisans who blew up railway bridges and crossings. Everyone in Berarus knows about the so-called rail war of 1943," he says.
"The current actions are different," says Latushko, "We are not putting people in danger, we are just interfering with military transport."
Sabotage in 2022 is not just on the ground. A large part of the rail war is being waged by "Cyberguerrillas", a group of 35 hackers who disable entire systems or infect them with viruses. The Cyberguerrillas have been active for several years and previously managed to hack, among others, the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The Belarusian authorities are barely able to repel cyber attacks. The country had a large IT sector, but after protests related to Lukashenko’s fraudulent re-election, many IT professionals turned away from the regime or left the country. After the closure of online train ticketing, it took two weeks for the system to work again.
"Russia's resistance is not limited to railways. In Ukraine, volunteers from Belarus are also active in the fight against the Russian army. Resistance on the railway does not mean that Lukashenko’s opposition becomes more violent," says opposition leader Latushko. "We promise the fighters against Russian aggression that they will not be persecuted once Lukashenko is ousted and the Dems come to power."
The cyber guerrillas say they are open to talks with the Belarusian authorities. "If they need a track for the withdrawal of military equipment from Ukraine, we will cooperate," they said.
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