Will the internal troops transform into the Belguard?
A distinct power structure might emerge in Belarus, akin to the Russian National Guard, as the reform proposes separating the Internal Troops from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Mikalai Karpiankou is advocating for this change, signaling not only his growing ambitions but also hinting at potential preparation of special forces for involvement in a conflict with Ukraine.
According to reports, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and Commander of the Internal Troops, Mikalai Karpiankou, is pushing for the separation of the Internal Troops from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, aiming to establish a structure similar to the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia). Currently, Belarusian military forces exist within the Ministry of Internal Affairs system as the Main Directorate, with an estimated 12-15 thousand military personnel. If the Internal Troops transform into a hypothetical Belguard, Karpiankou would likely be elevated to the ministerial level, allowing him to directly communicate with Alexander Lukashenka, bypassing the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ivan Kubrakou, who logically opposes this reform. Lukashenka’s decision not to dismiss Karpiankou in September 2023 hints at the dictator’s support for the security official. It’s expected that the Russian Guard will serve as a model for the creation of the Belgvardia.
The National Guard of Russia came into existence in April 2016 with a strength of 360 thousand people (with the prospect of increasing to 400 thousand) based on the internal troops and police special forces of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. It was led by Viktor Zolotov, the head of Vladimir Putin’s Security Service from 1999 to 2013. Information about the formation of such a structure emerged as early as 2012, following mass opposition protests on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow.
The Russian Guard was officially tasked with maintaining order, protecting critical facilities, combating terrorism and extremism, and handling emergencies, martial law, counter-terrorist operations, and more. However, experts interpreted its creation as Putin’s attempt to shield himself from potential disloyalty within other law enforcement agencies or mass protests. Over time, the Russian Guard expanded its functions to include operational search and intelligence activities.
It is important to highlight that Ukrainian experts were already raising concerns when the Russian Guard was being formed. These specialists speculated that in the event of a full-scale invasion, the Russian Guard would act as an occupying army, moving in the rear echelons to maintain control over the occupied territories. And that’s exactly what happened. When Ukraine was attacked on February 24, 2022, units of the Russian Guard were part of the initial assault alongside the Russian Armed Forces. However, due to the inadequate equipment of armored vehicles, they essentially functioned as light infantry units – and consequently, they suffered significant losses. Later on, the Russian Guard took part in occupation activities in Ukrainian territories seized by the Russian Armed Forces.
Special forces units within the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus, initiated by Karpiankou, are modeled on the “heavy formations” of the Wagner group within the Russian Guard. Karpiankou actively integrates fighters from the Wagner PMC, studying their combat experience in Ukraine. He maintains direct contacts with the leadership of the Russian Guard and other law enforcement agencies in Russia, bypassing the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The leadership of the Russian Guard has learned from these mistakes. Under new legislation, they now have the authority to establish volunteer units equipped with heavy weapons. These units are primarily made up of former fighters from the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) who have enlisted with the Russian Guard.
Karpiankou is spearheading the creation of Special Forces Units within the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Belarus. These units are designed based on the “heavy formations” of the Wagner group within the Russian Guard. Under Karpiankou’s initiative and guidance, the Internal Troops actively incorporate fighters from the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC) and delve into their combat experiences in Ukraine. What’s more, Karpiankou directly establishes and maintains contacts with the leadership of the Russian Guard, sidestepping the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and also collaborates with other law enforcement agencies in the Russian Federation.
Therefore, turning the Internal Troops into a separate entity under Karpiankou’s guidance, modeled after the Russian Guard, can be viewed as a recognition for his role in quelling protests and enforcing mass repression between 2020 and 2023. However, the real objective behind these changes is to prepare specialized battalion groups for active involvement in a war. The creation of a “people’s militia” was specifically geared towards substituting fighters during operations in Ukraine, and it will assume some of the functions of the Internal Troops within Belarus. For example, the “militia” will be tasked with aiding territorial law enforcement bodies in maintaining martial law (ML) and safeguarding property from criminal assaults, which may involve the use of force and weapons.
There’s a possibility that Karpiankou is entertaining more ambitious plans. Perhaps, he aims to establish a super agency that combines the roles of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and the State Security Committee (KGB), but with a more substantial power base. An earlier attempt by his former boss from the “Almaz” special unit and Minister of Internal Affairs, Vladimir Naumov, in the 2000s to execute a similar reform ended in a defeat against the KGB and the “young wolves,” resulting in resignation and fleeing to Russia. If, back then, Lukashenka blocked the creation of such a super-agency, fearing a potential Kremlin-inspired coup, today he may have little choice but to accept Karpiankou’s reform—especially if the Kremlin is backing it. However, similar to the 2000s, this initiative is encountering opposition from various officials, starting from heads of the MVD to the KGB.
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