Belarus special forces officer: why I fled to the EU
The Diamond - an elite special forces unit in Belarus - is the personal security detail of President Alexander Lukashenko.
In a secret location outside the country, a former Diamond officer, Igor Makar, spoke to EUobserver about his experiences and why he fled to seek refuge in the EU.
He said the Lukashenko system has turned rank-and-file police and the state security service, the KGB, into "criminals".
"The state itself makes criminals out of the police because they are entirely dependent on the state and carry out any order [they are given]. If the order is not fulfilled, then you will be fired and you can no longer feed your family," he explained.
The 35-year-old trained and worked for seven and a half years as an expert in close combat and small arms. He started out doing security for the interior minister. Then he moved to a spetsnaz unit stationed on the border and, finally, to the Diamond.
At the time, the Diamond was primarily a counter-terrorist squad. It also used to combat hard-core street thugs and organised crime, including arms and drugs traffickers.
In 2003, it gave a brief demonstration of its abilities for the President himself. "Now I see, I have security," said Lukashenko - impressed by the men's display of strength and skill - and Makar's unit was immediately upgraded.
Its primary task became to guard a man who had become isolated, feared and loathed.
The 2003 exercise was the first and last time that Makar spoke to Lukashenko. He stepped down from the Diamond shortly afterward because he felt uncomfortable about its extra duties - to beat, intimidate and even kill people who opposed the regime.
He says that he saw families torn apart and fathers and sons taken away never to return.
His life changed in 2006 when Alyaksandr Kazulin hired him to run his personal security.
Kazulin - a former university rector who used to be close to Lukashenko and to hand over lists of "dissident" students to the KGB - ran for president himself in the 2006 elections. A gifted demagogoue, he whipped up crowds with vulgar insults against the dictator, stealing the spotlight from other opposition candidates.
The then interior minister Vladimir Naumov approached Makar and asked him to spy on Kazulin.
Makar told his new boss and they agreed to feed Naumov bogus information. Makar used to record his conversations with Naumov. But word got out and he realised that his life was in danger.
Shortly after the elections, Kazulin was beaten up and arrested on charges of instigating an uprising. He was jailed and went on hunger strike to save his life by attracting the attention of Western diplomats.
Meanwhile, Makar left Belarus for Russia and then disappeared into the EU, where he now runs a small business. His sister and his young nephew also went to Europe and got asylum earlier this year. But his mother stayed behind.
He is still haunted by his memories and hopes one day to go home. "I cannot remain indifferent to what happened and to what is happening now in Belarus," he told this website.
He keeps in contact with serving Diamond officers and said some of them are becoming disgruntled with the regime. But he declined to go into details.
As for Kazulin, he is free and mixes in intellectual circles. This reporter saw him in November 2011 in central Minsk, mingling with artists and writers at a gallery opening for painter Ales Marachkin.
Naumov resigned as interior minister in 2009, at a time when Lukashenko was trying to mend relations with the West.
But the 56-year-old - who is directly implicated in the vanishing 12 years ago of four opposition activists - is still under an EU visa ban and asset freeze.
The blacklist today numbers almost 250 people and 29 regime-linked firms.