Belarusian Special Forces / Reuters
In mid-June, a private security company appeared in Belarus, whose employees have the right to keep, carry and use firearms. A separate decree by Alyaksandr Lukashenka was devoted to the new status of GardServis LLC. Before that, this business area was reserved for government agencies.
"The company was registered in November 2019 and was originally called BelSecurityGroup. Its sole owner is LLC "Globalcastom-Management," a management company tied to customs logistics and wholesale trade. It, in its turn, is owned by Hanna Pushkarova from Belarus with a 60% stake and Anna Khmelevskaya from Ukraine with 40%.
There is no publicly available information about who these ladies are and how they are involved. But the story doesn't end here.
The LLC "GardService" director is Evgeny Chanov, a former serviceman of the 5th Special Purpose Brigade based in Maryina Horka near Minsk. The brigade's unofficial website reports that Chanau created the emblem and distinctive armband of the Special Purpose Company - the "Black Fox," which is still in use today. It also says that reserve captain Yauhen Chanau is the chairman of the public association of the "ASA" special units veteran fund.
At one time, Evgeny Chanov graduated from the special faculty of the Ryazan Airborne Command School. Among the faculty, graduates are the former president of unrecognized South Ossetia, the ex-president of Mali, and several high-ranking security officers of the post-Soviet region.
After leaving the army, Chanov took up documentary films and serials about weapons and worked as a weapons consultant for film crews. But he became widely known for his portraits of famous people. His paintings are owned by Sergei Bezrukov, Dmitry Pevtsov, Sergei Makovetsky, Andrei Konchalovsky, and other Russian celebrities.
Because of the bright background, the fact that Evgeny Chanov also works for the Belarusian state remains little noticed. He is the director of GardServis LLC and deputy director of Belgeopoisk LLC, a public-private firm engaged in geological prospecting around the world.
Belgeopoisk confirmed to Euroradio that Evgeny Chanov continues to work for them.
"Evgeni Vladimirovich is away at the moment, but he will be back next week. Call back on Monday or Tuesday," the company reception desk responded when we asked for a comment on the amber mining in southern Belarus.
As much as 25% of Belgeopoisk LLC is owned by the state enterprise "Belzarubezhtorg" of the Presidential Administration. Belzarubezhtorg is mainly engaged in wholesale and retail trade in oil products. The second owner of the company is... "Globalkastom-Management, which has a 75% stake in Belgeopoisk. The circle is closed.
The well-known Belgeopoisk LLC project in Belarus is an attempt to mine amber in the Brest region. This idea was abandoned in 2018: the investment did not pay off, and no investor was found. The project was supervised by the deputy general director of Belzarubezhtorg, Andrei Kaukhuta, the former head of the Ministry of Natural Resources, who was suspected of forgery by the Investigative Committee. Then it was revealed that the money allocated for geological prospecting had been spent, but the work had been carried out only partially. Another state enterprise was involved in the case - the Research and Production Center for Geology.
Belgeopoisk is engaged in mineral exploration not only in Belarus but also abroad. Among the known directions are Zimbabwe, Sudan, Turkmenistan.
In 2018, Presidential Affairs Manager Viktar Sheiman said that oil, gas, gold, platinum, and other resources in mineral-rich Zimbabwe are of great interest to Belarus. In 2018, there were plans to develop a deposit in Zimbabwe, and a decision was made to set up a mining joint venture.
"Africa is interesting because there are really a lot of minerals that our economy needs like air," Viktar Sheiman said. "Nobody is going to cooperate for free. If they have no money, they are willing to pay with minerals. It suits us fine. The main thing is to shape the economy so that there would be a profit for Belarus."
Yauhen Padhorny, director of Belgeopoisk LLC, which manages the exploration and mining in Africa, has published photos of gold, diamonds, and gold mines from Zimbabwe on his personal page on Facebook. It seems that Belarus is already actively involved in mining in the "brotherly" country.
Before Belgeopoisk, Padhorny headed the "RPC on Geology." According to the information found on social networks and professional sites, he lives in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.
GardServis received a separate - only the 12th - line on the list of legal entities with special statutory tasks. These organizations can use service weapons - paramilitary guards, cash-in-transit services, forest guards, Army, Air Force, Navy Volunteer Society, and others.
In 2019, a private company Energo-Oil, owned by businessman Alyaksei Aleksin and now widely known for "Tabakerka" kiosks, was added to the list. The fact is that CJSC "Energo-Oil" near Minsk has a sports and shooting complex, where it is allowed to provide services for the formation of skills in handling weapons, shooting from combat, service and civilian weapons, and training in shooting. The appearance of "Energo-Oil" in the list has nothing to do with the security activity.
Belsat TV links Alyaksei Aleksin as well as two other major Belarusian businessmen - Mikalai Varabey and Alyaksandr Zaitsau - with Globalkast-Management LLC which, as you may remember, is the sole owner of GardServis LLC. However, there is no direct evidence of their connection.
In 2017, the Federal Customs Service of Russia accused Globalcastom Management of smuggling "sanctioned goods" into Russia. The Belarusian company rejected any suspicions of involvement in illegal schemes to supply banned products. However, Globalcastom-Management admitted that there were attempts to use their details during the smuggling of goods by other persons.
The offices of Globalcastom Management and GardServis are located in the Minsk business center Niahiha City. There is also the office of another large company, "Bremino Group," connected with Aleksin, Varabey, and Zaytsau. However, "Bremino Group" denies any involvement in Globalcastom-Management and GuardServis.
Experts' opinions on what the first Belarusian PSC will do are divided. The coordinator of the "Foreign Policy in Belarus" program, Dzyanis Melyantsou, told Onliner.by that the firm's activity would be aimed abroad:
"Such security structures will probably be hired either to escort cargo or to protect facilities in, say, Venezuela or Africa. Belarus has its own interests there. These are the development of deposits, for example, in Zimbabwe. I think the threads lead there. We can't send our military abroad by various circumstances and laws, and public opinion won't understand it either if suddenly the Belarusian military is found somewhere far from the homeland in unstable spots."
The expert points out that the text of the decree contains no restrictions regarding the activity area. But there is a reference to the international law:
"This shows that such structures will be used not only and not so much on the territory of Belarus, but for some security activity abroad. The reason for the emergence of such a structure could be either a considerable interest of the influential private business or the fact that the state has come to understand the need to protect the Belarusian assets abroad," continues Dzyanis Meliantsou.
Military expert Alyaksandr Alesin, on the contrary, believes that the security organization will operate within Belarus:
"Legally, these are absolutely different things. Private military companies are designed to act outside the country if the government does not want to draw attention. They are used when there are interests in a particular region, but for some reason, it is not profitable to act there openly, for example, as the Russian PMC Wagner. Or the former U.S. Blackwater," Alesin commented on Lukashenka's decree on GardServis for Radio Liberty.
The expert believes that the PSC under the auspices of the Interior Ministry will serve as armed guards in Belarus, with former employees of the Interior Ministry working there.
Judging by the close connection of GardServis with Belgeopoisk, one can conclude that the first Belarusian PSC will still solve problems abroad. Africa is a turbulent place, and Zimbabwe is not the most prosperous country in the region. Mining is a risky business as it is. And it requires serious protection.