Spies like us

It’s a cold war redux as the government of Belarus cries “spy”:

Belarus on Monday accused the United States of recruiting citizens into a spy ring aimed at undermining the ex-Soviet republic.

The U.S. State Department said the allegation was “just ridiculous” and that the department was considering whether to close its embassy in Minsk.

Tension has been building between Washington and the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko, and most U.S. Embassy employees have been expelled in recent months.

Valery Nadtachayev, a spokesman for the main security agency, the KGB, told Belarusian television on Monday that the U.S. Embassy had hired 10 local citizens to take photographs of police officials, airports and villages near the state border.

For an administration that still calls its state security agency the KGB, this isn’t a surprise. Just last week the U.S. talked of closing its embassy due to diplomatic shenanigans which, although revived in the past months, have roots that go back more than a decade.

When I lived in Minsk in 1998-99, the U.S. ambassador was absent much of the time because Lukashenko evicted him along with emissaries from other countries because their houses were too close to his own. Basically, they were in the same neighborhood, and he wanted them out.

Ten years later, Lukashenko still seeks to evict (or suppress) anyone who criticizes his authoritarian style government.

Could it be that U.S. operatives are snapping nefarious photos around the countryside, exposing weaknesses in preparation for invasion? It’s highly doubtful, but in Lukashenko’s world, anything is possible — anything except a few people taking pictures.