In a matter of hours, Syarhey Haurylin single-handedly managed to shine a spotlight on Belarus's ill-famed secret services, set the Internet abuzz, and wreak havoc on the country's opposition.
Not bad for a 26-year-old who modestly describes himself as an "ordinary person."
The storm around Haurylin began on August 15, the day he went online and posted his "Diary of a Source" -- a rambling confession of what he describes as an almost four-year stint spying on the Belarusian opposition for the KGB secret service.
The 50-page document (available here
in Russian), which Haurylin posted after fleeing to Berlin, recounts in detail how the KGB allegedly recruited him to infiltrate and inform on the opposition movement in his hometown of Homel in southeastern Belarus.
It also contains damaging accusations against local opposition leaders.
But even as he published his scandalous and occasionally self-aggrandizing claims -- several times likening himself to James Bond -- Haurylin has expressed the desire to wipe the slate clean.
"I made a mistake. I sinned," writes Haurylin in the introduction to his diary. "I don't want to lie to anyone anymore. I want to be honest. I want people to believe me."
Gaining his readers' trust, however, may prove difficult for Haurylin, as doubts linger both about the authenticity of his story and his motives for publishing the diary.
History Of Subversion
While some praise the self-professed ex-mole for coming clean and uncovering the KGB's dirty tricks, others see the diary as an attempt by the secret police to discredit Belarus's already fractured opposition.
The KGB has so far declined to comment on the case. Haurylin, who gave an interview to Deutsche Welle in Berlin on August 26, has since returned to Belarus and is keeping a low profile.
"I've already said everything I wanted to say," he wrote in an e-mail from Berlin to decline an interview request from RFE/RL's Belarus Service.
A former KGB operative, Valery Kostka, says the KGB has a history of infiltrating the opposition to undermine its fight against the country's authoritarian president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Kostka, for one, believes Haurylin's account. "I am 95 percent convinced that this guy was really recruited, but that he was experiencing an internal battle and consequently felt compelled to tell the truth," he says.
"This is a courageous step, in the sense that he understood the most important thing -- that he was being used against the country's interests, because secret services should never serve solely either the government or the opposition. There should be an open competition between the two."Detailed Information
Haurylin claims he was paid up to $115 a month to inform on the Homel opposition.
His diary gives detailed information on the opposition's activities, relates dozens of alleged conversations with KGB officials, and describes the methods used by the secret services to recruit and later manipulate him.
Haurylin even provides phone numbers -- currently switched off -- that allegedly belong to his KGB supervisors. He also lists the address of a Homel flat that he says the KGB used as a secret meeting point.
Tsyanyuta, a Youth Front opposition activist, says the diary mentions several real conversations he had with Haurylin.
"I think it's entirely possible that he collaborated with the secret services. His diary contains some real facts. For instance, that he used to print flyers for me, and that he asked me about the investigator in charge of the current criminal case against me," he tells RFE/RL's Belarus Service.
"I think Syarhey just grew tired of playing a double game and wanted to make a graceful exit. That's his style. He thought this would be an elegant move."
Tsyanyuta says the KGB recently tried to recruit another Youth Front campaigner, Dzmitry Fiaskou, who refused to cooperate and wrote about his experience on the Internet.
Both Haurylin's and Fiaskou's accounts, he says, are useful testimonies that can help dissuade the KGB from using moles within the opposition.Libeling The Opposition
But not all opposition members are willing to forgive Haurylin.
Uladzimer Katsora, a prominent Homel opposition campaigner, dismisses the diary as a KGB-authored fake aimed at spreading lies about the opposition.
Katsora describes Haurylin as "a very egotistical person who thinks only of his own interests. He worked for money for the KGB and writes that he also took money from the opposition. I think this diary was initiated and drafted by the KGB. Haurylin then added a few artistic flourishes. The opposition now works in open conditions; it has little to hide."
Although Haurylin writes that he met "wonderful people" within the opposition, he also describes the Belarusian opposition as "totally controlled by the KGB" and accuses opposition leaders -- including Katsora -- of routinely pocketing for personal use foreign grant money meant to fund opposition activity.
"An electoral victory of [opposition leader Alyaksandr] Milinkevich is not in Katsora's interest," Haurylin quotes his KGB supervisor as saying ahead of the 2006 presidential election, which Lukashenka won in a landslide.
"After all, Katsora is paid to fight against Lukashenka's regime. As long as the regime exists, Katsora will have money. The others are just the same."
Haurylin says he himself created a bogus ecological group that won a $7,700 grant from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a U.S. nonpartisan organization promoting democracy worldwide.
"Are they complete idiots? Don't they understand they are being duped?" he writes. He goes on to describe how he laundered these funds with the KGB's help.
An NDI representative told RFE/RL she was aware of the allegations but declined to comment.
The "Diary of a Source" ends with a last post dated August 26, in which Haurylin announces his decision to leave Berlin and return to Belarus despite fears that "something bad" may happen to him.
So far, however, nothing bad seems to have happened to Haurylin. His return to Homel passed without incident, and there have been no reports of his arrest since.
Nor were there repercussions for Ulad Mikhaylau, another Belarusian activist who confessed two years ago to having spied on the opposition for the secret services.
Mikhaylau's experience was of interest for Haurylin, who noted in his diary that a KGB official said they decided against "chopping his head off" when Mikhaylau returned from studies in Poland after making his confession, and even allowed him to be reinstated at Homel State University, from which he had previously been expelled.
So are Mikhaylau's and Haurylin's confessions indeed part of a larger KGB ploy to hurt the opposition? Or are Belarus's secret services simply considerably more accommodating than one could expect from a country dubbed "Europe's last dictatorship?"
Either way, "Diary of a Source" suggests Haurylin's true talent may lie not in activism or espionage, but the art of self-promotion. "All the world's a stage," Haurylin begins his journal, quoting William Shakespeare. "And all the men and women merely players."