A £274million Russian spy plane has reportedly been destroyed in a drone attack near Minsk by a pro-Ukraine Belarus group.
Belarusian partisans and members of the country’s exiled opposition said they damaged Vladimir Putin’s A-50U surveillance military aircraft in a secret mission.
Two participants had used drones and had already left the country, claimed Franak Viacorka, a close adviser of opposition figurehead Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Front and central parts of the AWACS Beriev A-50U aircraft as well as the radar antenna were damaged from two explosions at the Machulishchy air base near Minsk, Belarusian anti-government organisation BYPOL claimed.
‘Partisans… confirmed a successful special operation to blow up a rare Russian plane at the airfield in Machulishchy near Minsk,’ tweeted Viacorka. ‘This is the most successful diversion since the beginning of 2022.’
Belarus partisans and members of the exiled opposition said they damaged a Russian A-50 surveillance military aircraft (file image) as part of a secret mission
The Beriev A-50, which has the Nato reporting name of Mainstay, has airborne command and control capabilities and can track up to 60 targets at a time.
The distinctive plane carries a fibreglass dome more than 33ft in diameter, housing rotating antenna of the Shmel radar complex. Its long-range radar detection system has been used to pinpoint bombing targets inside Ukraine.
‘I am proud of all Belarusians who continue to resist the Russian hybrid occupation of Belarus & fight for the freedom of Ukraine,’ Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter.
Reports of the drone attack could not be independently verified. There was no confirmation from Russia or Belarus or immediate response from their defence ministries to requests for comment.
But residents said a major search was under way by police and security services close to Machulishchi in the Minsk region, according to reports.
A local resident said: ‘Half of Machulishchi is cordoned off. Lots of soldiers everywhere. We saw five military vehicles with machine guns. They are stopping all cars and minibuses there, checking bags and car boots.’
Since the start of Russia’s invasion a year ago, there have been several acts of sabotage in Belarus and Russian regions bordering Ukraine, especially on the rail system.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, a key Putin ally, provided Moscow with a launching pad for the invasion and there has been Russian and Belarusian military activity in the country since then.
Ukrainian servicemen of the 68th Separate Jager Infantry Brigade Oleksa Dovbush fire an M2 machine gun on a frontline position at an undisclosed location in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, on Sunday
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, a key Putin ally (pictured together on February 17), provided Moscow with a launching pad for the invasion and there has been Russian and Belarusian military activity in the country since then
Kyiv says Russia has also used Belarusian air strips as a base from which to launch strikes on Ukraine.
In recent months, Belarus and Russia have held a series of military operations and Ukraine has expressed fears that Minsk will enter the conflict. A number of Russian warplanes and early warning and control aircraft have been deployed to Belarus.
The destroyed A-50 plane reportedly carried the registration number RF-50608. It arrived in Belarus on January 3 and had made a dozen sorties linked to the war in Ukraine.
Russia has only six such modernised A-50U aircraft, each of which has a crew of 15.
Machulishchi is used to base Putin’s MiG-31K fighter jets – which carry hypersonic Kinzhal missiles – for attacks on Ukraine. These MiGs are often accompanied by the A-50U during operations.
The A-50U is designed to detect, track and identify aerial and large ground and naval targets, transmit data to command posts, and direct fighter jets to aerial targets.
The Belarusian human rights group Viasna said on Monday that a woman was detained in Machulishchy but the reason and her whereabouts were not known.
There was no information on whether the detention was related to the alleged sabotage of the aircraft.
Detentions are common in Belarus, for offences as small as comments on social media, especially after Lukashenko crushed the mass-pro democracy protests in 2020 and jailed all leading opposition figures or forced them to flee abroad.
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