Russian plane destroyed near Minsk airfield: Belarus opposition

The attack on the Russian surveillance plane comes amid increased cooperation between Minsk and Moscow.

A satellite view of the Machulishchy air base outside Minsk showing runways, and a large number of Belarusian and suspected Russian helicopters.
The drone attack took place at the Machulishchy air base, according to the Belarus opposition [File: Planet Labs PBC via AFP]

A Russian A-50 military surveillance aircraft has been damaged in a drone attack at an airfield near the Belarusian capital of Minsk, according to Belarus partisans and members of the exiled opposition.

“Those were drones. The participants of the operation are Belarusian,” Alexandr Azarov, leader of Belarusian antigovernment organisation BYPOL, was quoted as saying on Sunday on the organisation’s Telegram messaging app and on the Poland-based Belsat news channel.

“They are now safe, outside the country.”

Belsat is a Polish broadcaster focused on Belarusian news that Minsk has branded as extremist. BYPOL, which includes former law enforcement officers who support opposition politicians, has been branded a “terrorist” organisation.

“Partisans … confirmed a successful special operation to blow up a rare Russian plane at the airfield in Machulishchy near Minsk,” tweeted Franak Viacorka, a close adviser of opposition figurehead Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

“This is the most successful diversion since the beginning of 2022,” he added.

It was not possible to independently verify the reported operation, and authorities in Russia and Belarus have not made statements on the alleged attack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko arrive for a news conference following their meeting in Minsk, Belarus.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (left) has been a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin [File: Sputnik/Pavel Bednyakov/Kremlin via Reuters]

Front and central parts of the aircraft as well as the radar antenna were damaged as a result of two explosions, BYPOL reported.

The Beriev A-50 aircraft is a Russian airborne early warning aircraft with the ability to track up to 60 targets at a time.

Belarus has not taken a direct role in Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, but President Alexander Lukashenko did allow Belarusian territory to be used as a staging post by Russian forces for their February 24, 2022, invasion. He said earlier this month that Belarus was ready to do so again.

Kyiv has accused Russia of using Belarusian airstrips as a base to launch attacks on Ukraine and has voiced concerns for months that Belarus could join the war on Russia’s side.

Russia and Belarus have set up a joint military unit in Belarus and have held numerous exercises. A number of Russian warplanes and airborne early warning and control aircraft have also been deployed to Belarus.

Lukashenko is due to begin a state visit to China on Tuesday, days after Beijing published a 12-point framework for peace in Ukraine.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies