Anti-war partisans in Belarus claim to have damaged Russian plane
Belarusian anti-war partisans claim to have severely damaged a Russian military aircraft in what an opposition leader has called the “most successful diversion” since the beginning of the war.
BYPOL, the Belarusian partisan organisation, said it had used drones to strike the Machulishchy airfield 12km from Minsk, severely damaging a Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft (Awacs).
“One of the nine Awacs of the Russian aerospace forces worth $330m (was destroyed),” the group said. “These were drones. The participants of the operation are Belarusians. (They have attained) ‘Victory’ and are now safely outside the country. Everyone has escaped.”
The plane “definitely won’t fly anywhere”, it added.
According to some reports, the aircraft was hit by munitions dropped by two drones. A second munition reportedly hit close to the cockpit. “The front and middle section of the aircraft were damaged, as well as avionics and a radar antenna,” said a report attributed to BYPOL.
The damage to the aircraft has not been independently confirmed, although both Russian and Belarusian military bloggers have reported explosions on Sunday at the airfield. One also confirmed “damage to a Russian military transport plane”.
“This is the most successful diversion since the beginning of 2022,” wrote Franak Viačorka, an adviser to the Belarusian opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsihanouskaya. “Two Belarusians conducted the operation. They used drones for this operation and have already left the country and are in safety now.”
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, declined to comment on reports of the attack on Monday. “We have nothing to say about this,” he told journalists on Monday.
The Beriev A50 represents old technology, built around the air frame of an Ilyushin transport plane. While first coming into service in the mid-1980s, it is also still a key military technology.
With about 40 of the aircraft built – and nine reportedly still in active service – they are able to detect when air defence systems are activated and where, allowing Russia to target those air defences. More broadly, such so-called airborne early warning and control aircraft are used to detect aircraft, shipping, missiles, and other incoming projectiles at long ranges, surveil the battlefield and help with battlefield management.
What is concerning for Moscow is that the airbase has also been hosting at least one MIG-31 interceptor, which is capable of carrying a nuclear capable hypersonic missile, aircraft whose launches have been responsible of a number of recent air alarms in Ukraine.
Belarusian opposition forces have previously used drones to strike government targets. As early as 2021, the Black Stork group used drones to drop incendiary devices on riot police headquarters and other government buildings. Belarusian cyber-partisans have also been fighting the government since the 2020 protests against the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko. In 2022, members of the group told the Guardian they had hacked the Belarusian railways to disrupt Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine.
“We don’t want Russian soldiers in Belarus since it compromises the sovereignty of the country and puts it in danger of occupation,” the member of the Cyberpartisans told the Guardian. “It also pulls Belarus into a war with Ukraine. And probably Belarusian soldiers would have to participate in it and die for this meaningless war.”
Lukashenko announced on Monday that Moscow had delivered more weapons systems to the country, including an Iskander short-range ballistic missile system and an S-400 air-defence missile system.
He said the Iskander missile system was delivered with the “relevant stock of missiles”, without further details. Belarus first claimed it had “autonomous” control of Iskander missile systems, which could reach targets in Ukraine or Poland, as of late last year.
“An S-400 long-range air-defence missile system has also been delivered. This is what you, the military, wanted and what you received. It is a serious weapon,” Lukashenko said, according to comments published in state-run media.