Putin exits plane after arriving in Belarus
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The UK Defence Ministry has issued new information about the attack on a Russian warplane stationed in Belarus and blamed by Lukashenko on an alleged Ukrainian saboteur and more than 20 accomplices. Belarusian guerrillas from the Association of Security Forces of Belarus claimed responsibility for the attack last week, saying the group, also known as BYPOL, used two armed drones to damage the early warning aircraft known for its distinctive “rotodome” above the fuselage.
Lukashenko said Belarusian security forces detained the suspects and that the main one allegedly has ties to Ukrainian security services.
The Belarusian leader accused Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s Security Service and the CIA of plotting the attack on the plane.
Ukraine and guerrilla activists in Belarus rejected the accusation.
On Thursday, the UK Ministry of Defence said: “On 07 March 2023, Belarusian President Alexandr Lukashenko confirmed that one of Russia’s small fleet of A-50U MAINSTAY D airborne early warning and control aircraft deployed in Belarus had been damaged.
“The aircraft was almost certainly attacked by a small uncrewed air system.
“The MAINSTAY has likely now been moved to a repair facility at Taganrog in Russia. The transit flight reportedly took place at a lower than usual altitude, likely because of damage to the pressurised cabin.
“The MAINSTAY was likely providing situational awareness for MiG-31K FOXHOUND D fighter aircraft modified to launch the AS-24 KILLJOY air launched ballistic missile which Russia sees as a key strategic capability.
“The modification saw the jets’ internal radar removed to balance the airframe, making pilots reliant on external sources of situational awareness, such as MAINSTAY.
“It is a realistic possibility that joint Russo-Belarusian air activity will now be forced to rely on ground control and fighter escort until another MAINSTAY can be deployed.”
In a tweet, Ukraine’s presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak described the attack as “an anti-terrorist act carried out, by the way, by local partisans.”
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said the ministry “categorically” denies Kyiv’s involvement, calling Lukashenko’s claims “another attempt at creating an artificial threat from Ukraine to justify his support of Russia’s aggression.”
Belarusian authorities did not comment on the incident before Tuesday, but Lukashenko held a meeting with military and security officials shortly after it was reported. He urged them to strengthen discipline in the ranks and to stand ready to quickly respond to any sign of aggression along Belarus’ 1,000-kilometre border with Ukraine.
Lukashenko insisted Tuesday that the aircraft “hasn’t suffered any significant damage, aside from, as they say, scratches and a hole in the body (of the plane), which doesn’t hinder a war plane from carrying out its duties.”
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He said he had asked Moscow to supply him with the plane “for control along the perimeter of our Belarusian border.” Following the attack, Belarusian authorities “asked the Russians to take this plane for maintenance works and send another one to us.” Lukashendo added. “And that is what happened.”
Russia has used the territory of its ally Belarus to invade Ukraine a year ago. Belarus has continued to host a contingent of Russian troops, warplanes and other weapons — including the A-50 plane.
While hailing the importance of his country’s defence cooperation with Russia and expressing support for the Kremlin’s action in Ukraine, Lukashenko has emphasised that he would only send troops into Ukraine if Belarus were attacked.
The Belarusian president alleged that “hundreds, if not thousands” of security and military operatives were involved in chasing the drone operator, and they managed to detain more than 20 of his accomplices.
Lukashenko said the main suspect was an IT specialist with Russian and Ukrainian passports who was born in the Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih and lived in Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
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