elarusian anti-government activists on Sunday claimed they had blown up a sophisticated Russian military surveillance aircraft in a drone attack at an airfield near Minsk.
Aliaksandr Azarov, leader of Belarusian anti-government organisation BYPOL, was quoted as saying that Belarusian “partisans” had used drones to carry out the attack on a Russian Beriev A-50 spy plane, which is thought to be worth £274million.
The plane, which carries the NATO reporting name ‘Mainstay’, is an airborne early warning aircraft with command and control capabilities and the ability to track up to 60 targets at a time.
“They were drones (that carried out the attack). The participants of the operation are Belarusians,” Mr Azarov was quoted as saying on the organisation’s Telegram messaging app and on Poland-based Belsat news channel.
A Russian A-50 early warning aircraft flies above a cathedral during the Victory Day Parade in Moscow, in June 2020
/ REUTERSMr Azarov did not provide immediate evidence to back his claim.
Belarus – a staunch Russian ally – has allowed Moscow to use its territory to launch attacks on Ukraine, but has so far held off from getting directly involved in the war.
BYPOL, which includes former law enforcement officers who support opposition politicians, has been branded a terrorist organisation by Minsk.
The Kremlin declined to comment on Azarov’s claim, saying that the alleged incident had occurred on the territory of Belarus which it said had denied it.
A senior Belarusian official dismissed the claim as fake on Tuesday.
“Given the absence of an official reaction, I am deeply convinced that this is another fake (claim) aimed at highlighting certain failures in our national security,” Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Ambrazevich told Reuters.
Franak Viacorka, an adviser to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, earlier said in a post on Twitter that two Belarusian “partisans” had been involved in the attack on the Machulishchy air base outside Minsk.
He said the drones had damaged the front and central parts of the A-50 plane, including the aircraft’s radar antenna.
The two people who had carried out the attack were now safely outside Belarus, he said.
“I am proud of all Belarusians who continue to resist the Russian hybrid occupation of Belarus & fight for the freedom of Ukraine,” Ms Tsikhanouskaya, the opposition leader, wrote on Twitter, with a link to a report by her adviser Franak Viacorka.
There have been several acts of sabotage in Belarus and in Russian regions bordering Ukraine, especially on the railway system, since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Belarusian human rights group Vyasna said on Monday that a woman was detained in Machulishchy, where the air base is located. It said it was unaware of the reason for the detention.
Detentions in Belarus are common, especially after President Alexander Lukashenko crushed mass protests against him in 2020 and jailed all leading opposition figures or forced them to flee abroad.