Ukraine allies in Belarus reportedly damage Russian AWACS in drone strike

Ukraine Belarus Russian drone

An opposition organization active in Moscow-allied Belarus says it took a page from its invasion-fighting neighbors to the south by using drones to drop munitions on a Russian warplane that had been used to assist rocket strikes on Ukraine, purportedly inflicting considerable damage.

The BYPOL group opposing authoritarian Belarus leader and Moscow supporter Alexander Lukashenko says it struck a blow to the continuing Russian attacks on Ukraine with a drone strike Sunday. It claimed air-dropped explosives damaged one of the Russian Air Force’s Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft (AWACS). The reconnaissance plane had been flown allegedly 12 different times in recent weeks to locate where Ukraine air defense systems had been activated so Russian rocket strikes could be directed to take them out.

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Various media reports quoted comments by BYPOL saying its members had been behind the drone attack at Machulishchy airfield, located near the Belarus capital Minsk. The group assured that the Beriev A-50 targeted “definitely won’t fly anywhere” in future missions against Ukraine.

“These were drones. The participants of the operation are Belarusians,” BYPOL said of the aerial attack, which it claimed destroyed “one of the nine AWACS of the Russian aerospace forces worth $330m.”

No information about what kind of drones were used in the operation, but reports say a pair of UAVs dropped munitions on the Beriev A-50, hitting the cockpit and central area and damaging its avionics and radar systems.

Made up largely of former law enforcement members to oppose Lukashenko’s rule and undermine his assistance to Russia’s war on Ukraine, BYPOL’s drone strike on the Beriev A-50 was arguably its most successful aerial operation – but far from its first. The federation of allied groups had previously deployed UAVs in the past to drop firebombs on government targets. 

However, it had primarily focused its activities on sabotaging railway assets used in aiding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was only after a recent crackdown led to participants in those rail operations being sentenced to prison that BYPOL activists began searching for new targets – ultimately setting their sights on the Beriev A-50.

“It takes three to four months to prepare a [sabotage] action,” said BYPOL leader Aliaksandr Azarov in comments to the Belarusian press subsequently picked up by the Euro Maidan Press outlet. “You have to do the reconnaissance, and find directions to approach. We had a lot of options. One action doesn’t work, we take on another. And that’s how our guerrillas found such an interesting object. Of course, we suggest options to the guerrillas, but they also, depending on their capabilities, offer objects. It’s teamwork.”

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Though purported damage done to the aircraft hasn’t been substantiated independently, observers in Belarus confirmed explosions occurred at the airfield on Sunday, while BYPOL noted the two drone pilots responsible for those “are now safely outside the country.”

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