TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Belarus’s authoritarian leader said Tuesday that an alleged Ukrainian saboteur and more than 20 accomplices were detained after an attack on a Russian warplane stationed near his country’s capital.
President Alexander Lukashenko said a Beriev A-50 parked at Machulishchy Air Base near Minsk was attacked on Feb. 26. It was the first official recognition of the incident, which Belarusian opposition activists first reported last week.
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 target the early-warning aircraft, known for its distinctive “rotodome”. above the fuselage.
Both the Russian and Indian Air Forces have A-50s in service. About 40 aircraft were built.
Lukashenko said Belarusian security forces detained the suspects and the main one allegedly has ties to Ukrainian security services. The Belarusian leader accused Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian security service and the CIA of plotting the attack on the plane.
Ukraine and guerrilla activists in Belarus rejected the accusation.
In a tweet, Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak described the attack as “an anti-terrorist act carried out by local partisans by the way”.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said the ministry “categorically” denies Kiev’s involvement, calling Lukashenko’s claims “another attempt to create an artificial threat from Ukraine to increase its support for the to justify Russian aggression”.
Belarusian authorities did not comment on the incident until 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 be ready to respond swiftly to any sign of aggression along Belarus’ 1,000-kilometer border with Ukraine.
Lukashenko stressed on Tuesday that the plane “has not suffered any significant damage, apart from, as they say, scratches and a hole in the body (of the plane), which does not prevent a warplane from performing its duties.”
He said he had asked Moscow to supply him with the plane “for control along the perimeter of our Belarusian border”. After the attack, Belarusian authorities “asked the Russians to take this plane for maintenance work and send another one to us.” Lukashendo added. “And that’s what happened.”
Russia used the territory of its ally Belarus a year ago to invade Ukraine. Belarus continues to host a contingent of Russian troops, fighter jets and other weapons. — including the A-50 aircraft that
Although Lukashenko applauds the importance of his country’s defense cooperation with Russia and expresses support for the Kremlin’s action in Ukraine, he has stressed that he would only send troops to Ukraine if Belarus came under attack.
The Belarusian president claimed that “hundreds, if not thousands” of security and military agents were involved in the pursuit of the drone operator, and they managed to detain more than 20 of his accomplices.
Lukashenko said the prime suspect was an IT specialist with Russian and Ukrainian passports, born in the Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih and living in Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
In a Tuesday interview with The Associated Press, BYPOL leader Aliaksandr Azarau rejected Lukashenko’s account of the attack and its aftermath.
“We are not familiar with the person Lukashenko was talking about,” Azarau said. “There has been no coordination with the Ukrainians during this operation.”
Those involved in the attack are Belarusian citizens who have all “left abroad and are safe,” the activist said. He would not say how many people are involved.
Azarau said Belarusian authorities carried out mass arrests of protesters, drone owners and residents of the Machulishchy area.
The BYPOL project was founded after mass protests in Belarus in 2020, with former army at its core, and created an underground network of anti-government activists. According to Azarau, this network, called Peramoha – “Victory” in Belarusian – has some 200,000 participants, two-thirds of whom remain in Belarus.
“Lukashenko has something to be afraid of,” Azarau said.
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