A Russian spy plane worth £274 million has been severely damaged by partisans in Belarus.
The A-50 aircraft, which is used to identify and track targets for military operations, was rendered non-operational after local resistance members used drones to drop explosives on it, according to reports.
The Belarusian regime has let its airfields and land be used by Moscow to stage attacks on Ukraine.
It comes as China hailed an “all-weather and comprehensive” strategic partnership with Belarus on Monday, the day before a state visit by President Alexander Lukashenko to Beijing.
The damaged A-50 had reportedly flown six missions into Ukraine on behalf of the Putin regime.
Bypol, a group of Belarusian security officials who resigned in protest against the brutal crushing of anti-regime protests in 2020, claimed the attack.
Aliaksandr Azarau, the group’s chief, said it had taken months to prepare and those responsible had already left the country.
The bombing reportedly damaged the plane’s front and central parts.
“The damage is severe so the plane is not going to go anywhere now,” Bypol said. “Belarusian partisans are consistent in their striving to drive nazis away from their land.”
Franak Viacorka, a close adviser to opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said the attack was the most important on Belarusian soil since the war began.
“This is the most successful diversion since the beginning of 2022,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mr Viacorka also said local authorities imposed heightened measures in the area in the aftermath of the bombing.
“The airfield is cordoned off,” he said. “The KGB and security agencies check cars, employees, residents and passers-by.”
Yuri Ignat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, on Monday hailed the attack as “excellent news”, adding that the A-50 was one of the reconnaissance planes that Russia has been using to locate Ukrainian missile defence during drone attacks.
The Russian Air Force operates just nine similar planes to the one damaged by partisans.
Belarus’s opposition in exile has condemned president Alexander Lukashenko, who won a 2020 election widely seen as rigged, for backing the Kremlin invasion and urged Belarusians to stop Russia from using the country as a staging ground for attacks.
Closer ties between China and Belarus
For several months, train traffic across Belarus faced disruptions as ordinary Belarusians were sabotaging railway infrastructure to halt trainloads carrying Russian weaponry and equipment. Several people were subsequently arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for alleged “terrorist” attacks.
Belarus’ defence ministry on Monday denied reports of any incidents at the airfield, and a Kremlin spokesman on Monday said he had “nothing to say” on the reports.
The incident comes as China hailed an “all-weather and comprehensive” strategic partnership with Belarus on Monday, the day before a state visit by Mr Lukashenko to Beijing.
The foreign ministries of the two countries pledged to bolster the ties between them in a phone call last weekend, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
At least two Russian pro-war correspondents on Sunday quoted their sources in Belarus, confirming the bombing.
Semyon Pegov said on Monday the airfield used by the Russian Air Force was attacked by drones in a surprise assault similar to that on a Russian base in Engels in December that left three people killed.
Russia on Monday renewed drone attacks on Ukraine after a two-week hiatus that had given rise to speculation that the Kremlin could be running low on Iranian-made drones.
Monday’s attack killed at least two people and injured four in the central city of Khmelnytsky even though Ukrainian air defence shot down 11 out of 14 drones.