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One of Russia’s most advanced spy planes has been destroyed by two drones at a military airbase in Belarus, according to local reports.
The £274 million Beriev A-50U AWACS aircraft was “significantly damaged” in a multi-drone attack by pro-Ukraine partisans from Belarus
The “front and central parts of the aircraft, its avionics and radar antennae” were hit, according to a report from the independent Belarusian Hajun news service.
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The A-50U long-range radar detection and control aircraft carries a fibreglass dome more than 33ft in diameter which houses the rotating antenna of the Shmel radar system. It had been used to pinpoint bombing targets inside Ukraine for Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s bombers.
The aircraft had been spotted arriving at Machulishchi on December 14 as part of Putin’s build-up of forces close to Ukraine.
The A-50U is “actively employed” by Putin’s war machine for “accomplishing missions in the special operation”, a defence industry source earlier told TASS.
A Russian military transport aircraft and several snow-clearing vehicles were also damaged in the audacious strike.
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Belarus security forces reportedly found an abandoned bag containing drone control equipment close to the the site of the operation.
Neither the Russian nor Belarussian defence ministries commented on the explosions.
Major searches were under way by police and security services close to Machulishchi in Minsk region, according to reports.
Aliaksandr Azarov, head of Belarusian partisan group BYPOL told Belsat: “These were drones. The participants of the operation were Belorussians, taking part in the ‘Peramoga’ [Belarus for Victory) plan.
“They are now safe outside the country – they have all gone.
“[The Belarus security services] may keep looking for them but they will have the same luck as searching for wind in a field.”
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A local resident said: “Half of Machulishchi is cordoned off.
“Lots of soldiers everywhere. We saw five military vehicles with machine guns. They are stopping all cars and minibuses there, checking bags and car boots.”
BYPOL said the plane was badly damaged and “definitely won’t fly anywhere”.
The destroyed AWACS plane. registration number RF-50608, is one of only only six such modernised A-50U aircraft, each of which carries a crew of 19 . Its advanced systems can track 60 airborne or surface targets simultaneously.
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Machulishchi is used as a base for Putin’s MiG-31K fighter jets – which carry hypersonic Kinzhal missiles – that are carrying out attacks on Ukraine.
These MiGs are often guided to their targets by the A-50U. The A-50U is designed to detect, track and identify aerial, large ground and naval targets, transmit relevant data to command posts, and direct fighter jets to aerial targets.
Belarus exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said: "I am proud of all Belarusians who continue to resist the Russian hybrid occupation of Belarus & fight for the freedom of Ukraine.”
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