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Belarusian partisan group BYPOL reported on 26 February 2023 that a Russian A-50 ‘Mainstay’ airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft located at Maschulishchy air base in central Belarus, operating in support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, had been damaged by an attack from Partisan-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

A subsequent report on 28 February from the UK Ministry of Defence’s Defence Intelligence organisation noted that, while attribution and damage to the aircraft had not been corroborated, the loss of an A-50 ‘Mainstay’ “would be significant as it is critical to Russian air operations for providing an air battlespace picture”.

BYPOL had reported two explosions and damage to the front and middle sections of the aircraft as well as its radome.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance 2023 lists the Russian Aerospace Forces as having three A-50 and seven A-50U ‘Mainstay’ AEW&C aircraft, although various sources place the number of A-50s being in operational service as lower than this. UK Defence Intelligence stated in its 28 February update that the claimed attack “will likely leave six operational A-50s in service, further constraining Russian air operations” over Ukraine.

Contacted by Reuters on 28 February, BYPOL leader Aliaksandr Azarov told the news organisation that the operation against the Russian A-50, which he claimed had caused serious damage to the aircraft, had taken several months to plan and that “partisans” would try to carry out more actions against Russian military assets in Belarus in the future.

The Belarusian regime of Alexander Lukashenko has lent significant basing support to Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, but has thus far not committed any military forces to the offensive. Exiled Belarusian opposition leaders on the other hand, led by Svetlana Tihanovskaya, have strongly opposed the Russian invasion.

Peter Felstead