Belarus group claims to have blown up an advanced Russian military aircraft, highlighting tensions within one of Putin's closest allies

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 17, 2023
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia, February 17, 2023.Vladimir Astapkovich, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
  • Opposition activists in Belarus said they destroyed a Russian military aircraft near Minsk.

  • The head of a group opposing Belarus' dictator said those behind the attack escaped the country.

  • Belarus is Russia's closest European ally, and has aided in its invasion of Ukraine.

Belarus opposition figures said on Monday that they had damaged a Russian military jet that was parked in their country, an unexpected attack within Russia's closest European ally.

The head of Belarusian opposition group BYPOL took responsibility for the attack, with its leader, Aliksandr Azarov, saying on Telegram that it was accomplished using drones. "Those were drones. The participants of the operation are Belarusian," he wrote, according to Reuters.

BYPOL is a group of current and former law enforcement officers who oppose the government led by President Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and is known as "Europe's last dictator."

Azarov said that the people responsible for the attack "are now safe, outside the country."

He told Polish news outlet Belsat, which is aimed at Belarusian citizens, that the operation had been planned for months. The group bought n0n-combat drones that were then reworked for the attack, he said.

The attack, and who is behind it, has not been independently verified.

According to BYPOL, the attack took place on a Russian A-50 surveillance aircraft, which was located at the Machulishchi military airfield near Minsk. The A-50 is an early warning aircraft with command and control capabilities and the ability to track up to 60 targets at a time, according to Reuters.

The group said the plane was so damaged that it would not be able to fly.

Franak Viacorka, an adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, told the BBC that the attack was "creative" and "sophisticated".

"It was very brave because Belarusians are in a situation of the total terror," he said.

Viacorka added on Twitter that the base where the attack happened "was being actively used by Russian army for air attacks on Ukraine."

Belarus has supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine, allowing Russian troops to use the country as a transit point. Russian ballistic missiles have also been launched into Ukraine from Belarus' territory.

Ukraine has repeatedly expressed fears that Belarusian troops will enter the conflict on the side of Russia.

Lukashenko said earlier this month that he will not send soldiers to fight in Ukraine unless his country was attacked, with some officials suggesting he made the promise out of fear of domestic backlash if he became more involved in the war.

The president has faced stronger domestic opposition in recent years, including in 2020 when hundreds of thousands protested the result of a presidential election, when Lukashenko claimed victory but many viewed the result as fraudulent.

Lukashenko's response was to detain thousands of people and launch a brutal crack down on media freedom and human rights organizations in the country. Since then, he has relied even more heavily on Putin for support.

Read the original article on Business Insider