One of Vladimir Putin’s spy planes has been destroyed by two drones at a Russian airbase in Belarus, according to reports.
The aircraft, worth £274 million, was hit in an attack by Belarus partisans supporting Ukraine.
The AWACS Beriev A-50U aircraft was “significantly damaged”, according to the Belarusian Hajun project, and the front and central parts of the aircraft, its avionics and radar antennae were hit.
Several huge explosions were reported at the Machulishchi military base where such planes have arrived as part of Putin’s build-up of forces close to Ukraine.
A Russian military transport aircraft and snow-clearing vehicles were also damaged in the strike.
Belarus security forces reportedly found a bag with drone control equipment near the site of the explosions.
The plane has been used to pinpoint bombing targets inside Ukraine for Putin’s air force and carries a fibreglass dome more than 33ft in diameter which houses the rotating antenna of the Shmel radar complex.
The A-50U is “actively employed” by Putin’s war machine for “accomplishing missions in the special operation”, a defence industry source told TASS.
The Russian and Belarussian defence ministries have not commented on the explosions.
Aliaksandr Azarov, head of BYPOL Association of Belarus partisans, told Belsat: “These were drones.
“The participants of the operation were Belorussians, taking part in the ‘Peramoga’ [Belarus for Victory) plan.
“They are now safely 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.”
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.”
The destroyed AWACS plane reportedly carried the registration number RF-50608 and arrived in Belarus on January 3.
Russia has only six modernised A-50U aircraft, which have a crew of 19 and can track 60 targets simultaneously.
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