In the ex-Soviet republic of Belarus, ruler Alexander Lukashenko has now admitted to an act of sabotage against a Russian reconnaissance plane at an airport near the capital Minsk. The mastermind and more than 20 helpers were arrested, said Lukashenko in Minsk, according to the state news agency Belta.
At the end of February, anti-war activists from Belarus themselves reported an attack on the Russian plane. They dropped explosives on the machine from two drones, it said. The leadership in Minsk called this misinformation. The Kremlin had not commented on the case.
Lukashenko has now confirmed that the A-50 aircraft at the Machulishchi airbase was slightly damaged by a small Chinese-made drone sold in ordinary shops. The aircraft is still functional. "Nevertheless, we asked the Russians to take this plane back for a technical check and send us another one," Lukashenko said. At the beginning of March, there were photos of the plane that is said to have flown to Russia on social networks.
In addition to the more than 20 people arrested, there are other participants who are hiding abroad, the ruler said without presenting any evidence. Among the suspects in custody is a man with IT skills and a Russian and Ukrainian passport. He is said to have lived on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, and was recruited by the secret service in Kiev for acts of sabotage.
Lukashenko accused Ukraine of having planned the attack for a long time. Ukraine sees Belarus as a war party because Lukashenko is letting the Russian armed forces take over the military bases for attacks on the neighboring country. The ruler had refused direct involvement of troops from Belarus in the war. However, there have long been fears that Lukashenko, who is dependent on Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin, could be pressured into taking direct part in the invasion.