Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters

Belarusian saboteurs successfully attacked a Russian A-50 military surveillance aircraft in an airfield near Minsk in recent hours, Belarusian opposition sources confirmed to The Daily Beast.

“It’s a big victory. That airplane was very expensive, very rare, and perhaps the most important aircraft of the Russian fleet,” Franak Viacorka, the chief political adviser to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, told The Daily Beast. “It’s a victory of Belarusian partisans, for Belarusian underground resistance, and it’s the most successful act of sabotage perhaps in Belarusian history.”

The opposition has intelligence that suggests that the aircraft, which is one of just a smattering in Russia’s lineup, is no longer working, citing a recent Russian operation in which the A-50 was unusually absent.

“We have signs that this aircraft is not repairable anymore and it will not fly anymore,” Viacorka said, a statement that has not been independently verified by The Daily Beast. “Last night when another attack of Iranian drones launched by Russians was made, this… spy plane was not in the air, so it means it was not usable.”

Valery Kavaleuski, a foreign affairs representative for Belarus’ opposition, confirmed to The Daily Beast that the attack was carried out by drones.

Alexandr Azarov, the leader of the antigovernment group BYPOL, which works with Tsikhanouskaya’s office, said on Telegram that Belarusians were behind the attack, noting the radar and the front and central parts of the aircraft were damaged.

Shadow Government in Putin’s Own Backyard Plots Against Him

Ever since Russian troops first entered Belarus to use its territory as a staging ground for launching Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, Belarusian saboteurs have been working to disrupt the war effort. Last year, Belarusian saboteurs attacked the rail lines to interrupt Russian movement and supply efforts through the country.

The attack on the Russian aircraft coincides with a warning from Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko that he is willing to let Putin keep using Belarusian territory as a launchpad for the war in Ukraine, which has just entered its second year. And although Lukashenko has, at times, resisted Putin and tried to maintain independence from him, Lukashenko watchers have begun warning in recent days that Putin is likely choking him off, noting that any ability he previously had to make decisions independently appears to have vanished.

But the takedown is intended to send a stark message to Russia and Belarus that they are in an extremely weak position, even a full year after trying and failing to capture Kyiv, Viacorka told The Daily Beast. The hope is that operations like this might force Russia and Belarus to question whether it’s worth it to use Belarus as a staging ground for the war.

“This is also a message to Russians that they are not safe in Belarus anymore. They cannot just use Belarusian territory without any consequences,” Viacorka told The Daily Beast.

The fact that Russian authorities have declined to comment on the incident and that Belarusian authorities haven’t even acknowledged the attack shows they are likely ashamed of the incident.

“We see that Lukashenko is in a panic,” Viacorka said. “They’re embarrassed because it shows how fragile, how naked, is the whole system of defense.”

Tsikhanouskaya applauded the attack in a statement.

“I am proud of all Belarusians who continue to resist the Russian hybrid occupation of Belarus & fight for the freedom of Ukraine,” she said. “Your brave actions show the world that Belarus stands against imperial aggression.”

Russia is already looking for those involved in the attack, BYPOL said in a social media post, warning Belarusians to be careful with their social media and digital activity to avoid being traced. Those involved are in a “safe place” right now, though, Viacorka told The Daily Beast.

The attack should also serve as a warning that this kind of takedown will not be the last, Belarus’ opposition told The Daily Beast. Russia and Belarus can expect similar acts of disruption and sabotage in the future, Viacorka said.

“We hope that this is not the last attack, that there are many other plans of our partisans,” Viacorka told The Daily Beast. “We will be looking forward.”

The act of sabotage is just one part of the opposition’s so-called “Victory Plan,” or “Pieramoha” plan, which is aimed at conducting civil resistance throughout Belarus against Lukashenko’s regime.

The opposition in exile has long urged saboteurs to be ready to act when the time is right. But this attack should not be a signal that armed resistance is in the cards yet, Viacorka cautioned.

“We still stick with the idea of nonviolent resistance. And destroying Russian equipment is not violent. Our partisans don’t harm people. They destroy Russian equipment. They stop Russian trains, they hack Russian… institutions to delay and disrupt the war machine,” Viacorka told The Daily Beast. “The underground resistance, through such sabotage, is the only and most effective way at this point.”

The attack is a sign that Belarusians’ efforts to help Ukraine thwart Russia’s war continue and extend to many different realms, from hacking to information-sharing to incidents like this, Kavaleuski told The Daily Beast. “Belarusians are trying to help Ukrainian in all possible ways.”

Putin’s Favorite Neighbor Is Caving in to the Kremlin

Lukashenko and Putin should not only expect attacks against their military entities, but espionage and turmoil to come from within, too, the opposition said Monday.

Belarus’ opposition is working to recruit spies from within the Belarusian military to help conduct sabotage against the joint military groupings of Russian and Belarusian armed forces, which have been training together for combat readiness in Belarus in recent months.

The opposition is working “to find our allies within the Belarusian army who will sabotage from inside, who will show disobedience [to] Kremlin orders and Lukashenko’s administration,” Viacorka said.

“We can disrupt their presence and create much discomfort for them definitely,” Viacorka added, noting some efforts to recruit spies are already underway. “They’re already on it.”

The attack is also meant to send off alarm bells that for Belarusians, Russia’s use of Belarusian territory signals that Lukashenko has become a puppet and that this is turning into a Russian occupation.

“This is to send a signal that Belarus is essentially under partial occupation by Russia and we need to deoccupy Belarus,” Kavaleuski told The Daily Beast. “It is important to understand that Belarusians are not happy about the presence of Russian military in our land, and they will have to go.”

“This is a reminder for the world that Belarus and Ukraine’s fates are interconnected,” Viacorka said.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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