Ukraine conflict: Belarus-based A-50 AEW&C aircraft lead Russian air offensive on Ukraine

by Tim Ripley

A file photo of the A-50 'Mainstay‘ AEW&C aircraft that has been heading Russia‘s air offensive over Ukraine. (UAC)

Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) Beriev A-50 ‘Mainstay' airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft have been flying daily missions from an airbase in Belarus to co-ordinate Moscow's air offensive against Ukraine.

Images of two A-50 aircraft operating from Baranavichy airbase, south-west of Minsk, have been repeatedly posted online by anti-Belarus government activists since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. Video clips show the aircraft taking off from the airbase and heading south towards Ukraine.

Bases in Belarus are proving to be critical to Russian air operations around Kyiv, which is less than 100 km from the border with its northern neighbour. Satellite images from 25 February identified more than 30 helicopters at the temporary base on a road south of Chojniki, and the site has also been photographed by local people with images posted online. Other forward operating locations for Russian helicopters have been identified in satellite imagery or social media images near the towns of Mazyr and Bolshoi Bokov.

More than 70 helicopters appear to have been deployed across these three sites including the Kamov Ka-52 ‘Hokum-B', Mil Mi-8 ‘Hip' and Mi-24 ‘Hind' platforms. Other social media imagery from Belarus shows Mil Mi-26 ‘Halo' heavy-lift helicopters shuttling between Machulishchy airbase, near Minsk, and the forward operating locations, possibly resupplying them.

Russian and Ukrainian air operations have been reported across the region from Kyiv to the Polish border, including at least one other incident of Russian air assault troops being dropped by helicopter near the western city of Brody on 26 February. A video shows a Mi-24 launching a rocket attack in this area but there was confusion over whether this was a Russian or Ukrainian helicopter. The major of Brody said it was Russian but other government security officials claimed it was Ukrainian.

VKS Sukhoi Su-25 ‘Frogfoot' ground attack aircraft are believed to have been operating from Luninets air base in southern Belarus, and have been seen operating around Kyiv.

Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) Beriev A-50 ‘Mainstay' airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) air...

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