Belarus has detained several people over what it calls an attempted act of sabotage at a Belarusian airfield, President Alexander Lukashenko was cited as saying.
Belarusian anti-government activists said last month that they had blown up a sophisticated Russian military aircraft – a Beriev A-50 surveillance plane – in a drone attack at an airfield near the Belarusian capital Minsk, a claim disputed by Moscow and Minsk.
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“To date, more than 20 accomplices who are in Belarus have been detained. The rest are hiding,” said Lukashenko, a key Kremlin ally, according to state news agency Belta.
He identified the presumed main culprit as a dual national of Ukraine and Russia.
Lukashenko said the aircraft had suffered only superficial damage in the attack, which was carried out using a “small drone”, Belta reported.
He described the main suspect as a “terrorist” who had been trained by Kyiv.
“He was recruited by the Ukrainian special services in 2014, apparently. He is an IT specialist or somebody well versed in IT,” he added.
Lukashenko said he had ordered a nationwide “sweep” to round up other saboteurs involved in attacks inside the country.
A close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko allowed Russia to use Belarus as a launch pad to invade Ukraine last February.
“If you think that by throwing down this challenge, you will drag us into a war tomorrow, which is already raging across over Europe today, you are mistaken,” Belta quoted him as saying in comments likely directed at Kyiv and Washington.
He has previously said Belarus would only join the war directly if its territory came under attack from Ukraine.
Kyiv has long been concerned about a new invasion from Belarusian territory, a risk that forces it to keep protecting its northern border at a time when its troops are at full stretch fighting Russia in its south and east.