Espreso. Global

Attack on A-50 in Machulishchy, Russia's search for military assistance from China. Military expert Serhiy Zgurets

1 March, 2023 Wednesday

On February 26, the most expensive aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces - the A-50U long-range radar detection aircraft - was attacked at the Belarusian Machulishchy airfield 

Attack on A-50 in Machulishchy

Let's talk about what is happening in Belarus, where the most expensive aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the A-50U long-range radar detection aircraft, was attacked at the Machulishchy airfield on February 26. Earlier, the leaders of the Belarusian BYPOL initiative reported that the attack was carried out by Belarusian guerrillas using drones. Following the incident at the military airfield, Belarusian border guards have significantly tightened control over exits from the country. British intelligence reported that although the damage to the A-50 has not yet been confirmed, the loss of such an aircraft would significantly limit Russian air operations. Also yesterday, the first satellite images of the Machulishchy airfield, Belarus, where the attack on the aircraft took place, were released. The images were presented by Maxar and Planet Labs, and on February 28, they were published by several publications, including CNN. The photo shows an A-50U long-range detection aircraft.

The image clearly confirms that the aircraft was not completely destroyed. The images show shadowing on the fairing and the right wing, which may indicate some damage, although this is only a guess. This could be due to snow that hit the airframe. However, neither the nose nor the fuselage were significantly damaged by the attack. These images also do not show a significant number of vehicles, which would have been located around the aircraft if it had been undergoing repair work. However, this aircraft was moved from one part of the airport to another, so in any case, there was some impact on it.

Alexandr Azarov, a representative of the United Transitional Cabinet for the Restoration of Law and Order, former head of Department for Combating Organized Crime of Belarus’ Ministry of Internal Affairs, founder of the BYPOL initiative, said that 2 homemade “kamikaze” drones were used during the attack, which caused damage to the central and front parts of the aircraft. The image shows a dark spot in the area of the plate and the nose of the aircraft. This airplane is huge, to blow it up or completely destroy it requires enormous numbers of explosives, so there is only damage there.

The Belarusian authorities have been silent about this incident for the third day. This shows that this case is significant. They do not know how to respond. On February 27, Lukashenko spoke, gathered the security forces for a meeting and went on a rampage that it was necessary to restore order. His face was very agitated. The security forces were also sitting with red faces and did not look Lukashenko in the eye, which indicates that the incident took place and it was significant. We are sure that the incident took place and 2 drones were used. I believe there will be more evidence soon.

The founder of the BYPOL initiative emphasized that on February 27, there was information, which has not yet been verified, that all Russian aircraft had left the territory of Belarus and redeployed to the territory of Russia. There is no information from other sources yet. If so, it means that the consequences are serious. This aircraft can be compared to the Moskva flagship cruiser, which was destroyed by Ukrainian troops in the Black Sea.

Russian troops in Belarus

Azarov noted that the number of Russian troops in Belarus is unclear. There were different estimates, ranging from 10,000 to 30,000. They are trained at various Belarusian training grounds, we believe that they are mobilized Russians. In addition, there are 3 Russian centers with Russian military personnel. They service the S-300 systems located along the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. At the moment, there are not enough Russian troops for an offensive.

So far, there are no signs of an offensive from the territory of Belarus. Although, if we look at what has been happening in recent months, we have seen that Lukashenko is preparing for war. A month ago, there were flight exercises. They were practicing offensive operations: destroying enemy fortifications, rescuing downed pilots from enemy territory, and destroying helicopter landing sites and airfields.

Lukashenko's visit to China

Azarov believes that Lukashenko collected several issues and went to China to resolve them. One of the issues that is not covered for some reason is the blocking of the Polish-Belarusian border. A year ago, when we were holding campaigns on the railroad, destroying infrastructure and conducting the so-called rail war, we received a message from Belarusian railroad workers that China was very worried. China transports large amounts of cargo to the EU through Belarus because Belarus is a transit country for China. There is a special program that Lukashenko signed with the Chinese. Back when the protests were taking place, the Chinese appealed to Lukashenko in Minsk to restore order. Lukashenko was very afraid of this. Now that a Polish citizen has been sentenced to 8 years in prison, Poland has closed one checkpoint in protest - a cargo checkpoint, then another, and now they are threatening to close the entire border. In this way, they are blocking the transit of Chinese goods, which is extremely disadvantageous to Lukashenko, who makes money on this. This is his prestige in front of the Chinese.

Russia is looking for ways to get military assistance from China

At the same time, Russia is looking for ways to strengthen its offensive capabilities, including the purchase of drones, attempts to buy ammunition from North Korea, and the actual purchase of attack drones from China. The first to report on the Russian attempt to buy drones from the Chinese was Deutsche Welle, followed by statements from US officials that China would risk facing US sanctions.

Regarding Lukashenko's visit to China and the CNN and Washington Post's statement that this visit may be connected to the fact that Russia wants to buy weapons for itself through Belarus, the weapons in question are unmanned systems, artillery ammunition, and other systems.

Defense Express military expert Ivan Kyrychevskyi believes that China may well go down this "slippery slope" because Russia and China have at least one vector of military cooperation that the West cannot yet "bring down" - the export of nuclear materials. There are official statistics that in 2022 Russia supplied China with nuclear materials worth almost USD 1.5 billion, which, for example, will help China increase its nuclear arsenal by 1,500 warheads by 2030. This move is clearly directed against the US, but there is nothing they can do, even the American economy has become dependent on uranium supplies from Rosatom. Talking about more applied things, it seems that Belarus will be used as a kind of gasket country, a transit country, through which the supply of these “kamikaze” drones under the ZT180 index, which were reported by the German DW, will take place. The nuance here is that the information on how the Chinese “kamikaze” drones, which have been called a literal copy of the Shahed 136, look like is not yet publicly available. Therefore, it is quite possible that under the Chinese index ZT180, Belarus will finally implement a project to assemble these Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones, which are now designated "Geran-2."

Ivan Kyrychevskyi recalled that the Western press noted an interesting paradox: China is now the main hub for the redistribution of electronics purchased outside of sanctions for both Russia and Iran. Accordingly, even the production of the Shahed 136 in Iran now depends on China's ability to supply some military technology to the Iranian military-industrial complex. If we recall that in the summer of 2022, Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Service said that Belarus could establish a vector with Iran to produce artillery ammunition on the basis of existing arsenals where Belarusians can repair artillery shells. Accordingly, it is quite possible that China could be used instead of Iran, with Belarus acting as a formal intermediary. It is possible that the range of supplies could expand over time. However, this will be influenced by 2 factors: the first is China's willingness to confront the West directly, and the second is Russia's willingness to abandon its military-technical cooperation with India.

There may be another version that China now, in preparation for a war over Taiwan, wants to weaken the West and use Russia to do so. China can give Russia certain things that the Russians are already using. For example, China has its own copy of the Kalibr missile, it also has a copy of the Kh-55 missile, and it has old Russian fighters based on the Soviet Su-35, all of which could eventually be supplied to Russia. If there is a question of supplying Russia with armored vehicles from China, then some old samples of Chinese copies of the T-62 may also be supplied. Because we know some preliminary figures on Russian losses, namely that they lose 150 tanks every month and are able to return only 25 to service. Accordingly, if the situation is not corrected quickly, the armored potential of the Russian Federation can quickly be exhausted, meaning that Russia will quickly lose the war.

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