‘Flying radar’ attacked in ‘perfectly executed operation’, says Zelensky’s top general

January 15, 2024

The Times


Ukraine has said it destroyed a Russian spy plane worth almost £300 million during what its top general described as a “perfectly planned and executed operation”. General Valery Zaluzhny said the A-50 spy plane had been downed “in the [Sea of Azov] region” of southern Ukraine. He also said Ukraine had shot down an Il-22 airborne command centre. He did not give further details.

The loss of the A-50 was confirmed by Fighterbomber, a Russian Telegram channel with links to the country’s air force. Rybar, another prominent pro-war Telegram account, said the destruction of the spy plane would be a “black day” for Russian forces. It also said the A-50’s 15-strong crew would have had no chance of escape. Moscow has not commented on the reports.

The A-50, known as a “flying radar”, is an early-warning and control system that Moscow has used to hunt down Ukrainian fighter jets. It can detect enemy aircraft up to 250 miles away. Russia is thought to have possessed eight advanced models of the A-50 at the start of the war, as well as three earlier models. One was blown up in 2022 by anti-war partisan fighters in Belarus, a key Russian ally.

Ukrainian media said the spy plane was brought down close to Kyrylivka, a town in Russian-occupied territory that is about 150 miles from the front lines. It is unclear what missiles Ukraine could have used to destroy it at such a long range.

Some Russian military bloggers suggested that the A-50 could have been shot down by the Kremlin’s air defences in a case of “friendly fire”. However, the plane is also vulnerable to Ukrainian electronic attacks, according to a report by analysts at the Royal United Services Institute think tank.

Ukrainian media published a recording of what it said was the crew of the Il-22 asking for help on the ground as it headed back to its base in southern Russia. “Urgently requesting ambulance and fire crew,” it said. Some reports said the plane made a successful landing. It is believed to have been hit as it flew along the coast of the Sea of Azov.

The incident came as Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, said Kyiv would not accept a freezing of the almost two-year war with Russia. “This is unacceptable to Ukrainian society,” he said at the Davos world economic forum before President Zelensky’s visit on Monday. “Ukraine does not need frozen conflicts. Ukraine needs a just peace.”

Zelensky has ruled out any talks with Russia until Ukraine has recaptured all its occupied territory. He has also issued a decree banning talks with Moscow while President Putin remains in office.