Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko on Monday said forces had been put on high alert, adding that four aircraft had reportedly been shot out of the sky in southern Russia.
Lukashenko, 68, visited the ex-Soviet country’s air force central command, re-appearing in public after nearly a week-long absence following reports alleging ill-health.
He wore a military uniform, looked grim and had a bandage on his hand.
Lukashenko said Belarus put forces on alert for three days following the incident in a southern Russian region on the border with Ukraine.
“Three days have passed after the events near us, I mean in the region of Bryansk where four aircraft were shot down”, Lukashenko said without providing further details.
“We had to react,” he said.
On Saturday footage of several Russian aircraft crashing in the region of Bryansk circulated on Russian social media. One video showed a helicopter apparently being hit and catching fire.
While the Russian defense ministry did not comment, Alexander Bogomaz, the governor of the Bryansk region, said a helicopter crashed in the town of Klintsy.
Russian media report that a Russian helicopter has crashed in Klintsy, Bryansk region (about 50 km from the border with Ukraine) . Official sources say it was due to an engine fire.
In the meantime, Russian Telegram channels report that a helicopter was downed by Russian air… pic.twitter.com/Wz6o1SI5wW
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) May 13, 2023
In a conflicting statement, Vladimir Rogov, a Moscow-installed official in the Russian-controlled part of Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine, said that four Russian aircraft had been shot out of the sky: two MI-8 helicopters, an SU-35 fighter jet and an SU-34 fighter bomber.
Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, had last been seen on Tuesday in Moscow for celebrations of the Soviet victory over the Nazis.
He skipped a lunch hosted by his ally President Vladimir Putin as well as several other events last week.
‘Prepared for Every Scenario’
Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled to neighboring Lithuania after 2020 mass protests against Lukashenko, took to Twitter to tell Belarusians they should be ready for any event.
“For us, it means only one thing: we should be well prepared for every scenario,” she said.
“To turn Belarus on the path to democracy and prevent Russia from interfering,” she added.
“We need the international community to be proactive and fast.”
Lukashenko’s spokespeople did not comment on his absence from public life.
Last year, Lukashenko allowed Russia to use Belarusian territory as a launchpad for its offensive on Ukraine.
In 2020, the former collective farm boss claimed to have won a sixth term in an election that spurred hundreds of thousands of Belarusians to take to the streets in protest.
His regime crushed the unprecedented protest movement, jailing or pushing into exile most dissenters.