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May, 25
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    NATO says Russia utilizing Belarus as a launch level for a lot of air operations in Ukraine

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    CNN accompanied NATO’s Flying Squadron 2 on one such surveillance mission on Thursday. Inside two hours of taking off at 8 a.m. CET, the radar on board the NATO AWACS aircraft — quick for Airborne Warning and Management System — picked up a few dozen Russian-made planes idling in Belarus simply north of the Chernobyl nuclear energy plant, NATO tactical director Denis Guillaume instructed CNN.

    The “overwhelming majority” of the Russian-made fighter jets that NATO forces have seen coming into Ukrainian airspace since Russia’s invasion started have originated in Belarus, the NATO mission’s technical director instructed CNN on board Thursday’s flight. On one notably “lively” day final week, NATO forces noticed about 20 Russian jets heading to Kyiv from Belarus, he stated. The navy plane taking off from Belarus and coming into Ukrainian airspace have been in help of Russian navy operations in Ukraine, the NATO airmen instructed CNN.

    Among the many main questions looming over the battle has been whether or not Belarusian forces have immediately entered the battle to help Russia. However the NATO troops stated they may not reply that — Belarus and Russia use the identical Soviet-era MiG-29s, they stated, so it’s troublesome to say in actual time who is definitely working them. Ukrainian pilots additionally use the MiG-29s, they famous, so it’s equally unclear how contested Ukraine’s airspace has change into.

    Nonetheless, some indicators are apparent, they are saying. For instance, the jets flying into Ukraine from Russian-allied Belarus are clearly not Ukrainian.

    The AWACS aircraft on which CNN flew Thursday is among the few navy property owned by NATO itself, moderately than donated by a member nation, and the fleet of 14 AWACS planes collectively conduct practically two dozen missions per week, spying greater than 400 kilometers east to make sure that no unfriendly plane are headed towards NATO’s airspace.

    The missions are routine however have change into notably “intense” since Russia invaded Ukraine, one of many co-pilots instructed CNN. NATO has stepped up its protection of the jap flank members over the past a number of weeks, and Thursday’s surveillance flight was notably lengthy, requiring a midair refueling.

    Because the AWACS flew its mission on Thursday, a Russian spy aircraft circled over Belarus doing related surveillance in the wrong way, the airmen identified. That has change into typical, as has recognizing Russian fighter jets — principally MiG-29s — performing defensive workout routines close by.

    The Russians have additionally taken to attempting to jam the NATO aircraft’s radar, an annoying however inevitable prevalence given how seen the enormous spy aircraft is.

    “It isn’t a secret we’re right here, and we do not need it to be a secret,” stated the NATO technical director.

    One query the airmen decidedly refused to reply was whether or not the intelligence they collect, which is ostensibly to be used solely by members of the NATO alliance, is being offered to Kyiv.

    “I can not reply that query,” Guillaume stated firmly.

    “The one factor I can inform you proper now could be that we, as NATO allies, are sharing the info with NATO nations,” the NATO technical director echoed.

    What the NATO member nations do with that intelligence, nonetheless, is at their discretion, the NATO technical director hinted.

    The warning displays NATO’s fraught place because the battle drags on: As a corporation, it continues to underline that it’s not an lively participant within the battle and that it’s offering no direct help to Ukraine in order to not danger scary additional Russian aggression that some concern may even embrace an assault on NATO territory.

    However its member states, together with the US and UK, have brazenly touted their intelligence and navy contributions to Ukraine, which have been clearly geared toward blunting the Russian navy’s advances.

    The NATO surveillance aircraft is able to extra than simply intelligence-gathering, although, and may name in tactical operations if wanted. For Thursday’s mission, for instance, the aircraft was controlling fighter plane on the Polish-Belarusian border “in case there’s a menace to NATO territory,” Guillaume stated.

    Any motion, although, “must be in keeping with the foundations of engagement,” he added. “We’re nonetheless in a peacetime posture.”

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