Western defense officials on Tuesday warned that Russia had “almost certainly” deployed at least two MiG-31K Foxhound jets and an AS-24 Killjoy ballistic missile in Belarus.
The U.K.’s defense ministry said the deployment of the missile, which has a range of up to 1,200 miles, is the first time Moscow has placed one of its limited Killjoy munitions in Belarus.
“Russia has occasionally launched these weapons during the Ukraine war, but stocks are likely very limited,” officials said in a daily intelligence update.
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The MiG-31K is “adapted to carry” the ballistic missile, but defense officials argued the deployment of the weapons to Belarus would do little to strategically advance Russia in its war in Ukraine.
“It continues to expend its advanced long-range munitions against targets of limited operational importance,” the intelligence briefing said. “Basing KILLJOY in Belarus gives Russia little added advantage in terms of striking additional targets within Ukraine.”
Moscow has leaned on Minsk since first invading Ukraine in February by using its borders to deploy thousands of troops, firing missiles from Belarusian airspace and regrouping its forces after they were forced to retreat from northern regions in Ukraine.
However, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, an ardent ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has yet to deploy his troops in Ukraine.
Western defense officials have been monitoring Lukashenko’s military plans for months, as he has stationed troops alongside Russian forces on the shared Ukraine-Belarus border.
However, Kyiv has repeatedly said it does not believe Minsk will fully enter the war alongside Moscow by launching invading troops.
Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, have repeatedly asked Western allies for better air defense systems and warplanes as Russia increasingly relies on air-based attacks.
Ukraine’s Operational Command South said Tuesday that Russian forces had struck settlements along the front lines in Mykolaiv and Kherson, where intense fighting continues.
“The enemy is conducting aerial reconnaissance, including with the use of combat drones that return to base,” the command said according to Ukrainian news outlet Pravda. “When Lancet drones are used for reconnaissance missions, they also drop explosives on their target.”
Ukraine has kept operational updates from the southern regions to a minimum in recent months and strategic progress remains ambiguous.
According to the southern command on Tuesday, Ukrainian air defense forces shot down two Russian attack helicopters in Kherson and used a high precision strike on a “cluster” of Russian forces in Mykolaiv.