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Two high-value Russian planes 'shot down', Ukraine claims

Two high-value Russian aircraft have been shot down, Ukraine has claimed, in what would be a major blow to its air force.

The Ukrainian army says an A-50 spy plane - which is one of just a handful of early warning and control planes in the Russian fleet - and an Ilyushin Il-22 airborne command post were destroyed.

Both were shot over the Sea of Azov, according to Ukrainian government adviser Anton Gerashchenko, with officials estimating the A-50 - which typically holds a 15-strong crew - is worth about £260m ($330m).

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Commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Ukraine Valerii Zaluzhnyi said: "I am grateful to the air force for the perfectly planned and conducted operation in the Azov Sea area."

Phillips O'Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews, said the aircraft losses should "seriously complicate Russian aircraft operations close to the battlefield," if confirmed.

"And if these were shot down by Patriots [a missile] over the Sea of Azov, would have meant that they would have been brought very close to the front lines," he posted on X.

"Quite an operation."

"This is for Dnipro," Ukrainian air force commander Mykola Oleshchuk wrote on Telegram, referring to the the anniversary of an attack on a residential building in Dnipro, which killed dozens.

A-50 aircraft, developed by Russian firm Beriev, can control up to 10 fighter aircraft for either air-to-air intercept or air-to-ground attack missions.

Ukraine did not offer any detail as to how they claim the planes were destroyed.

The aircraft entered service in 1985 and, according to different estimates, Russia had between 10 and 12 of the planes as of 2022.

Some Russian military bloggers said the downing would be a huge loss for Russia's air force, since there is a limited number of the planes in service.

"It will be another dark day for the Russian Aerospace Forces and Air Defence," wrote Rybar, a blogger with nearly 1.2 million subscribers.

"There are not many A-50s. And the specialists operating them are generally rare. If an aircraft of this type is hit, the crew will not be able to escape."

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The UK's Ministry of Defence said in November last year that it believed Russia was updating their A-50 fleet in anticipation of the West supplying modern fighter jets such as the F-16 to Ukraine.

It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Friday to announce a new package of military aid, security assurances and humanitarian support.

In February last year, the Belarusian partisan organisation, the BYPOL, claimed it had damaged an A-50 in a drone attack on Machulishchy airfield, near Minsk.

Ukraine's claim has not been independently verified, while the Russian defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.