Russia on Saturday dispatched a pair of nuclear-capable bombers over Belarusian airspace in a patrol mission that lasted four hours, showcasing close defense ties between the two allied nations.
“Two Tu-22MZ long-range bombers of the Aerospace Forces completed a patrol mission in the Belarusian air space,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, Russian state-owned news agency TASS reported.
“The long-range aircraft in the course of their flight practiced joint tasks with the air force and air defense force of the Belarusian armed forces,” it added.
Also part of the patrols were Su-30 fighter jets flown by both Russian and Belarusian forces. In September, Moscow based a number of the Russian-made two-seated super-maneuverable twin-engine aircraft in Belarusian territory. The plane can fly up to 3.5 hours without refueling.
Tu-22M3 bombers are capable of carrying nuclear missiles, including hypersonic ones designed to evade sophisticated Western air defenses. The pair of strategic bombers were escorted by the Su-30 jets.
It is not the first time Moscow sent bombers to patrol over Belarus. The patrol on Dec. 18 marked a third such mission since last month.
In mid-November, Russia flew a pair of Tu-22M3 aircraft as the European Union considered sanctions to punish Minsk for what it called an artificially created crisis in relation to illegal immigration. The Kremlin said at the time that deploying the two aircraft was not connected with the border crisis and was to help test Belarus’s joint air defense system.
Saturday’s patrol flight comes amid Western concerns over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that raised fears of an invasion. Moscow has denied Western allegations but urged them to provide security guarantees that would exclude NATO’s expansion to Ukraine and the deployment of the alliance’s weapons there.
Some Ukrainian officials have previously voiced concern that Russia may use the territory of its ally Belarus for attacking Ukraine.
Moscow has strongly supported Belarus amid a tense standoff last month when thousands of illegal immigrants and refugees, most of them from the Middle East, gathered on the Belarusian side of the border with Poland in the hope of crossing into Western Europe.
The European Union has accused authoritarian Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of encouraging illegal border crossings as a “hybrid attack” to retaliate against EU sanctions on his government for its crackdown on internal dissent after Lukashenko’s disputed 2020 reelection.
Tensions at the Belarusian border have continued to escalate and have been simmering for months. In Poland, authorities have already deployed more than 15,000 soldiers at the border.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.