Ukraine claimed that its air defenses had shot down another Beriev A-50 “Mainstay” airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft over the Azov Sea on Friday in a “combined operation” set up by its military intelligence and air force.

Shortly after the shootdown had been claimed and confirmed pro-Kremlin milbloggers began to contradict Kyiv’s statement in the most bizarre way – saying that Russian forces had accidentally shot down the $350 million aircraft.

Vladimir Romanov on his Telegram channel “Romanov Light” told his 141,000 subscribers, just minutes after the first Ukrainian claims, that the A-50 was hit by a missile fired from the occupied city of Mariupol:

“The enemy has nothing to do with it again. The launches were from the Mariupol area.”

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In a second post two hours later he said: “After being hit by an air defense missile (not fired by the enemy), the A-50 broke into two parts.”

This is the second A-50 spy plane that Russia has lost in the space of just over a month, with the Armed Forces of Ukraine spokesperson claiming to have carried out the Jan. 14 shootdown. Most commentators said the most likely weapon used was a US Patriot system – although that was never confirmed.

On that occasion Russian Aerospace Forces said that this was also an “own goal” situation in which they shot themselves unintentionally. An internal message went out to all air force units that operate in the airspace over the Sea of Azov to reassure pilots that Ukraine was incapable of hitting targets at that range and missions are still safe to carry out. It blamed a “one-off” combination of the failure of the “friend or foe” system on the aircraft and operator error on the part of its own missile defense forces for bringing the plane down.

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After both that and this latest incident, the explanation appeared to be accepted by the majority of Russian media and milbloggers, as evidenced by the pro-Moscow blogger known as Fighterbomber, among others, who supposedly has close ties to Russia’s air force, that the A-50 “was too far from the frontline to have been struck by Ukrainian air defenses.”

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“It’s not possible to say at the moment who shot it down,” he said. “But this is 256 kilometers (159 miles) from the frontline…”

At around the same time as Fighterbomber was making his pronouncement Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Directorate (HUR) told Ukrainska Pravda that the Beriev had been brought down by a modernized Soviet-era S-200 air defense missile.

The S-200 is said to be resistant to countermeasures and is capable of delivering its 217 kilogram (478 pound) high explosive fragmenting warhead out to 300 kilometers and to an altitude of 40 kilometers at a speed in excess of 4,000 kilometers an hour – well capable of bringing down the A-50 in the area it came down.

The Russian ministry of defense has not yet commented on either Friday’s incident or that in January.

Russia’s A-50 planes are based on the Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane and have a crew of up to 15. Ukrainska Pravda reported on Saturday that there had been 10 on board the aircraft, all who had been killed. It gave the names of the crew which consisted of five majors, three captains, a lieutenant and sergeant major.

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Commentators say that Russia only had nine A-50s at the start of the war, not all of which were serviceable. The aircraft are vital in monitoring Ukraine’s air defenses and guiding its own aircraft to intercept and engage enemy aircraft. Moscow is reportedly unable to manufacture replacements so the loss of almost 25 percent of its fleet will have a major impact on its operational capability. Some commentators consider that just as damaging as the loss of the aircraft is the loss of yet another highly trained crew. The fact that only 10 of the normal complement of 15 were aboard could indicate that there is already a shortage.

It is almost perverse for Russia to blame its own technical and operator shortcomings as being the cause of the incident which seems to be preferrable to attributing any level of success to Ukraine. That may be reassuring for the civilian population but must be very concerning for pilots and aircrew who could be concerned that “both sides are firing at them.”

Russia’s well-connected military bloggers often criticize the commanders of Putin’s “special military operation” and the decisions they take. Just this week Andrey Morozov, a high-profile Russian military blogger, reportedly shot himself after revealing the huge scale of Russian casualties taken during the capture of Avdiivka, after suffering vicious pushback from Russia’s ministry of defense and other pro-Kremlin bloggers.

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