Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko has emerged from a nearly week-long absence from the public eye to announce that he is putting his armed forces on high alert.

What’s prompted this?

Lukashenko said Belarus put forces on alert for three days following an incident in a southern Russian region on the border with Ukraine over the weekend when four Russian aircraft were shot down.

“Three days have passed after the events near us, I mean in the region of Bryansk where four aircraft were shot down,” Lukashenko said without providing further details.

“We had to react,” he said.

What actually happened in Bryansk?

Ukrainian government spokespersons confirmed the Russian losses but, as has often been the case when the Ukrainian military has hit targets outside land or air space belonging to Ukraine, avoided spelling out that it was Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) units responsible for the attacks.

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AFU Colonel Yuriy Ihnat in comments on May 15 to Ukrainian media said that the Russian jets and helicopters “experienced some trouble” and were destroyed en route while on an attack mission against Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv region. He declined to offer details.

International air war analysts generally confirmed Ihnat’s account that probably a Russian strike element en-route to Ukraine had been intercepted, pointing to confirmed Russian reports that one of the helicopters shot down was an Mi-8MTPR, an aircraft loaded with electronics specifically designed to jam and spoof air defense radars, including homing radars carried by anti-aircraft missiles aimed at Russian jets or helicopters.

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Most reports said the protection Mi-8MTPR helicopter was shot down first as it – unsuccessfully – led the two jets and attempted to jam missiles aimed their way. Reportedly, after a Ukrainian missile or missiles took out the helicopter, Ukrainian gunners turned their radars onto the Su-34 and Su-35 to shoot them down next. When the Russians sent an Mi-8 search and rescue helicopter sent to search for the lost air crew, according to most accounts, the AFU destroyed it as well.

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Why is Lukashenko so spooked by the incident?

Lukashenko didn’t elaborate but the announcement may have been more an excuse to get him into the public eye in an attempt to quash rumors about his health.

What rumors?

Since appearing gaunt looking at Mocow’s Victory Day parade last week and then skipping festivities celebrating the ex-Soviet country's state symbols on Sunday, there has been much speculation on the state of the 68-year-old’s health and even some suggestions he had died.

In an exclusive comment to Kyiv Post on Monday, Andriy Yusov, a representative of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, appears to have quashed the rumors.

He said: “Alexander Lukashenko has health problems: a cold and a virus.

“He has serious problems with his voice, so singing and speaking in public is problematic for him, but most likely in a few days the public will be able to see him again.”

Did he look healthy yesterday?

No, he looked grim, drawn and had a bandage on his hand.

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled to neighbouring Lithuania after the 2020 mass protests against Lukashenko, took to Twitter to tell Belarusians they should be ready for any event.

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“For us, it means only one thing: we should be well prepared for every scenario,” she said. “To turn Belarus on the path to democracy and prevent Russia from interfering.”

"We need the international community to be proactive and fast,” she added.

Last year, Lukashenko allowed Russia to use Belarusian territory as a launchpad for its offensive on Ukraine. In 2020, the former collective farm boss claimed to have won a sixth term in an election that spurred hundreds of thousands of Belarusians to take to the streets in protest.

His regime crushed the unprecedented protest movement, jailing or pushing into exile most dissenters.

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Belarus and Königsberg will be the next EU candidates

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