Shortly after 7 p.m. last night Ukrainian social media began to light up with rumors that another one of Russia’s $350 million Beriev A-50 (NATO: Mainstay) airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft had been shot down.

The A-50 is used by Russia to monitor Ukraine’s air defenses and airborne activity. The aircraft typically fly with a crew of up to 15 personnel and are vital to providing guidance to its own aircraft on the disposition of the enemy, allowing them to intercept and engage adversary aircraft.

Within minutes of the earlier reports, a video of the burning wreckage of a large aircraft that had crashed in the Kanevsky District in Krasnodar Krai in southeastern Russia, which borders the Sea of Azov had been posted.

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This is the second Russian A-50 plane brought down by Ukraine after one along with an Il-22M airborne command post were destroyed over the Sea of Azov on Jan. 14. This success is the culmination of a bad week for Moscow’s military aviation in which as many as seven Su-34 and Su-35 fighter-bombers and air superiority fighters had been destroyed by Ukrainian air defenses since Feb. 17.

Ukraine's Air Force commander, Lt. Gen. Mykola Oleshchuk, soon took to Telegram to announce the downing of the A-50 in which he said that the operation had been a combined operation involving Kyiv’s Military Intelligence Directorate (HUR) and thanked “all those who ensured the result.”

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“The latest air raid alert in Kyiv was a UAV threat. Over the past two weeks, this is at least the fifth actual attempt by the enemy to attack the capital using drones,” says Kyiv military official.

Immediately after Oleshchuk’s announcement the Russian-state owned news outlet RIA Novosti confirmed that an “unidentified aircraft” had crashed in the Kanevsky district and that flames were spotted in the area of the crash site.

More video of the wreckage, taken by local bystanders after the fire had subsided, confirmed that it was indeed a large aircraft and some of the parts and components were consistent with it having been the A-50.

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The news was then confirmed by an announcement on Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense official web page which said that he aircraft was an A-50U,  a new modernized version and provided a map of the location of the shoot down.

The location shown was at least 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the nearest know Ukrainian position in southern Ukraine which immediately sparked speculation on the cause of the crash as it was surely beyond the range of Kyiv’s air defenses.

Was it caused by a mechanical failure or was it another case of “friendly fire” by Russian air defenses? Did the mention of HUR suggest a special forces operation using a close-up man portable system such as the US Stinger or had it been hit closer to the front and come down after a failed attempt to get back to base?

The answer came a couple of hours later when an HUR source told Ukrainska Pravda that the Beriev had been brought down by a modernized Soviet-era S-200 air defense missile, which had recently been used by Ukraine as a ground attack system.

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The S-200 (NATO: SA-5 Gammon) is said to be resistant to countermeasures and is capable of delivering its 217 kilogram (478 pound) high-explosive fragmentary 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 bringingdown the A-50 in the area it came down.

The HUR gave a fuller account of the operation on Saturday morning.

It said that the A-50U had taken off from the Akhtubinskairfield at around 3:50 p.m. on Friday afternoon with the task of guiding aircraft over the southern frontline areas of Zaporizhzhia, before being taken out by the missile at around 6:45 p.m. when its radar ceased to function according to “the radio technical intelligence stations of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.”

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