Belarus has protested to Ukraine’s ambassador after saying it had shot down a Ukrainian S-300 air defence missile in a field, during one of Russia's heaviest aerial onslaughts against Kyiv and other cities since the start of the war.
State news agency BelTA first reported that a S-300 missile, used by both Ukraine and Russia, had landed inside Belarus on Thursday morning – with a statement from Belarus’s Defence Ministry confirming that the missile had been brought down by its air defence units between 10am and 11am local time.
Pieces of the missile were found in a crop field in the vicinity of the village of Gorbakha, Ivanovo District. “Fragments were found in an agricultural field ... the wreckage belongs to an S-300 anti-aircraft guided missile fired from the territory of Ukraine,” the Defence Ministry said.
Oleg Konovalov, military commissar of the Brest region, played the incident down in a video message posted on social media by BelTA, saying that local residents had "absolutely nothing to worry about”
He added: “Unfortunately, these things happen".
Belarus later summoned Ukraine’s ambassador, demanding a probe into what happened, its foreign ministry said.
"We have demanded that Ukraine carry out a thorough investigation into all the circumstances of the missile launch, bring those responsible to justice and take comprehensive measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future.
Which could lead to catastrophic consequences for everyone," ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz said.
Mr Konovalov compared the incident to one in November, when an S-300 believed to have strayed after being fired by Ukrainian air defences landed in NATO-member Poland.
A Ukrainian military spokesman in effect acknowledged to Reuters that the missile was a Ukrainian stray, saying the incident was "nothing strange, a result of air defence" and something that "has happened more than once".
Thursday’s incident comes 10 days after Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, visited Belarus – a close ally of the Kremlin – for talks with its president, Alexander Lukashenko.
At the meeting in Minsk, the two leaders discussed the security of their respective countries. Ahead of the talks, Russia’s defence ministry announced that its troops stationed in Belarus as part of a regional force would conduct joint military exercises with Belarusian forces. The trip raised fears that Moscow may try to seek to get Belarus directly involved in its invasion.
Mr Lukashenko allowed Mr Putin to use his country as a staging post for Russia to launch its offensive into Ukraine on 24 February.
On Thursday morning, Russia fired scores of missiles into Ukraine, targetting the capital Kyiv and other cities including Lviv and Odesa in the west, in one of its largest aerial bombardments.
"Senseless barbarism. These are the only words that come to mind seeing Russia launch another missile barrage at peaceful Ukrainian cities ahead of New Year," Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.
Ukraine’s military said it had shot down 54 missiles out of 69 launched by Russia. Air raid sirens rang out across Ukraine and in Kyiv sounded for five hours.
Officials had earlier said more than 120 missiles were fired into Ukraine during the attack.