The weekend mutiny by members of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group ended almost before it began. He and his fighters crossed into Russia on Friday, June 23, after he claimed the Kremlin’s forces had bombarded his base in Ukraine. A day later, after “capturing” the cities of Rostov-on-Done and Voronezh he pulled the plug and retreated.
Prigozhin explained his decision as: “The moment has come when blood may spill. That’s why... we are turning back our convoys and going back to field camps.”
They had already spilled blood having shot down seven Russian aircraft they felt threatened them, killing a reported 13 crew members. This included six helicopters: an Mi-35 attack helicopter, a Ka-52 attack helicopter, three Mi-8 electronic-warfare helicopters and one Mi-8 transport helicopter.
It was the seventh that will potentially represent the most wide-ranging consequence. It was an Ilyushin Il-22M [NATO “Coot”] airborne command post and radio-relay aircraft, which they hit with a Pantsir-S1 [NATO SA-22 “Greyhound”] Air Defense System, a medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM).
Now confirmed, Wagner forces managed to down the Russian IL-22M airborne command post RA-75917 yesterday. pic.twitter.com/i8Z3nTPAt7— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) June 25, 2023
Franz-Stefan Gady, consulting senior fellow from the International Institute for Strategic Studies said that of the total number of IL-22M planes held by the Russian Air Force was approximately 20, but only around 12 were of the modernized version like the one shot down in the Voronezh region.
The UK Ministry of Defence (UKMoD) assessed the loss of the aircraft as being significant. “The Il-22M is part of a relatively small fleet of up to 12 aircraft, heavily utilized for both airborne command and control, and radio relay tasks,” they said.
“These special mission aircraft have played a key role in orchestrating Russian forces in their war against Ukraine. As high-value assets they have operated within the safety of Russian airspace, far beyond the range of Ukrainian air defense systems.”
The UK said that losing the aircraft would result in a reduced capability in Russia intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as well as the ability to manage aerial missions, particularly during the “high tempo operations” that were likely to be experienced as the Ukrainian summer offensive ramps up. The UKMoD felt that just as important as the loss of operational capability would be the damage to morale through the loss of the crew.
Ukraine will be particularly delighted by the loss of the aircraft which they have been trying very hard to track down with little success as the planes tend to stay inside Russian air space, beyond Ukrainian’s current anti-aircraft capabilities. The crew of the plane hardly suspected that they would be at risk from their own forces, of which until Saturday Wagner had been a part.
The Il-22M, is one of several military conversions of the Il-18 airliner and is the second such loss in five years. In September 2018, an Il-20, the electronic intelligence version of the same aircraft was shot down in error by Syrian air defenses as it returned from a patrol flight over the Mediterranean Sea.
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