Wagner mercenary group shot down Russia’s airborne command post aircraft and electronic warfare helicopter during mutiny

Imagery published on social media has confirmed that a Russian Air Force Ilyushin Il-22M airborne command post platform was among several military aircraft shot down inside Russia in an apparent attempted coup by the Wagner mercenary group. 

Wagner-operated air defenses brought down the four-engine turboprop on June 24 near the city of Voronezh in southwestern Russia as the paramilitary group’s forces made an advance toward Moscow in what President Vladimir Putin described as an “internal betrayal” of the Russian people. All 10 crew on the Il-22 were killed. 

Wagner forces also bought down several Mil Mil-8/17 transport helicopters, including: a specialized electronic warfare version; a Kamov Ka-52 attack helicopter; and a Mil Mi-35 attack helicopter being used to to stave off Wagner’s advance.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner’s owner, triggered the rebellion, aiming his ire at the head of the Russian military, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. 

Prigozhin publicly blamed the two men for the conflict in Ukraine which has seen thousands of Wagner personnel killed. In a video published online on June 23, he said justification for the war in Ukraine was a lie, and just an excuse for “a small group of scumbags” to promote themselves and deceive both the public and Putin.

Hours later, Wagner forces seized the city of Rostov-on-Don and then launched what Prigozhin called a “march for justice” toward Moscow, during which the aircraft and helicopters were engaged. Later that day, he halted the advance 200 km. short of the Russian capital, agreeing to an undisclosed deal apparently brokered by Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. The agreement calls for Prigozhin to exile himself in Belarus. Prigozhin’s whereabouts are unknown.

The loss of the Il-22M—a military conversion of the Il-18 airliner—represents a significant loss in the Russian Air Force’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance fleet. It is the second such loss in five years. Back in September 2018, an Il-20—an electronic intelligence version of the Il-18—was shot down accidentally by Syrian air defenses as it returned from a patrol flight over the Mediterranean Sea.

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