The notorious Wagner mercenary group that grabbed headlines over the weekend did more than carry out an attempted mutiny, it drew a serious psychological blow to Russia’s elite airborne command and control, the U.K. defense ministry assessed Thursday.
In its move to advance north of Rostov-on-Don towards Moscow Saturday, Wagner forces shot down a “high value” Russian IL-22M airborne command post aircraft outside the town of Bugaevka, killing its crew and destroying one of the 12 “special mission aircraft.”
“The loss of this aircraft is likely to have a negative impact on Russian air and land operations. In the short term the psychological shock of losing a large number of aircrew in this manner will almost certainly damage morale within the Russian Aerospace Force,” the defense ministry said in its daily briefing.
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According to the open source military analysis website Oryx, at least five Russian helicopters were also destroyed within Russian borders by Wagner forces, including one Mi-35 attack helicopter, a Ka-52 attack helicopter, at least two Mi-8 electronic-warfare helicopters and one Mi-8 transport helicopter.
Fox News Digital could not independently confirm how many crew members were killed in the downing of the IL-22M aircraft, though reports have suggested that 10 to 13 pilots were killed in the day-long mutiny.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who led the mutiny in what he called a “march for justice” in retaliation for the ill-treatment of his forces in Ukraine, said he regretted the attack on Russian soldiers but deemed it necessary.
“We regret that we had to hit air assets, but those assets were dropping bombs and launching missile strikes,” he said in an 11-minute video posted to his Telegram Monday, reported multiple outlets.
Despite the nearly half-dozen destroyed Russian helicopters, the U.K. defense ministry said the real blow lies in the downing of the IL-22M aircraft, which was part of a small fleet of just a dozen aircraft that are “heavily utilized for both airborne command and control, and radio relay tasks.”
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“These special mission aircraft have played a key role in orchestrating Russian forces in their war against Ukraine,” the ministry assessed. “As high value assets they have operated within the safety of Russian airspace, far beyond the range of Ukrainian air defense systems.”
U.K. defense officials said that Russia may have to reduce current mission levels in order to safeguard the remaining fleet.
“This will likely undermine Russia’s ability to command and coordinate its forces, particularly during periods of high-tempo operations,” the ministry added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday acknowledged the loss of the Russian pilots in an address to service personnel from the Russian defense ministry, national guard, interior ministry and Moscow’s intelligence agency, the Federal Security Services, though he did not confirm how many were killed in the day’s events.
“Our comrades-in-arms, pilots, lost their lives while confronting the mutineers. They held their ground and fulfilled their orders and their military duty with honor,” he said.