The brief insurrection of the Wagner mercenaries on June 24, 2023, and the ensuing stand-off with Russian regular forces sent to block their advance to Moscow, had also an aerial dimension.
In fact, it appears that, while Wagner forces met very little resistance on the ground as they advanced towards Moscow from the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, they were engaged by several aircraft of the Russian armed forces, mostly rotary-wing.
Telegram channels said to be closely affiliated with the Russian military claimed that at least 7 aircraft had been downed during these actions, with over a dozen Russian airmen losing their lives.
At least one Ka-52 attack helicopter (registration RF-13418) has been visually confirmed to have been downed, most likely by surface to air missiles.
The deadliest incident seems to have been the downing of an Ilyushin Il-22VZPU airborne command aircraft with the loss of its crew of eight. Video footage showed the aircraft spinning to the ground out of control after being hit by air defenses during the early stage of the insurrection.
Other aircraft said, according to Telegram channels said to be closely affiliated with the Russian military, to have been downed include 3 Mi-8MTPRs (the electronic warfare version of this ubiquitous helicopter model), a regular Mi-8 and a Mi-35M.
Wagner forces are reportedly equipped with several air defense systems, including Pantsir-S1 and Strela S-10 in addition to Igla MANPADS.
These have been employed against Russian air assets deployed against the advancing Wagner column, as shown in videos circulating on social media, which show a Ka-52 attack helicopter narrowly evading a Strela S-10 ground to air missile, with the help of countermeasures.
Wagner forces started to withdraw back to their bases in the evening of June 24, 2023, after the group’s chief, Evgeniy Prigozhin announced it had struck a deal with the Kremlin through the mediation of Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko.
In the morning of June 25, 2023, however, new reports emerged on social media channels, that Wagner forces were still in control of air bases in Rostov and Millerovo, near the Ukrainian border.