According to reports, two Russian Mig-29 Fulcrums have been shot down over Libya throughout the recent months of fighting, though the Russian government has yet to acknowledge these losses.
In May, Sandboxx News covered the presence of 14 Russian military aircraft deployed to Libya in support of Russian-backed mercenaries fighting on behalf of General Khalifa Haftar. Haftar’s forces, alongside Russia’s state-sponsored mercenaries, have been engaged in a civil war with Libya’s formally recognized Government of National Accord, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
The Kremlin denied transferring any aircraft to Libya in support of the Wagner Group or General Khalifa Haftar, and rumors were floated online that maybe Libya had simply managed to repair and refit a group of older jet platforms. Those rumors, however, seem to have been intentional misinformation.
“Libyans never had MiG-29s or Su-24s in their inventory, so anyone who says they ‘fixed their old planes’ is not representing the facts.”-Col. Chris Karns, U.S. Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) Director of Public Affairs
Russia has opted to utilize the Wagner Group in Libya just as they have in other war-torn regions like Syria. By utilizing mercenary forces, the Russian government is able to stay one step removed from having to take responsibility for the actions of their troops on foreign soil.
When Russian mercenaries from the same Wagner Group engaged a group of around 40 American Special Forces troops alongside Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria in 2018, the Russians suffered brutal losses, with the mercenaries eventually having to retreat under American air strikes only to return to collect their dead later. No Americans were injured in the battle, but estimates of Russian mercenaries killed reach as high as 400. After the incident, the Russian government claimed no knowledge or affiliation with the Russian forces that took part in the attack, claiming they were all there independently in support of Bashar al Assad’s Syrian regime.
Now, reports are beginning to emerge that indicate not one, but two Russian Mig-29s have been shot down in the months since we first discussed their arrival in Libya, and in keeping with the Kremlin’s policy of pretending they aren’t involved, the Russian government has yet to acknowledge these incidents, despite details finding their way onto social media.
Breaking: US Africa Command deputy intelligence director Rear Adm. Heidi Berg confirms the Russians have crashed two MiG-29s in Libya so far – one on June 29, another on Sept. 7
— Jared Szuba (@JM_Szuba) September 11, 2020
On September 7, a video was uploaded to YouTube apparently showing a Russian-speaking Fulcrum pilot who was forced to eject from his aircraft and was then awaiting rescue.
The video does not indicated what type of aircraft the pilot ejected from, nor does it offer any clues as to what forced his ejection. The aircraft may have been shot down by Government of National Accord forces, or the Soviet-era aircraft may have suffered a mechanical failure. Because we know that the Wagner Group brought in both Mig-29s and Su-24s, it seems likely that this pilot ejected from one of those platforms, and because the Su-24 is a two-seater and there are no other personnel present, it seems likely that this footage was captured by a Mig-29 pilot.
The Mikoyan MiG-29 (NATO designator Fulcrum) is a single seat, twin engine air superiority fighter developed by the Soviet Union in the late 1970s to serve as a direct competitor to America’s premier intercept fighter at the time, the F-15 Eagle. In the years since, Mig-29s have been updated to serve as highly capable fourth generation multi-role fighters capable of engaging ground targets and serving in an air support role.
It’s believed that these aircraft are not being piloted by active Russian military pilots, but rather by Wagner Group personnel, which has prompted serious concerns that these fighters will not be beholden to international law.
“USAFRICOM stated in the press release that ‘there is concern that these Russian aircraft are being flown by inexperienced, non-state [Wagner Group] mercenaries who will not adhere to international law; namely, they are not bound by the traditional laws of armed conflict.'”-Lead Inspector General for East Africa And North And West Africa Counterterrorism Operations report.
While it isn’t yet clear if either of these Mig-29s were shot down, it’s certainly possible. While the Mig-29 is a fast and fairly acrobatic Cold War fighter, it lacks any stealth capability and is likely being used in a close air support role in Libya. That means these aircraft are likely flying low, and if the Wagner pilots aren’t particularly well trained, they would have difficulty dodging anti-aircraft or surface to air missile fire.