A top Russian air force commander has reportedly been killed in the Ukraine war, delivering another blow to Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
Information about the reported shooting down of retired Russian Air Force Major General Kanamat Botashev was confirmed to BBC Russian by three of his former subordinates.
On Sunday, May 22, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said a Russian Sukhoi (SU-25) attack aircraft was shot down over the Luhansk region and that the pilot did not have time to eject.
Reports soon appeared on Russian Telegram channels that Botashev was the pilot, which were backed up by the accounts of his former colleagues, whom the BBC said wanted to keep their identities anonymous. Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry.
Botashev is the highest-ranking Russian pilot whose death has been reported, according to the BBC. The outlet noted that based on open sources, Russia has lost at least 31 military pilots in the war. It comes amid Western intelligence assessments that Russia has not gained air supremacy since the war started on February 24.
“Goodbye Commander. There are few people on this planet who lived in the sky like you. The sky takes the best, today it took you,” was the message on the Telegram channel Fighterbomber, which is a forum for Russian military pilots.
How the 63-year-old retired general ended up piloting a Su-25 in Ukraine is unknown, although former subordinates told the BBC that he “simply could not stay away.”
There has been a recruitment drive in Russia since the start of March. Russian military registration and enlistment offices, patriotic organizations and the mercenary group PMC Wagner have been actively campaigning to attract candidates to fight in Ukraine.
There are reports that at least nine retired Russian soldiers aged over 50 have died in Ukraine.
Botashev was born in 1959 in Karachay-Cherkessia and graduated from the Yeysk Higher Military Aviation Institute, qualifying as a fighter-bomber pilot. He rose from lieutenant to general.
However, he was dismissed from the military in 2013 when he was accused of crashing an Su-27 fighter near the city of Petrozavodsk, which he did not have permission to fly.
He then worked as deputy chairman for aviation of the Volunteer Society for Cooperation with the Army, Aviation, and Navy in the Leningrad region.
There has been an unusually high number of top-ranking Russian officers who have been killed so far in the war. Ukrainian sources said that at least 12 generals had died, it was reported on May 12.
Update 05/24/22, 11:06 a.m. EDT: This article has been updated with further information about Major General Kanamat Botashev.