Three months into Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, another Russian general has reportedly been killed by Ukrainian forces.
Retired Russian Air Force Major General Kanamat Botashev, 63, has become the 13th general to die in Ukrainian territory since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, according to a tally by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense. (Russia’s Defense Ministry has confirmed only two, and U.S. officials have not given a specific number). He was reportedly shot down by Ukrainian forces over the Luhansk region on Sunday, becoming the highest-ranking air force commander to be killed in the war.
Ukraine’s military had announced the downing of an Su-25 fighter aircraft and released a photo of what it said was the burning aftermath. It said the pilot did not have time to eject.
The BBC’s Russian service said it managed to confirm Botashev’s death by speaking with several men who had previously been under his command and stayed in touch with him.
“Farewell commander... There are few people on this planet who lived in the sky like you. The sky takes the best, today it took you,” read one message posted in a Telegram channel for Russian fighter pilots.
“Kanamat died today! Popasna district, 8:25.… The first attack was NARs [unguided air-to-surface missiles], the second - bombs… A Stinger [missile] on the way out, an explosion in the air and… That’s it,” read another message that was later deleted.
It was not clear why Botashev was involved in the war after his retirement, but the BBC quoted his former subordinates saying he probably “just couldn’t stay on the sidelines.” He may also have been sent to Ukraine as part of a recruiting initiative for the Wagner group, a private military contractor linked to Russia’s Defense Ministry and reportedly the Kremlin.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has not yet commented on reports of Botashev’s death.
According to Ukrainian intelligence, Russian troops have routinely been caught condemning their own leadership and bemoaning their losses in intercepted phone calls with loved ones back home.
Ukraine’s Security Service on Tuesday released another such call purporting to show a soldier complaining that Ukrainian forces had wiped out one of Russia’s most advanced units in the south of the country.
“Nothing is left of the 58th army [of the southern military district],” the soldier said.
“Valery Bakin served in the 58th army. There’s not a single member of his squadron still alive. Not one! They killed all of them, basically. The whole squadron. We also have squadrons where only three or four people are still alive.”