Two of Putin’s top pilots are wiped out in HIMARS missile strike on their motorcade in Ukraine

Марко Маркович

 Two of Putin's best pilots have been killed by a HIMARS missile in Ukraine, as Russia's top brass continue to be blown to bits by US-made weapons.


Maksim Potyomin, 41, a fighter pilot with the rank of lieutenant colonel, died when his motorcade was hit by precision-guided rocket artillery in Donetsk on July 8, reported by Daily Mail.

The same attack is thought to have killed Colonel Anatoly Stasyukevich, 54, also a fighter pilot.

The officers' deaths were previously known, but the fact that they were killed by HIMARS was only revealed over the weekend by Potyomin's father Alexey.

It is thought the attack was carried out with assistance from Western intelligence. 

Mr Potyomin, chairman of the Volgograd Regional Parachuting Federation, told local media: 'My son's car was hit by a HIMARS missile.' 


Lieutenant-Colonel Sergei Mikhaylov, 42, who commanded a motorised rifle battalion, was also killed in Ukraine but died separately to Potyomin and Stasyukevich.


Potyomin was married with two children - a son, 15, and a daughter, eight - and has been posthumously awarded the order of courage by the Kremlin, which recognises selfless acts of courage and valour.


Natalya Duddinka, his godmother, said his loss had caused her 'huge, huge grief,' adding: 'There are no words to express this pain.'


Stasyukevich, chief of staff of the 1st Guards Baranovichi Red Banner mixed aviation division, was a third generation military pilot.


He flew in the same unit as Potyomin which was based in Krymsk, Krasnodar region.


The trio's deaths are just the latest among Russia's military elite to be caused by HIMARS - a precision rocket artillery system given to Ukraine by the US which arrived on the battlefield around a month ago.

Putin is said to have been left enraged by the effectiveness of the missiles, because he had been assured that Russia's latest-generation missile defences could shoot them down.


In the event, the S-400 system has provided little to no protection against them.


Night-time missile raids on ammunition warehouses have been causing huge explosions across the eastern Donbas region.


Meanwhile strikes on command posts are said to have taken out dozens of Russian officers at a time - including one general.


Off the back of the attacks, Russia's offensive in the Donbas has ground to a virtual halt as it cannot pull off the massive artillery barrages credited for previous success.


NASA data shows the amount of artillery being used in Donbas has fallen markedly in the last two weeks, while very few territorial gains have been made by Putin's troops.


That has freed up Ukrainian troops for attacks elsewhere - most notably in the south near Kherson where a major counter-attack is being prepared. 


As Ukrainian attacks ramp up so have Russian losses, with Telegram channel General SVR - which has been reporting heavily on the war - now claiming Putin has seen 56,500 men killed in five months of fighting.


Those figures include a total of 43,000 regular Russian soldiers plus 11,400 from private military contractors and another 2,000 National Guard.


If confirmed, it would mean around a third of Russia's total military manpower has been killed since the start of Putin's 'special operation' back in February.


The head of the British Armed Forces, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, recently claimed that Russia has seen 50,000 soldiers taken out of action in the war.


However, that figure includes both dead and wounded. The new figure relates only to deaths.


The higher death figure would also imply an even larger number of wounded, massively hampering Putin's ability to wage war in the future.

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