Russian Elite Unit Commander Killed in Ukraine: ISW

A senior Russian airborne commander has reportedly been killed in Ukraine, according to the latest update from the Institute for the Study of War, as Moscow’s elite units continue to suffer high rates of attrition.

The U.S.-based think tank cited pro-Russian military Telegram channels and the Russian independent Mediazona outlet in its report that Vasily Popov, the commander of the 247th Guards Air Assault Regiment—a unit under the command of the 7th Guards Mountain Air Assault Division—was killed during fighting at an unknown location in Ukraine.

The first to report Popov’s death was milblogger Egor Guzenko, who runs the pro-war “Thirteenth” Telegram channel. He reported the loss in a voice note posted to the channel on September 10.

Popov, the voice note said, “only recently took office.” The note described the commander as a good man and a hero. Guzenko added: “I feel sorry for him. Three more guys died with him, and I feel sorry for them.” Newsweek has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry by email to request comment.

Russian airborne paratroopers march in Red Square
Russian paratroopers march during the military parade at Red Square on May 9, 2021 in Moscow, Russia. Russia’s airborne units have been at the forefront of the fighting in Ukraine, and have reportedly sustained severe casualties.
Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Mediazona cited leaks from Russian databases in its report that Popov was 38 years old when he died, and that he was recorded as a captain and a major. In 2021, the outlet said, Popov studied at the General Air Force Academy, and may have been promoted to a higher rank before being given command of the 247th Regiment.

The regiment is based in Stavropol, a southern Russian city some 250 miles east of the Kerch Strait Bridge and the occupied Crimean Peninsula. Its parent 7th Division is headquartered in the Black Sea port city of Novorossiysk.

ISW reported that Vasily Popov likely succeeded Pyotr Popov as commander of the 247th in August or September 2023. If his death is confirmed, Vasily Popov would be the second commander of the unit to be killed in action since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. Colonel Konstantin Zizevsky was killed in southern Ukraine in spring 2022.

Mediazona reported that the 247th has suffered severe casualties across 18 months of combat in Ukraine. “In the first week of the war, the regiment lost at least 60 people who died while trying to storm Nikolaev,” it wrote, using the Russian name for the Ukrainian Black Sea port city of Mykolaiv, where Russia’s southern advance was halted in spring 2022.

The unit may have sustained casualties in the series of Ukrainian attacks against the Russian-held Kherson International Airport at Chornobaivka. The 247th is also believed to have been mauled in the defense of the Donetsk settlement of Staromaiorske in July.

ISW noted that elements of the 247th are fighting on the Donetsk-Zaporizhzhia border, which has been one area of intense Ukrainian counteroffensive efforts since early June.

“Relatively elite” airborne units, ISW said, “are conducting limited counterattacks in critical sectors of the front, and Vasily Popov’s death supports ISW’s assessment that these counterattacks will likely attrit these units further.”

Russian airborne uniform near Hostomel airport
A Russian uniform with adorned with a Guards ribbon and silver arm tape—worn by Russian airborne units that led Russia’s air assault on Hostomel airport north of Kyiv in February 2022—is pictured on April 8, 2022 in Moshchun, Ukraine. Moscow’s paratrooper formations are thought to have suffered severe casualties in 18 months of fighting.
Serhii Mykhalchuk/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

The airborne—known as the VDV, the acronym of the Russian Vozdushno Desantniye Voyska—are among Russia’s best-trained, best-equipped, and most-experienced forces. They are trained to lead Russian offensive operations and tasked with capturing and holding vital strategic targets.

Their role at the tip of Moscow’s spear meant VDV units sustained high casualties in the early stages of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

European military officials have previously told Newsweek that vanguard VDV formations suffered up to 40 percent casualty rates in the opening months of Moscow’s so-called “special military operation.” Among those mangled was the 76th Guards Air Assault Division, earmarked to lead a hypothetical future Russian invasion of NATO’s Baltic states.

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