New Russian air chief ordered KAL shootdown MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's air force acknowledged today that its new chief was the commander who ordered a pilot to shoot down a South Korean jetliner off Sakhalin Island in 1983, killing all 269 people aboard. Gen. Anatoly Kornukov, who previously had served as Moscow air defense chief, was appointed by President Boris Yeltsin on Tuesday. Russian newspapers first reported his involvement in the Korean Air Lines shoot-down Thursday. Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev tried to play down Kornukov's responsibility for the attack. ``He was just executing orders,'' Sergeyev said at a news conference. ``He was given orders, (and) he carried them out.'' It has long been known that the chain of command in the shooting started with the Soviet Communist Party's ruling Politburo. The destruction of KAL Flight 007 sent U.S.-Soviet relations to a new low. The Soviet government claimed the civilian jetliner was on a spy mission, ``used by American special services for their dirty aims.'' Kornukov was commander of air defenses on Sakhalin Island, which lies just north of Japan and was the site of a top-secret Soviet defense installation. On Sept. 1, 1983, Soviet pilots spotted a KAL Boeing 747 that had strayed off course on a route from Alaska to Seoul. The Soviets suspected the jet was spying on Sakhalin. After a pilot fired warning shots that failed to change the airliner's course, Kornukov ordered him to shoot down the plane, Alexander Drobyshevsky, a Russian air force spokesman, confirmed in a telephone interview today. The pilot, Gennady Osipovich, has previously acknowledged his involvement. As recently as 1996, he insisted that he still believed the plane was on a spy mission. In a TV interview this evening, Kornukov said he's still convinced the decision was the right one. ``In this particular situation, I am absolutely sure even now that (the airliner's intrusion) was planned and with very definite intentions,'' he said. Russian officials have long defended the decision to shoot down the airliner. A 1993 Russian investigation concluded that the Korean airliner had been mistaken for an American RC-135 reconnaissance plane that had been in the region earlier. The findings were similar to a report published by the International Civil Aviation Organization in Canada the same year. The KAL shoot-down was not the only controversial incident in Kornukov's career. In 1976, a pilot serving under his command defected to Japan in his MiG-25 -- the most advanced Soviet fighter jet of the time -- in a windfall for the West, which was able to learn some of the Soviets' most coveted military secrets. The defection cost many military brass their jobs, but Kornukov retained his post. After his appointment as air force chief, Russian media hailed him as a fair and honest commander -- qualities deemed rare among Russia's top military brass these days. Kornukov, 55, succeeds Gen. Pyotr Deinekin, who had reached the retirement age of 60. [INLINE] [INLINE] Return to top[ISMAP]-This image allows you to access site resources 1997 - 1998 Mercury Center. The information you receive online from Mercury Center is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting, or repurposing of any copyright-protected material.
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