A Russian pilot was killed on the eve of Russia’s Ukraine invasion anniversary on Wednesday when his plane suffered a “mechanical malfunction,” a commonly-used Russian explanation for being downed.
The Russian SU-25 aircraft crashed roughly 10 miles past the Ukrainian border in Russia’s Belgorod region while on its way back from a combat mission, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said. The pilot ejected from the plane before it crashed, but officials say he suffered injuries and died, according to Russian media.
“A plane of the Ministry of Defense crashed in the Valuysky urban district. Now an investigation team and officials of the Ministry of Emergency Situations are working on the spot,” Gladkov said in a statement.
“After completing a combat mission, a SU-25 aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces crashed while returning to its base airfield in the Belgorod Region. The pilot died,” Russia’s Defense Ministry wrote in a statement, according to Russian media.
The incident came on the eve of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which lands on Thursday. Ukrainian officials have warned for months that Russian forces plan to renew their offensive sometime around the anniversary.
Ukrainian defense officials also warned of a potential massive missile attack that could land on the anniversary or in the days following.
“Yes, it will be tough, and we have to be ready for it. We must maintain maximum calm,” Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told Ukrainian TV last week, according to The Wall Street Journal.
U.S. defense officials have agreed with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s warnings, saying it is likely Putin will try an offensive in an effort to turn the tables after months of Ukraine regaining territory.
“The situation on the front line is complicated,” Zelenskyy said in a sit-down interview with Fox News’ Trey Yingst earlier in February. “Russia is preparing for the rematch. We can feel this. I believe that it has already started or not fully. We will see that in the nearest weeks.”
Ukrainian forces are killing nearly 1,000 Russian troops each day in the conflict, and they eliminated 5,000 troops in a single battle in late January, according to U.K. officials citing data from Ukraine.