On September 1, 1983, Kornukov, was commander of Dolinsk-Sokol Air Base when Korean Air Lines Flight 007 went astray and entered Soviet air space, first over Kamchatka.
As a subordinate to commander of the Far Eastern Military District Air Defense Forces, General Valeri Kamensky, and as commander of Sokol Air Base on Sakhalin Island, Korunkov received the command from Kamensky to shoot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 carrying 260 people, including U.S. congressman Larry McDonald, while it was over the international waters of Okhotsk, having exited Kamchatkan air space.
"...simply destroy [it] even if it is over neutral waters? Are the orders to destroy it over neutral waters? Oh, well."
Though Kamensky had ordered KAL 007 to be shot down while over international waters, he insisted that it first be verified as not civilian. Kornukov insisted that there was no need. Kamensky: We must find out, maybe it is some civilian craft or God knows who. Kornukov: What civilian? [It] has flown over Kamchatka! It [came] from the ocean without identification. I am giving the order to attack if it crosses the State border.
Kornukov gave the order for the shootdown as KAL 007 was about to pass out of the Soviet airspace over Sakhalin Island into International air space, "O (obscenities) How long [does it take him] to go to attack position, he is already getting out into neutral waters. Engage after burner immediately. Bring in the MiG 23 as well. while you are wasting time, it will fly right out."
Kornukov, who had retained his position even when, in 1976, a pilot under his command, Victor Belenko, had defected to Japan with his MiG-25—the most advanced Soviet fighter of the time—also survived the KAL 007 incident, eventually attaining the highest appointment possible in his field of service. On January 22, 1998, Boris Yeltsin appointed Kornukov as Commander of the Russian Air Force. This appointment by Yeltsin came on the heels of Yeltsin's dismissal of General Pyotr Deynekin, who had headed the air force since 1992. Deinekin was pressed to resign after a Russian Air Force Antonov An-124 cargo plane crashed soon after takeoff at Irkutsk Airport and landed on a nearby apartment complex, killing over 60 people.
In January 2002, Kornukov resigned as Commander of the Russian Air Force and advised the Russian Federation in matters of missile defense and defense against aerial hijacker terrorist attacks against Russian cities. Against the terrorist threat from the air, he believed Russia is unprepared considering the Russian air defense commanders often absentee, "passing the buck", and lacking coordination. The following is a current example of his firm stance as reported in Pravda of March 31, 2004: "Former commander of Russian Air Force, General Anatoly Kornukov calls Russian authorities to be tough in dealing with NATO aircraft which would appear near Russian borders after Baltic countries" joining the alliance, the Russia Journal said. NATO gained seven new allies [on] new Russian borders. "Because of NATO expanding we should apply tough policy, including tough measures to NATO aircraft. If an aircraft violated the state border, it must be shot down. International law allows this", said General Kornukov. "To begin with, the Baltic states should be reminded that good-neighbor relations have nothing to do with military aircraft barraging along the neighboring country borders. They are flying not just for pleasure, they are likely to be well-armed".
Asked how he felt about the victims onboard KAL 007, Kornukov said the downing left him with some "unpleasant feelings" but suggested that casualties were simply the price that had to be paid. On Hero of the Day, a Russian television interview show. Kornukov commented,"I will always be convinced that I gave the right order. Sometimes, in strategic operations, we had to sacrifice battalions to save the army. In the given situation, I am quite sure that this was a pre-planned action that pursued quite obvious goals."
He died at the age of 72 on 1 July 2014.Order For Merit to the Fatherland 3rd class
Order For Merit to the Fatherland 4th class
Order of Military Merit
Order of the Red Star (USSR)
Order for Service to the Homeland in the Armed Forces of the USSR 2nd class (USSR)
Order for Service to the Homeland in the Armed Forces of the USSR 3rd class (USSR)
Jubilee Medal "Twenty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945" (USSR)
Jubilee Medal "50 Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945"
Jubilee Medal "300 Years of the Russian Navy"
Medal "In Commemoration of the 850th Anniversary of Moscow"
Medal "For Diligence in Engineering Tasks" (Min Def)
Medal "Veteran of the Armed Forces of the USSR" (USSR)
Jubilee Medal "50 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR" (USSR)
Jubilee Medal "60 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR" (USSR)
Jubilee Medal "70 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR" (USSR)
Medal "For Strengthening Military Cooperation" (MVD)
Medal "For Military Valour" 1st Class (Min Def)
Medal "For Strengthening Military Cooperation" (Min Def)
Medal "For Impeccable Service" 1st, 2nd and 3rd classes USSR)
State Prize of the Russian Federation