sitting duck Russian military defects seen in the killing of soldiers

Kyiv, Ukraine – Senior Russian military officers came under increasing scrutiny on Wednesday as more details emerged about the deaths of at least 89 Russian servicemen, and possibly many more, in a Ukrainian artillery attack on a single building.

And the scene last weekend in the Russian-controlled town of Makievka, where the soldiers were temporarily stationed, seemed to be a recipe for disaster. Hundreds of Russian troops were reportedly gathered in a building close to the front line of the war, within range of the accurate artillery supplied to the enemy by the West, perhaps sitting near an ammunition depot, perhaps inadvertently helping the Kyiv forces concentrate on them. .

It was one of the deadliest attacks on Kremlin forces since the war began more than 10 months ago and the highest death toll in a single incident yet admitted by either side in the conflict.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed that the strike killed about 400 Russian soldiers who were massed in a vocational school building in Makievka. Officials claimed that about 300 others were injured. Neither side’s claims due to the fighting could be verified.

The Russian military sought to blame the soldiers for their deaths. Lieutenant Sergei Severyukov said in a statement late Tuesday that their phone signals allowed Kyiv forces to “determine the coordinates of the location of military personnel” and launch a strike.

Emily Ferris, research fellow in Russia and Eurasia at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told the Associated Press that it was “very difficult to verify” whether mobile phone signals and geolocation were responsible for the precision strike.

She noted that Russian soldiers on active duty are prohibited from using their phones – precisely because there have been many cases in recent years of their use in targeting, including by both sides in the war. Ukraine war. The conflict has made extensive use of modern technology.

She also noted that blaming the soldiers themselves was a “helpful narrative” for Moscow as it helps deflect criticism and draw attention towards the official ban on mobile phones.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to move the conversation as well, participating via video link in the dispatching ceremony of a frigate equipped with the Russian Navy’s new hypersonic missiles on Wednesday.

Putin said the Zircon missiles carried by the Admiral Gorshkov frigate were a “unique weapon” capable of flying at speeds nine times faster than sound and with a range of 1,000 km (620 miles). Russia says the missiles cannot be intercepted.

Makeyevka’s strike appeared to be the latest blow to the Kremlin’s military prestige as it struggles to push through its neighbor’s invasion amid a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive.

But analyst Ferris said that “there should be some caution about relying too heavily on this (attack) as evidence of (the) weakness of the Russian military.”

As details of the strike have spread in recent days, some observers have discovered military complacency at the root of the large number of deaths.

British intelligence officials said on Wednesday that Moscow’s “unprofessional” military practices were likely to be partly responsible for the high troop casualty rate.

The British Ministry of Defense said in a tweet on Twitter: “Given the extent of the damage, there is a realistic possibility that ammunition was stored near the accommodation of the forces, which detonated during the strike, causing secondary explosions.”

In the same post, the ministry said the building hit by the Ukrainian missiles was just over 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the front line, inside “one of the most contested conflict zones”, in Russia’s partially occupied Donetsk region. Area.

The update added: “The Russian military has a record of unsafe ammunition storage since long before the current war, but this incident highlights how unprofessional practices contribute to Russia’s high casualty rate.”

The Russian Defense Ministry, in a rare acknowledgment of casualties, initially said the strike killed 63 servicemen. But as emergency crews sifted through the building’s wreckage, the death toll rose. Among the dead was the deputy regimental commander.

This sparked renewed criticism within Russia of the Defense Ministry’s handling of the broader military campaign.

A well-known military blogger, Vladlen Tatarsky, accused the Russian generals of “showing their stupidity and misunderstanding of what is happening (among) the troops, since everyone has cell phones.”

Moreover, in places where there is coverage, artillery fire is often adjusted by telephone. There are simply no other ways,” Tatarsky wrote in a Telegram post.

Others blamed the decision to deploy hundreds of troops to one location. “The story about the mobile phone is not very convincing,” wrote military blogger Semyon Pegov. “The only remedy is not to house individuals en masse in large buildings. Simply not to house 500 people in one place but to spread them out in 10 different locations.”

Unconfirmed reports in Russian media said the victims were reservists from the Samara region in southwestern Russia.

The Institute for the Study of War saw the incident as further evidence that Moscow is not properly using the reservists it began calling up last September.

“Systematic failures in the Russian force formation apparatus continue to weaken personnel capabilities at the expense of Russia’s operational capability in Ukraine,” the think tank said in a report late Tuesday.

Ferris, of the Royal United Services Institute, said the Makevka attack shows the Russian military is more interested in increasing the number of its forces, rather than training them in war skills.

“This is really how Russia conducts much of its war – overwhelming the enemy in numbers and people,” she said. “The Kremlin’s view, unfortunately, is that soldiers’ lives are too expensive.”


Kozlowska contributed from London.


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