Deadly attack on Russians in Ukraine exposes Moscow’s military failures

In one of their deadliest attacks on Russian forces, the Ukrainians used American-made missiles to kill dozens – and perhaps hundreds – of Moscow’s troops in a single day attack. New Year’s Eve, angering Russian war hawks accusing their troops of lethal incompetence. .

The Russian Defense Ministry on Monday said the HIMARS missile strike killed 63 Russian soldiers in a building where they were stationed in the eastern Ukrainian city of Makiivka. Former Russian paramilitary commander in Ukraine, Igor Girkin, wrote on Telegram The app said “hundreds of people” were dead and injured, and many were “under the rubble”.

Ukrainian military officials said it appeared “about 400” Russian soldiers were killed, although they did not explicitly say that Kiev was behind the attack.

None of the claims can be independently verified, but even the lowest number would represent one of Russia’s worst losses in a single phase of the war and be an embarrassment. to President Vladimir V. Putin. He has repeatedly vowed to correct the obvious mistakes and weaknesses in his armed forces that the war has exposed, and in a New Year’s Eve speech Filmed at a military base, Putin told the families of soldiers killed in the fighting: “I wholeheartedly share your pain.”

Pro-Russian war bloggers and some government officials attributed the defeat to the military’s repeated costly mistakes, such as placing troops in a dense mass within range of Ukrainian artillery. , placed them in the same building as the ammunition depot, and allowed them to use cell phones, signals that the Ukrainians could use to target their targets.

Girkin, who has used the moniker Igor Strelkov, writes: “Our generals are in principle untrainable.

Several pro-war legislators have requested an investigation, and one of them, Sergei Mironov, leader of the pro-Kremlin party in Parliament, call for prosecute all responsible officials, “whether they wear shoulder straps or not.”

“It is clear that neither intelligence, counterintelligence nor air defense is working effectively.

Daniil Bezsonov, a spokesman for the Russian-installed proxy government in the Donetsk region, said the attack was “a major blow”. “The enemy has inflicted the most severe defeats on us in this war not because of their coldness and talent, but because of our mistakes,” he wrote in a Telegram post.

More than 10 months after the invasion that the Russians – and many Ukrainians – thought would produce a swift Russian victory, each side has suffered more than 100,000 dead and wounded, according to Western estimates, and the war became a war of attrition, with no evidence of an end in sight.

Some of the heaviest fighting recently has ravaged the Donetsk region, one of four regions the Kremlin has announced it will annex in September even as its troops are losing ground there, giving up towns and cities. town they had captured earlier in the war. Since then, fighting in the area has slowed to a bloody one, as the Ukrainians searched for places to their advantage, while the Russians built trenches and fortifications along the front lines and try to capture the city of Bakhmut.

On Monday, Russia launched a series of exploding Iranian-made drones over Ukraine, continuing to strike cities and civilian infrastructure, especially the power grid. But it seems Ukraine’s increasingly effective air defenses have once again minimized damage.

Ukrainians army he said on Monday, 22 drones were shot down in Kyiv in the early hours of the morning, but at least two loud explosions were heard in the city. Mayor Vitali Klitschko said some energy infrastructure was damaged, affecting buildings’ heating systems. It is unclear whether the explosions were caused by the drone evading air defenses, by the drone being shot down but exploding on impact, or by an anti-aircraft missile.

Ukraine’s military said it shot down all 45 Iranian Shahed drones launched over the weekend, although some cruise missiles penetrated their defenses.

In his nightly video addressPresident Volodomyr Zelensky warned Monday, “We have information that Russia is planning a protracted attack on the Shaheds,” aimed at depleting defenses and stamina. of Ukraine. He said, “Now is the time when everyone involved in protecting the sky should pay special attention.”

Moscow says the deadly attack on Russian forces in Makiivka used HIMARS rocket artillery to hit a vocational school where troops are stationed. The Russian Defense Ministry said four HIMARS rockets hit the building and two more were shot down by Russian air defenses.

As pro-war bloggers and officials reacted angrily, videos posted on social media showed firefighters amid the structure’s rubble, reduced to fuming piles of rubble. . Bloggers have become influential opinion leaders in Russia amid censorship of the mainstream media.

Girkin, blogger and former paramilitary commander, wrote that the vocational school in Makiivka was “almost completely destroyed” because “ammunitions were stored in the same building” that exploded during the strike. He wrote that ammunition was stored “with no sign of disguise,” adding that similar attacks had occurred earlier this year, albeit with fewer casualties.

Dara Massicot, senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, notes that Russian officials “usually don’t provide this kind of information after a major loss, which suggests they want to control the narrative of the event. “.

Makiivka, adjacent to the city of Donetsk, only about 10 miles from the nearest Ukrainian-held territory, the town of Avdiivka to the northwest — within about 50 miles of range of HIMARS missiles the United States sent to Ukraine . A US military official declined to comment on the strike.

HIMARS, which fires satellite-guided missiles from mobile launchers, is part of an increasingly sophisticated Western arsenal that has helped Ukraine change the course of the conflict.

Since the Biden administration began delivering weapons systems in June, HIMARS has dramatically increased the range and accuracy of defeated Ukrainians. They used it to attack targets far behind the front lines, like main bridge linking the city of Kherson with Russian-held territory, contributing to Russia’s decision to abandon the city.

Last month, a Ukrainian HIMARS attack destroy a hotel in the city of Kadiivka, in the Luhansk region northeast of Donetsk. That attack killed members of the Kremlin Wagner paramilitary group who are using the hotel as a base, according to Ukrainian authorities in the region.

The HIMARS system is most effective when used against fixed and precisely defined targets, such as ammunition dumps, infrastructure or troop concentrations. The United States has so far supplied Ukraine with at least 20 HIMARS systems, manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

Many of the casualties appear to be rookies, newly deployed in Putin’s campaign push more men into the army into the war in Ukraine. A report in Russian state media cited “active use of cell phones by newly arrived servicemen” as the main reason for the attack, helping Ukrainian forces pinpoint the location of the Russian military personnel. surname.

Throughout the war, Russian soldiers in Ukraine spoke on public cell phone lines, often revealing their locations and expose the chaos in their ranks. Although the continued use of phones, despite the dire consequences, indicates the failure of military command, military bloggers argue that this explanation blames the victims.

It does not explain why Russian commanders keep so many conscripts in an unprotected building within range of American-made missiles.

“No one is responsible for unnecessary deaths,” one blogger, Anastasia Kashevarova, wrote on Telegram.

Eric Schmitt and Andrew E. Kramer contribution report.


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