KYIV, Ukraine — Top Russian military officials came under closer scrutiny on Wednesday as more details emerged that at least 89 Russian soldiers, and possibly more, were killed in an attack. fair Ukrainian artillery on a building.
The scene last weekend in the Russian-held town of Makiivka, in eastern Ukraine, where soldiers were temporarily stationed, appeared to be a recipe for disaster. Hundreds of Russian soldiers are believed to be gathering in a building near the front lines, within range of precision artillery supplied by the West to Ukraine, possibly sitting near an ammunition depot and perhaps unwittingly helping. Kyiv’s forces focused on them.
It was one of the deadliest single attacks on Kremlin forces since the war began more than 10 months ago and the highest death toll in an incident reported by both sides. conflicts acknowledged so far.
Ukraine’s armed forces claim the Makiivka attack killed around 400 Russian soldiers who were in a vocational school building. About 300 others of them were injured, officials said. Neither side’s claims could be verified due to the fighting.
The Russian military seeks to blame the soldiers for their own deaths. Lieutenant General Sergei Sevryukov said in a statement late Tuesday that their phone signal allowed Kyiv’s forces to “determine the coordinates of the servicemen’s positions” and launch an attack.
Emily Ferris, a researcher on Russia and Eurasia at the Royal Institute of Unified Services in London, told The Associated Press it was “very difficult to verify” whether cell phone signals and geolocation were is the cause of the precision attack or not.
She notes that active-duty Russian soldiers are banned from using their phones – precisely because there have been so many instances in recent years that they have been used for targeting, including by both inside the Ukraine war. The conflict made extensive use of modern technology.
She also noted that blaming the soldiers themselves is a “useful story” for Moscow as it helps deflect criticism and draw attention to the official mobile phone ban.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also sought to spur the conversation when he joined via video link at Wednesday’s launch ceremony for a new Russian navy supersonic missile-equipped frigate.
Putin said the Zircon missile carried by the Admiral Gorshkov frigate was a “unique weapon”, capable of flying at nine times the speed of sound and with a range of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles). Russia says the missile cannot be intercepted.
Meanwhile, off the battlefield, France said on Wednesday that it would send French-made AMX-10 RC light tanks to Ukraine – the first tanks from a Western European country – after a phone call. in the afternoon between French President Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday.
The French president did not say how many tanks would be delivered and when. NATO members have supplied Ukraine with anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles as well as rocket launchers.
Late Wednesday, President Joe Biden confirmed that the United States was considering sending the Bradley Combat Vehicle to Ukraine. The Bradley is a medium armored combat vehicle that can carry around 10 people, or is configured to carry additional ammunition or communication equipment.
The Pentagon has provided Ukraine with more than 2,000 combat vehicles, including 477 anti-mine protection vehicles and more than 1,200 Humvees.
The weekend’s Makiivka attack appears to be the latest blow to the Kremlin’s military credibility as it tries to push ahead with an invasion of its neighbour.
But Ferris, the analyst, said “a bit of caution is needed in relying too much on this (attack) as a sign of Russia’s (military) weakness.”
As details of the attack have been revealed in recent days, some observers have found military negligence to be at the root of so many deaths.
British intelligence officials said on Wednesday that Moscow’s “unprofessional” military activities could be partly responsible for the high casualties.
The UK Ministry of Defense said on Twitter: “Given the extent of the damage, it is likely the fact that ammunition was stored near the servicemen’s residence, which exploded during the strike, creating secondary explosions. “.
In the same post, the ministry said the building hit by Ukrainian missiles was just over 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the front line, in “one of the most hotly contested areas of the conflict.” , in the Donetsk region partially occupied by Russia. .
“The Russian military has a record of storing unsafe ammunition long before the current war, but this incident shows how unprofessional activities contributed to Russia’s high casualty rate, ” the update adds.
The Russian Defense Ministry, in a rare admission of damage, initially said the attack had killed 63 soldiers. But as emergency teams searched the wreckage, the death toll rose. The deputy commander of the regiment was among the dead.
That sparked fresh criticism within Russia of the way the Defense Ministry was handling the broader military campaign.
Vladlen Tatarsky, a prominent military blogger, accused Russian generals of “showing stupidity and misinterpretation of what is going on (in) the military, where everyone has a mobile phone”.
“Furthermore, in areas with coverage, the sound of firecrackers is often controlled by phone. There is simply no other way,” Tatarsky wrote in a Telegram post.
Others blamed the decision to station hundreds of people in one place. “The cell phone story is not so convincing,” wrote military blogger Semyon Pegov. “The only remedy is not to gather staff in large buildings. It simply does not contain 500 people in one place but disperses them into 10 different locations.”
Unconfirmed reports in Russian-language media said the victims were reservists mobilized from the Samara region in southwestern Russia.
The Institute for the Study of War saw in the incident further evidence that Moscow was not making proper use of the reservists it began calling up last September.
“Systematic failures in Russia’s force production apparatus continue to hamper personnel capacity, undermining Russia’s ability to operate in Ukraine,” the think tank said in a report. at the end of Tuesday.
Ferris, of the Royal Institute of Unified Services, said the Makiivka attack showed that the Russian military was more interested in increasing the number of soldiers than in training them in wartime skills.
“That’s really how Russia conducts many of its wars – by overwhelming the enemy in numbers and in men,” she said. “Unfortunately, the Kremlin’s position is that the lives of soldiers could be wasted.”
In a battle of attrition, Russian forces stepped up their assault on Bakhmut in Donetsk despite heavy losses. The Wagner Group, a private military contractor owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a millionaire businessman with close ties to Putin, led the Bakhmut attack.
US intelligence officials have determined that Wagner convicts pulled out of prison accounted for 90% of Russian casualties in the fight for Bakhmut, according to a senior administration official who requested anonymity for discussion. about this finding.
Last month, the White House said intelligence findings showed Wagner had about 50,000 combat personnel in Ukraine, including 40,000 recruited prisoners. The United States estimates that Wagner is spending about $100 million a month on the war.
Kozlowska reports from London. Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.
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