Russia Admits Dozens of Its Soldiers Are Killed in Ukrainian Strike in East – The New York Times
Here’s what we know on 02.01.23. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.
— Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Anatoly Kurmanaev
Russia said it lost 63 soldiers, while Ukraine claimed that 400 Russians were killed. Even the lower toll would represent one of Moscow’s biggest losses in a single strike.
Ukrainian forces used U.S.-supplied guided rockets to hit a building housing Russian soldiers in an occupied eastern city early on New Year’s Day, both sides said, in one of the deadliest strikes on Moscow’s forces in the 10-month-old war.
The deaths of at least 60 soldiers, and possibly many more, drew immediate and harsh criticism in Russia from supporters of the war, who said that the military was making repeated and costly mistakes, including housing soldiers in dense numbers within striking distance of Ukrainian weapons.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday that 63 service members had been killed in the strike in the city, Makiivka, which is in the Donetsk region. Ukraine claimed that “about 400” Russian soldiers had died. Neither figure could be independently verified.
A spokesman for the Russian-installed proxy government in the Donetsk region, Daniil Bezsonov, called the strike “a massive blow” and hinted at errors by Russian commanders.
“The enemy inflicted the most serious defeats in this war on us not because of their coolness and talent, but because of our mistakes,” he wrote in a post on Telegram.
Ukraine hit the building housing the soldiers, which both sides described as a vocational school, using HIMARS, a guided rocket system supplied by the United States. The system’s range of dozens of miles has for months helped Ukraine’s forces strike deep behind the front lines.
Kyiv has shifted in recent weeks from using the American-made rocket systems to hit ammunition dumps and supply lines to targeting barracks and other troop concentrations, said Michael Kofman, the director of Russian studies at C.N.A., a research institute in Arlington, Va.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that four HIMARS rockets had hit the building, while two others had been shot down by Russian air defenses.
Anger over the Russian military’s failure to safeguard the soldiers extended beyond pro-war military bloggers. Even some Russian lawmakers who are usually in lock step with the Kremlin demanded an investigation.
One pro-war lawmaker, Sergei Mironov, a prominent member of the upper house of Russia’s parliament, called on his Telegram channel for criminal prosecution of all officials responsible for the Makiivka disaster “whether they wear epaulets or not.”
“Obviously neither intelligence nor counterintelligence or air defense worked properly,” he said.
Accounts by pro-war military bloggers — who have become influential opinion-makers in Russia amid the censorship of mainstream media — suggested that the strike in Makiivka had proved so deadly partly because of a litany of errors by Moscow’s forces, some of which have been repeated throughout the war.
One military blogger, Igor Girkin, a former Russian paramilitary commander in Ukraine as known as Igor Strelkov, said that the vocational school had been “almost completely destroyed” because “ammunition stored in the same building” detonated in the strike. Video posted on social media showed firefighters amid the ruins of the structure and piles of steaming rubble.
The ammunition was stored “without the slightest sign of disguise,” Mr. Girkin wrote, adding that similar strikes had occurred earlier this year, though with fewer casualties. “Our generals are untrainable in principle,” he said.
Many of the soldiers appeared to be new recruits. A report in Russian state media said that “active use of cellular phones by the newly arrived servicemen” had been a prime reason for the attack, helping Ukrainian forces to pinpoint their location.
Throughout the war, Russian soldiers in Ukraine have spoken on open cellphone lines, often revealing their positions and exposing the disarray in their ranks.
Still, some military bloggers said that this official explanation shifted the blame for Makiivka onto the victims, without explaining why commanders housed so many conscripts in an unprotected building within reach of U.S.-made rockets.
“No one is assuming the responsibility for the needless deaths,” one blogger, Anastasia Kashevarova, wrote on her Telegram channel.
A U.S.-made long-range rocket system has helped give Ukraine momentum in the war.
The Ukrainian military firing a rocket from a HIMARS near the frontline in the Kherson region in Ukraine. Credit...Hannibal Hanschke/EPA, via Shutterstock
Since the earliest weeks of the war, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has pleaded to any government that would listen that his country was outgunned by Russia’s army. If Ukraine was going to survive, he said, it needed longer range weapons.
Answering that call in June, Washington delivered the first batch of truck-mounted, multiple-rocket launchers known as HIMARS, which fire satellite-guided rockets with a range of around 50 miles, greater than anything Ukraine had previously possessed.
Since then, these weapons have helped Ukraine shift the momentum of the war.
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