- Russia said a recent Ukrainian HIMARS strike in the occupied Donetsk region killed 63 of its soldiers.
- The death toll — which Ukraine says is much higher — is a rare reveal by Moscow.
- Russian lawmakers and officials, as well as influential milbloggers, have expressed outrage in the wake of the attack.
A recent Ukrainian strike that killed scores of Russian troops has ignited heavy criticism of Moscow’s military leadership and stirred widespread calls for the punishment of top officials.
Over the weekend, Ukrainian forces used a US-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to attack Russian positions in Makiivka, a city with a pre-war population of nearly 350,000 people in eastern Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk region.
Russia’s defense ministry said on Monday that Ukrainian forces fired six rockets and that the strikes on Russian positions killed 63 soldiers, state news agency TASS reported. This revelation, some of the details of which have been called into question, was a rare admission from Moscow, where acknowledgement of Russian battlefield losses, setbacks, and failures are few.
Ukraine’s military has put the death toll at around 400, much higher than the Russian figure, with another 300 troops injured, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank. These numbers are also disputed.
Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces said on Monday that while “the losses of personnel of the occupiers are being specified,” Kyiv has determined that its forces managed to destroy or damage 10 pieces of “enemy military equipment of various types.”
Videos of the aftermath of the deadly attack, which have been published on social media by top Ukrainian officials, showed a scene of rubble and smoke.
—Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) January 2, 2023
Workers and emergencies’ ministry members remove debris of a destroyed building purported to be a vocational college used as temporary accommodation for Russian soldiers, 63 of whom were killed in a Ukrainian missile strike as stated the previous day by Russia’s Defence Ministry.
In the wake of the attack, Russian lawmakers, government officials, and influential military bloggers have expressed their outrage at Moscow over the incident, blaming military leadership for making what are widely seen as grave mistakes, according to a New York Times report.
Among the grievances are that Russia placed its troops within firing range of Ukrainian weapon systems, allowed them to use cellphones that could be used to track their positions, and stationed troops near ammunition storage.
Sergei Mironov, a pro-war lawmaker, said responsible officials should be investigated and prosecuted. “Obviously neither intelligence nor counterintelligence or air defense worked properly,” he said, according to The Times.
ISW reported that Russian milbloggers characterized commanders as “criminally negligent,” noting that they failed to learn the importance of dispersing their forces despite facing similar strikes throughout the conflict.
Igor Girkin, a former Russian paramilitary commander, said that “our generals are untrainable in principle,” The Times reported. And these were just a few of many complaints.
In a Monday analysis, ISW said that the Ukrainian strike and the military setbacks for Russia that came with it, will make it difficult for Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep his pro-war allies satisfied with the 10-month-long campaign that has so far failed to achieve its objectives.
Even if the Russian death toll is on the lower end — several dozen rather than a few hundred — it nonetheless represents a substantial single-event loss and one of Kyiv’s deadliest attacks on Russian forces since the war began. Western militaries, like the US and UK, have previously estimated that Moscow has suffered at least 100,000 casualties during the bloody affair that has also killed scores of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.
Ukraine’s HIMARS strike came as Russian forces fired a barrage of Iranian-made suicide drones into Ukraine over a two-day period, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Ukraine says that all 84 were shot down by air defense systems.