Russia’s heavy losses in Ukraine spark outcry and rare official response


RIGA, Latvia — Massive Russian casualties in key battles in eastern Ukraine have prompted an unusual public outcry — and strong criticism of military commanders — from surviving soldiers and members of the family of newly enlisted fighters, who claim their units were led to slaughter under ill-planned conditions. operations.

The uproar over battlefield casualties near Vuhledar in the Donetsk region prompted an official statement from the Russian Defense Ministry, which sought to downplay the apparently high death toll among soldiers of the 155th Marine Brigade. of the Separate Guard, which led Moscow’s offensive in the region.

It was the first time since the start of the Russian invasion that the ministry officially responded to reports of mass casualties and criticism from commanders on Telegram, the main platform used by officials as well as journalists and bloggers covering the Russian war.

Criticizing the war – or even calling it a war rather than a “special military operation” – is illegal in Russia. But in recent months the Kremlin has tolerated criticism of the military’s poor performance by pro-war hawks who support the invasion, including some demanding even more brutal tactics in Ukraine.

On Sunday, pro-Kremlin military correspondents published the text of a letter sent by members of the 155th Brigade, which is normally based in Russia’s Far East, denouncing the order that sent them to what they called “an incomprehensible offensive” in the village. of Pavlivka, in the Ukrainian region of Donetsk.

“Due to the ‘carefully’ planned offensive by the ‘great generals’, we lost approximately 300 people killed, wounded and missing as well as half of the equipment in four days,” the letter said. It was addressed to Governor Oleg Kozhemyako of the Primorsky region, which is on the coast of the Sea of ​​Japan.

Nearly 10,000 kilometers away in eastern Ukraine, the weather deteriorated in Pavlivka, with rain boiling roads and making it even more difficult to reinforce troops in the area, the commander of the pro-Russian Vostok Battalion, Alexander Khodakovsky. on Telegram this weekend.

“My fears about Pavlivka were justified,” Khodakovsky said, adding that he believed the advance in the region initiated by Russian commanders had been “premature”.

The letter also specifically criticized Rustam Muradov, the commander of Russia’s Eastern Military District, appointed in October. Earlier in the war, Muradov headed the Vostok Force Grouping, which was responsible for operations in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Officially, the army did not give the reason for the reassignment, but it came after the defeat of the Russian army at Lyman, a key logistics and supply center in the Donetsk region. The embarrassing defeat came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Donetsk and three other Ukrainian regions should be annexed by Russia, a violation of international law.

The Russian chain of command seemed to be in constant disarray throughout the war as Moscow repeatedly changed general commanders and replaced key generals in its four military districts.

More recently, Russian media reported that Colonel General Alexander Lapin no longer leads the Central Military District after being repeatedly criticized by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeniy Prigozhin, Putin’s ally and financier of the mercenary group. Wagner, for strategic missteps and the poor performance of his troops.

The governor, Kozhemyako, initially dismissed the letter as ‘false potential planted’ by the Ukrainians, but later released a video message saying he had contacted frontline officers who confirmed there had been heavy fighting and casualties, but, he said, “The number is not as high as it says in this letter.”

“Thanks to the competent actions of the commanders, the losses among the marines during this period do not exceed 1% of combat personnel and 7% of the wounded, a significant part of which has already returned to duty,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said. defense. said in its statement released on Monday.

The ministry added that the 155th Brigade had been fighting near the Vuhledar regional center for more than 10 days and had advanced “five kilometers deep into the Ukrainian positions”.

Many pro-war commentators in Russia have urged the ministry to be more transparent about its defeats. But rather than appease those critics, the statement only inflamed their anger by downplaying the scale of the losses.

“So far, it seems that the military, having noticed another wave of discontent looming, have decided to quickly subcontract the authorities of the region to their side and marginalize the whole situation, once again pretending that nothing does not happen”, wrote a popular blogger who writes under the name Military Informer. “We hope this situation will change.”

Moscow’s top brass are also trying to fend off another public scandal after residents of Voronezh, a town in a strategic Russian region near the Ukrainian border, complained that recently conscripted men from the region had been sent in unprepared. in Svatove, a town in Lugansk. region which has been the scene of fierce battles. Hundreds of people could be dead, according to Russian media Verstka.

“For three days they were bombarded, they tried to survive as best they could…they had no food or sleep, they lasted three days and did not flee, unlike their commanders” , said Inna Popova, the wife of a soldier, said in a video address recorded by the soldiers’ family members and published by Verstka.

“Please help us save our [men] and remove them from the first line of defense,” Popova said, adding that her husband was mobilized on October 12 and sent to Ukraine soon after.

Russian officials have repeatedly claimed that the new conscripts, called up as part of an unpopular mobilization effort initiated by Putin to replenish his army after several setbacks, would primarily be tasked with policing already occupied areas and supporting the rear. , not to serve as the main advancing force. .

Moscow took control of the Lugansk region at the start of the war, but its grip on the territory is threatened after the defeat of Russian troops near Kharkiv in September and the loss of Lyman, in the region of which Colonel General Lapin was responsible, according to Russia. media.

If Russia loses Svatove, Ukrainian forces will likely be able to advance further into Luhansk, recapturing much of the territory Putin claimed was annexed and absorbed by Russia.

Verstka, citing members of his family, reported that men mobilized in Voronezh found themselves on the front line after only a few days of training, probably a decision by their commanders to fill gaps in the defensive lines and to replace depleted troops.

Two servicemen from the Voronezh region told Verstka that only a few dozen of more than 500 soldiers in their unit have been found since the heavy shelling last week.

The pro-Kremlin Telegram channel “War on Fakes”, often cited by the Ministry of Defense, called this information false.

Voronezh Region Governor Alexander Gusev said on Sunday that he had met the family members who recorded the video address. Gusev’s press service did not refute the reports of mass casualties, and a local media outlet suppressed a report that called the information false.

“The situation is quite difficult in terms of objectivity, so we do not take responsibility for making such statements and discussing figures and facts,” the press service told reporters from the local pool, according to a capture of screen published by a journalist from the pool.

Russia has officially sent a reinforcement of 50,000 troops mobilized to Ukraine in recent weeks with at least 250,000 more soldiers still in training, Putin said Monday at a government meeting.

Russian and Ukrainian forces are each preparing for a harsh winter that will complicate virtually every aspect of the war, from logistics to morale to the physical health of troops.

For Ukraine, the approaching cold weather will be increasingly difficult to prepare for after weeks of Russian attacks on the country’s energy infrastructure.

In Kyiv, the capital, Monday passed in relative calm, with no air raid sirens or damage from Russian missiles – a welcome change for residents who have grown accustomed to Monday morning strikes over the last month.

But the attacks have forced authorities to plan power cuts around the capital and other parts of the country to ease pressure on the power grid, and millions in the capital and its surroundings were deprived of electricity during the night.

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