Ukraine Situation Report: Troop Loss Catastrophe In Donetsk Outrages Russia’s Military Bloggers

Russia’s influential military bloggers lambast leadership for packing troops with little security discipline into a building with ammunition.

byHoward Altman| PUBLISHED Jan 2, 2023 8:09 PM
Ukraine Situation Report: Troop Loss Catastrophe In Donetsk Outrages Russia’s Military Bloggers
Via the Readovka Telegram channel
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Russia’s influential military bloggers, who operate somewhat outside Moscow’s tight restrictions on coverage of its ‘special military operation,’ are furious and heaping blame on Russian commanders after scores of troops were killed and even more were wounded in a massive Ukrainian New Year's Day attack on a converted school building in the occupied town of Makiivka.

The bloggers, who combined have millions of subscribers on Telegram and even hold a degree of influence in the Kremlin, outright accused Russian military leaders of "criminal negligence" by packing hundreds of mobilized troops in one location, where a large amount of ammunition was stored while also failing to impose restrictions on the use of cell phones. The lack of discipline over the troops' use of cell phones apparently tipped Ukraine off that the former vocational school building would be a prime target for Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) munitions fired by both U.S-donated M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, and the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) donated by NATO nations.

The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) said the attack by Ukrainian HIMARS on School No. 19 resulted in 63 troop deaths after the building was hit by four guided rockets, with another two destroyed by Russian air defenses. Video emerged on social media reportedly showing the HIMARS launcher involved in the attack, though The War Zone is unable to verify that claim.

Ukrainian officials put the death toll far higher, saying 400 Russian troops were killed and 300 were wounded in the attacks that came hours after Russia launched another wave of drones against Ukraine's power infrastructure.

Either way, the attack on Makiivka represents one of the largest single losses of life for Russian troops during its invasion. And while it is impossible to verify either number, one prominent Russian blogger says the actual death count is far more than what the Russian MoD says.

“The number of dead and wounded goes to many hundreds,” wrote Igor Girkin, a Russian Army veteran who played a key role in the annexation of Crimea and now has more than 766,000 Telegram subscribers. “I was WARNED that this could happen again AT ANY TIME, since this is not the only such (extremely dense) deployment of personnel and equipment in the zone of destruction of Hymers missiles. And - yes - this is not the first such case - last year there were also quite a few of them. Although, as a rule, still with fewer victims. But our generals are untrainable in principle, although they themselves - after the summer 'pogroms of headquarters' - prefer to stay away from the location of entrusted troops - outside the radius of destruction of enemy missiles.”

Another Russian Telegram channel said commanders neglected "common sense."

“The mobilized men claim responsibility lies with the regiment's commander Col Roman Yenikeyev. We partly disagree: the colonel's fault is only that he blindly followed his superiors' instructions and could not deploy his unit in accordance with the realities of the front," the Rybar Telegram channel, with more than 1.1 million subscribers, wrote Monday. "The blame for the tragedy lies with the command of the 1st Army Corps of the DPR. [U]nfortunately, after the death of General Roman Kutuzov, the command of the unit began to neglect common sense and intelligence information in favor of some kind of military science and expediency.”

There were many excuses offered, according to Rybar, including the use of cell phones by conscripts and Ukrainian spies on the ground that gave Ukrainian troops the location of a prime target.

“Everyone is to blame, except for the management, who decided to choose a place of the most compact residence,” Rybar said sarcastically.

The Readovka Telegram channel, with nearly 1.6 million subscribers, blamed Russian commanders for packing so many troops into a building unsuitable to house them in a combat zone.

"The fact of where the personnel of the unit was stationed caused massive criticism from military correspondents and experts," Readovka wrote. "An object that is unsuitable for the safe presence of the military in it, not equipped with shelters, is an easy target for an enemy located at a close distance from the location. The decision to deploy soldiers there is assessed by a number of experts as a crime."

Pavel Gubarev, with more than 50,000 Telegram subscribers, called the attack “criminal negligence” on the part of Russia’s military leaders.

“These are the mistakes of spring-summer 2022,” he wrote. “We are at war for the 11th month! Settling in small groups - everyone knows that. The mobilized might not know, but the authorities should know! If you don’t punish for this now, then only the bottom will continue! Makiivka is criminal negligence!”

Andrey Medvedev, who has more than 152,000 subscribers on Telegram, blamed Russian leadership for taking a cavalier attitude toward the troops.

“The bulk of the commanders are soldier generals with their sacred phrase ‘if you didn’t serve, you’re not a man.’” he wrote. “Blatant anti-intellectualism, reinforced by misunderstood brutality, is the very substance on which the generation of today's Russian warriors grew up.”

For those Russian military leaders, “the construction of fortifications is unnecessary (‘why do you need trenches, why are you not a man?’), training in tactical medicine is unnecessary (‘there are field doctors for this, there is no need to complicate everything’), dispersal in small groups is excessive caution ('[Russian peasants] are not afraid of anything'). It is strange that a proposal to abandon body armor and helmets has not yet been received from them, because 'a real peasant is all for nothing.'" 

Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine was marred from the start with poor planning, unrealistic expectations, shoddy logistics and inadequate training. Since then, Russian President Vladimir Putin's mobilization effort has resulted in throngs of even more poorly trained troops on the battlefield.

The fact that the soldiers are poorly equipped is likely a contributing factor to why they were all packed in the Makiivka school building. There have been major concerns about the mobilized conscripts becoming a bigger liability in many ways than an advantage. This may end up being glaring proof of such sentiments.

It was Moscow’s hope that the ascendancy of Russian Gen. Sergei Surovikin as the overall commander of Russian troops in Ukraine would have solved many of those issues.

But as the Russian milbloggers' response to Ukraine’s attack on Makiivka shows, apparently there are many lessons that remain unheeded.

Before we dive into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

The apparent operational security failure by Russian commanders in Makiivka is reportedly not an isolated incident. A Russian volunteer apparently posted photos on the VK social media platform with a member of the Russian GRU's 10th Spetsnaz Brigade at the Grand Prix country club in Sahy, Kherson Oblast, but forgot to turn off the location tagging. That reportedly enabled Ukrainian forces to track and strike the location.

The fiercest fighting continues to rage in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, where both sides keep battling for small gains. Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:

  • Russian forces are likely depleting their stocks of artillery ammunition and will struggle to support their current pace of operations in Ukraine as a result.
  • Russian forces continued limited counterattacks to regain lost positions along the Svatove-Kreminna line on December 31.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations around Bakhmut and Avdiivka-Donetsk City on December 31.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) lost connection to its last functioning backup power line on the evening of December 29.
  • Russian forces continue operations in eastern Zaporizhia Oblast and along the southern axis.
  • Russian occupation authorities continue to intensify law enforcement crackdowns in occupied territories in response to Ukrainian partisan activities.

For the third day in a row, Russia launched drones against Ukraine's power grid late Sunday night through early Monday morning. Ukraine's Air Force claimed it shot down all 39 Iranian-made Shahed-136/-131 drones launched, as well as two Orlon-10 drones and a Kh-59 missile.

But in addition to anti-aircraft missile units, Air Force fighter aviation and mobile fire groups, the defense against the drones involved the U.S.-provided National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), according to the Ukrainian Stratum Center. NASAMS' primary armament is the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM). AIM-120s built today cost roughly $1M a copy or more.

While "any defense is better than no defense, engaging drones with a weapon designed to defeat cruise missiles is expensive and will deplete your magazine faster," David Shank, a retired Army colonel and former commandant of the Army Air Defense Artillery School at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, told The War Zone Monday. "Israelis were lambasted a few years back for using a Patriot interceptor against a drone. But again, in Ukraine's case, it may have been their only option for defending." We have a feature on the AIM-120 and its relation to Ukraine's air defenses, as well as the cost of use and cost exchange ratio against drones, which you can read in full here.

Officially, Kyiv has kept mum about attacks deep inside Russia, like these apparent Ukrainian drone assaults on the Engles Air Base 300 miles from the border. In a recent interview with ABC News, Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of his nation's Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR), remained coy but promised that the strikes will continue "deeper and deeper" inside Russia.

During a recent national telethon, Budanov also said that Russia's Air Force is keeping its bombers close to bases when launching attacks to preserve their engines.

“Strategic missile-carrying bombers travel a long enough distance to launch missiles. And this is an increase in the motor resource of the aircraft,” Budanov said, according to The Odessa Journal. “Now, Russian bombers do not approach the usual attack areas: they take off, make a circle or two in the sky, and launch missiles almost over the airfield to reduce the engine resource of the planes.”

Budanov claims Russia currently has about 70 Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95MS Bear-H bombers and about 70 to 80  Tu-22M3 Backfire-C bombers.

"About 40% of them are defective," he said. "The situation with the fleet of strategic aviation is approximately the same. In fact, in Russia, there is no construction of strategic bombers, so they are trying to reduce the motor resource of these aircraft."

Last week, we told you how after an apparent Ukrainian drone attack on Sevastopol, Russian-installed occupation governor Mikhail Razvozhayev said on his Telegram channel that "the air defense system worked out" and that "all services are operating normally. Our military, as always, worked well. Everyone please remain calm.”

Apparently Razvozhayev's idea of staying calm was to pack up his family and pets and head to Cyprus, according to The Ukrainian News Agency, citing the Center for National Resistance.

"The so-called governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, brought all his property, including dogs and cats, to Cyprus," the outlet reported. "In addition, the Gauleiter took his children abroad. It seems that the Moscow henchmen are not very confident in the safety of their families and in their own future, despite their own statements that they make on camera."

Sevastopol of course is not the only target of Ukrainian drones, as was the case in this video.

Video emerged on social media of Ukrainian National Guard troops using an Igla man-portable air defense system (MANPADS) against a Russian cruise missile heading to Kyiv. While the outcome is unseen in this video, the reaction from the troops seems to indicate it hit the target.

The German Krauss-Maffei Wegmann defense contractor has begun production on the Boxer RCH 155mm self-propelled wheeled artillery units for Ukraine, the company announced Saturday in a Tweet. Last month, Germany officially announced that 18 units will be transferred to Ukraine.

Sweden sent two Bandvagn tracked vehicles, developed by Saab for the Swedish military, to Ukraine for use as ambulances. The tracks will come in particularly handy in Ukraine's swampy and snowy terrain.

To ring in the New Year, Ukraine's Air Force released a video of some pretty nifty flying, which you can see here.

But not all pilots are so high-flying. In order to survive, helicopters from both sides are flying at low altitudes, like the Ukrainian crew seen in this video.

Russian troops apparently struggled to save a giant 2S4 Tyulpan self-propelled mortar. While this video appears to show Russian troops eventually putting out the fire, it is unclear if the 'Tulip' is reparable.

The number of graves for Wagner mercenary group troops in Ukraine appears to be growing.

To fill his ranks, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prighozin is apparently importing troops from Africa, where his mercenaries have a growing presence.

And finally, the difference between life and death in battle often comes down to luck. As you can see in the video below, this Ukrainian soldier is clearly one of the luckiest of them all.

That's it for now. We will update this story when there is anything major to add.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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