A rare public blame game has erupted between the Russian government and some pro-Kremlin leaders and military experts after Moscow appeared to blame the use of mobile phones by its soldiers on a Ukrainian airstrike on New Year’s Day that killed at least 89 soldiers.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said the “principal reason” for the attack in the occupied city of Makivka was the widespread use of mobile phones by Russian soldiers “in violation of the ban”, which allowed Ukraine to “track and determine the coordinates of the soldiers’ location.”
But that claim was angrily dismissed by an influential military blogger and implicitly contradicted by the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine, pointing to the Russian command’s response to Moscow’s attack There are differences.
According to Ukrainian and pro-Russian accounts, the strike happened just after midnight on Sunday and targeted a vocational school in Makiivka in the Donetsk region that houses Russian conscripts.
That prompted a rare acknowledgment by Russia that the death toll was high. The Ukrainian military reported even more dramatic figures, initially claiming as many as about 400 Russian soldiers had been killed. CNN was unable to independently verify the deaths reported by either party. In either case, the strike marked one of the deadliest episodes of the Moscow military clash.
Semyon Pegov, who blogs under the pseudonym WarGonzo and was personally awarded the Medal of Courage by President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin two weeks ago, slammed the ministry’s statement as “unconvincing” and “blatant smearing”.
He questioned how the Defense Department was “so sure” it couldn’t use drone surveillance or local informants to determine where soldiers were staying in school buildings.
He again cast doubt on the official death toll, which Moscow raised to 89 from 63, writing that “their numbers will still increase”.
In another post on Wednesday, Pegoff warned that indifference on the battlefield would lead to more “tragedies.” Referring to the conflict, using both the Kremlin’s euphemism – “special military operations” – and the word “war”, he said: “If you ask me personally what is the most dangerous thing in war , I will answer unequivocally: not annoying.”
Pegov shared the views of the pro-Russian Democratic People’s Republic leader Denis Pushilin, who pointedly praised the “heroes” of the soldiers killed in the strike shortly after the government laid the blame on them. doctrine”.
“We know and we have experienced firsthand what it is like to suffer loss,” Pushilin said in a telegram on Wednesday. “Based on the information I have, I can say with certainty that the men of this regiment showed a lot of courage and real heroism. .”
“They risked their lives to help. Some of the dead died while going back to rescue comrades,” he said.
The statement by the Russian Ministry of Defense also drew ridicule from the Ukrainian military. “Of course, it is wrong to use a mobile phone with geolocation capabilities. But it is clear that this version looks a bit ridiculous,” Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesman for the eastern bloc of Ukraine’s armed forces, said on Wednesday.
“Of course it was a mistake [of the Russians]I think now they are working on [searching for] They blame each other on who is to blame,” he continued.
“Obviously, this [use of phones] Not the main reason. Mainly they cannot deploy these personnel covertly. We took advantage of this to powerfully spot the target and destroy it,” Cherevatyi added.
Sunday’s strike has already sparked strong criticism of Moscow’s military from pro-Russian bloggers, who they claim lack protection and are reportedly stationed next to a large pile of munitions that are said to have exploded when hit by US-made HIMARS rockets left school.
Daniil Bezsonov, a former official of the Russia-backed Donetsk government, said on Telegram that “it is clear that the high command is still unaware of the capabilities of this weapon.” Russian propagandist Igor Girkin on Telegram Blogging about the war effort, he claimed the building was almost completely destroyed by a secondary explosion at the ammunition depot.
Meanwhile, Margarita Simonyan, the influential editor-in-chief of state-run network RT, welcomed the Russian Defense Ministry’s investigation into circumstances surrounding the strike on Wednesday, writing on Telegram that she wanted to be “responsible for Officials will be held accountable.”
“During the entire period of special military operations, this appears to be the first time this has been done publicly. I hope that the names of these individuals and the extent of their punishment will also be released,” she said.
Video of the scene of the attack reportedly circulated widely on Telegram, including on Ukraine’s official military channel. It shows a pile of smoking rubble, with hardly any part of the building appearing to be standing.
The governor of the Samara region in southwestern Russia held talks with the leadership of the country’s defense ministry in Moscow on Tuesday, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
The agency cited Samara Governor Dmitry Azarov as saying some of the soldiers killed in the strike were mobilized from the Samara region.