Makiivka strike: Russia says its own troops’ cell phone use caused Ukrainian strike
A rare public finger-pointing game has erupted between the Russian government and some pro-Kremlin leaders and military pundits after Moscow appears to have blamed the use of cellphones by its own soldiers for a Ukrainian attack that killed at least 89 soldiers on New Year’s Day.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that “the main cause” for a strike in the occupied city of Makiivka was the widespread use of mobile phones by Russian soldiers “contrary to the ban” that allowed Ukraine to “track and determine the coordinates of.” the locations of the soldiers.”
But that report was furiously rebuffed by an influential military blogger and tacitly refuted by the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine, pointing to discordance in Russian command over Moscow’s response to the attack.
The strike took place just after midnight on Sunday and was aimed at a vocational school housing Russian conscripts in Makiivka, in the Donetsk region, according to Ukrainian and pro-Russian reports.
It prompted a rare Russian admission of a high death toll. The Ukrainian military reported even more dramatic numbers, initially speaking of up to 400 Russian soldiers killed. CNN cannot independently verify the death toll reported by either side. In any case, the strike marks one of the deadliest episodes of the conflict for Moscow’s armed forces.
Semyon Pegov, who blogs under the pseudonym WarGonzo and was personally awarded the Order of Bravery by President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin two weeks ago, attacked the Defense Ministry’s statement as “unconvincing” and “a blatant attempt to invoke guilt.”
He questioned how the Department of Defense could be “so sure” that the whereabouts of soldiers housed in a school building could not have been determined by drone surveillance or a local whistleblower.
And he again cast doubt on the official death toll, which Moscow has revised upwards from 63 to 89, writing that “their number is yet to increase.”
In another post on Wednesday, Pegov warned that apathy on the battlefield will lead to more “tragedies.” Referring to the conflict, using both his Kremlin euphemism – “military special operation” – and the word “war”, he said: “If you ask me personally what the most dangerous thing about war is, I will answer unequivocally: no trouble. ”
Pegov was supported in his sentiments by Denis Pushilin, the pro-Russian DPR leader, who specifically praised the “heroism” of the soldiers killed in the strike shortly after the government blamed them.
“We know, and we know firsthand, what it means to suffer casualties,” Pushilin said in the telegram on Wednesday. “Based on the information I have, I can say with certainty that the boys in this regiment have shown a lot of courage and real heroism.”
“They risked their lives to help. Some of the dead were the ones who died walking back to save their comrades,” he said.
The statement by the Russian Defense Ministry also drew ridicule from the Ukrainian military. “Of course, using phones with geolocation is a mistake. But it is clear that this version looks a bit ridiculous,” spokesman for the Eastern Group of Ukrainian Armed Forces Serhii Cherevatyi said on Wednesday.
“Of course it’s a mistake [of the Russians]and I think they’re dealing with that now [searching for] Who’s to blame. They blame each other,” he continued.
“That is clear [use of phones] wasn’t the main reason. The main reason was that they could not use these personnel covertly. And we took advantage of that by heavily detecting and destroying the target,” added Cherevatyi.
Sunday’s strike had already sparked vocal criticism of Moscow’s military from pro-Russian bloggers, who claimed the troops had no protection and were reportedly barricaded next to a large ammunition dump said to have exploded when US-made HIMARS missiles hit the school .
Daniil Bezsonov, a former official in the Russian-backed Donetsk government, told Telegram that “the high command still seems to have no idea about the capabilities of this weapon.” And Igor Girkin, a Russian propagandist blogging on Telegram about the war effort, claimed the building was almost completely destroyed by the secondary detonation of ammunition dumps.
Meanwhile, Margarita Simonyan, the influential editor-in-chief of state broadcaster RT, on Wednesday welcomed the Russian Defense Ministry’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding the strike, writing on Telegram that she hopes “the officials responsible will be held accountable.” ”
“This appears to be the first time this has been made public throughout the military special operation. I hope that the names of these people and the extent of the sentence will also be released,” she said.
According to reports, video from the site of the attack on Telegram was widely shared, including on an official Ukrainian military channel. It showed a smoking heap of rubble in which almost no part of the building appears to be standing.
The governor of the southwestern Russian region of Samara held talks with the leadership of the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow on Tuesday, according to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
Some of the soldiers killed in the strike were mobilized from the Samara region, the agency said, citing Samara Governor Dmitry Azarov.