After Moscow blamed its soldiers’ use cell phones in a Ukrainian attack that killed at least 89 troops on New Year’s Day, a rare public blame game broke out between the Russian government as well as some pro-Kremlin military leaders and experts.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the main reason for the strike in Makiivka was “the widespread use of cell phone by Russian soldiers,” “contrary the ban,” which allowed Ukraine “to track and determine the locations of the soldiers.”
An influential military blogger dismissed the account and impliedly contradicted it by the leader in Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine. This demonstrates discord within the Russian command regarding Moscow’s response.
According to both Ukrainian accounts and pro-Russian accounts, the strike occurred just after midnight Sunday. It targeted a vocational school that houses Russian conscripts from Makiivka in the Donetsk area.
This prompted Russia to admit a high death rate, which was a rare admission. Even more shocking figures were reported by the Ukrainian military, who initially claimed that around 400 Russian soldiers had been killed. CNN is unable to independently verify the death tolls of either side. The strike is the most fatal episode of the conflict for Moscow’s forces in either case.
Semyon Pegov blogs under WarGonzo, and was awarded the Order of Courage two weeks ago by President Vladimir Putin at Moscow. He attacked the Ministry of Defense for its statement as “not convincing” or “a blatant attempt of smear blame.”
He asked how the Ministry of Defense could have “so certain” that soldiers residing in school buildings could not be located using drone surveillance or local informants.
He raised doubts again about the official death count, which Moscow revised up to 89 from 63.
Pegov also warned Wednesday that apathy on battlefields will lead to more “tragedies.”
Denis Pushilin (pro-Russian DPR leader) joined Pegov in his feelings and pointedly praised “heroism”, the trait that was attributed to the soldiers who died in the strike, shortly after the government placed the blame.
Pushilin stated on Telegram Wednesday that “We know and we have experienced firsthand what it means to lose,” “Based on what I know, I can confirm that the regiment’s men displayed courage and true heroism.”
They risked their lives for the sake of helping. He said that some of the dead were service personnel who died while returning to their ranks to save their colleagues.
The statement by Russia’s defense minister also caused ridicule from the Ukrainian military. “Officially, geolocation on phones is a mistake. It is evident that this version seems a bit absurd,” Serhii Cherevatyi (spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces) said Wednesday.
“Officially, this is a mistake by the Russians. I believe they now [search for] who is to be blamed.” He continued, “They are blaming each other.”
“It is evident that this [uses of smartphones] wasn’t the main reason. They were unable covertly to deploy these personnel. Cherevatyi said that they took advantage of this, as they had detected the target and decimated it.
Pro-Russian bloggers had already voiced their disapproval of Moscow’s military on Sunday. They claimed that troops were not being provided with protection and that they were being kept close to an ammunition cache. This ammunition is believed to have exploded after HIMARS rockets from the United States hit the school.
Daniil Bezsonov was a former official of the Russian-backed Donetsk government. He stated on Telegram that “apparently the high command still is unaware of the capabilities this weapon’s capabilities.” Igor Girkin, an Russian propagandist, also claimed that the building had been almost destroyed by secondary detonation ammunition stores.
Telegram circulated video from the scene of attack, which was also broadcast on a Ukrainian military channel. It showed a pile filled with smoke and rubble that almost destroyed the entire building.
According to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, the governor of Russia’s southwestern Samara Region held talks in Moscow with the leaders of the country’s defence ministry on Tuesday.
According to the agency, Dmitry Azarov, the Samara governor, some of the soldiers who died in the strike were mobilized out of Samara region.