Russia blames own soldiers’ mobile phones for Ukraine missile attack which killed 89

Russia has blamed the unauthorized use of mobile phones by its soldiers for the precision of a deadly Ukrainian missile attack which killed 89 of its servicemen last week.

Moscow previously said 63 of its personnel were killed in the strike, which occurred one minute into the new year.

But the death toll has now been put at 89 and may still rise further. The strategic communications directorate of Ukraine’s armed forces previously claimed around 400 mobilized Russian soldiers were killed and about 300 more were wounded.

The Russian defense ministry said four Ukrainian missiles hit a temporary Russian barracks in a vocational college in Makiivka, the twin city of the Russian-occupied regional capital of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

It said an official investigation had been launched but claimed the main reason for the attack, one of the deadliest on the Kremlin’s forces since the start of the war in February last year, was the illegal mass use of mobile phones by servicemen.

Lt Gen Sergei Sevryukov said phone signals allowed Kyiv’s forces to “determine the coordinates of the location of military personnel” and launch a strike.

TOPSHOT - Mourners gather to lay flowers in memory of more than 60 Russian soldiers that Russia says were killed in a Ukrainian strike on Russian-controlled territory, in Samara, on January 3, 2023. - Russia on January 2 said more than 60 soldiers were killed in a Ukrainian strike on Russian-controlled territory in a New Year assault, the biggest loss of life reported by Moscow so far.  Kyiv took responsibility for the strike, which it said took place in the occupied city of Makiivka in eastern Ukraine on New Year's Eve.  The killed soldiers were mobilized mainly from the Samara region.  The strike, in the occupied city of Makiivka, is the biggest loss of life reported by Moscow so far.  (Photo by Arden Arkman/AFP) (Photo by ARDEN ARKMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Mourners gather in Samara, Russia, to lay flowers in memory of the Russian soldiers killed in an Ukrainian strike in Makiivka, eastern Ukraine (Photo: Arden Arkman /AFP/Getty)

The Russian military is taking unspecified measures to “prevent similar tragic incidents in the future”, he added, and promised to punish officials responsible for the blunder.

However, Semyon Pegov, a prominent Russian war correspondent, has called this suggestion into question, claiming it looks like an “attempt to smear the blame”.

In a post on Telegram, he wrote: “The story of ‘mobiles’ is not very convincing. I rarely say this – but this is the case when it would probably be better to remain silent, at least until the end of the investigation.

“As such it looks like an outright attempt to smear the blame.” And he claimed the death toll was likely to rise further as more bodies were identified.

He added: “Unfortunately, their number will continue to grow. The announced data is most likely for those who were immediately identified. The list of the missing, unfortunately, is noticeably longer.

“I cannot disclose the source but I consider them reliable.”

Russian nationalist bloggers and some pro-Russian officials in the region are also reported to have put the Makiivka death toll in the hundreds.

Mr. Pegov’s comments came amid mounting anger among some Russian commentators about the campaign in Ukraine, following the battlefield retreats of recent months.

Workers remove debris of a destroyed building purported to be a vocational college used as temporary accommodation for Russian soldiers, dozens of whom were killed in a Ukrainian missile strike as stated previously by Russia's Defense Ministry, in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Makiivka ( Makeyevka), Russian-controlled Ukraine, January 4, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
The destroyed building where the Ukrainian strike occurred, killing dozens of Russian soldiers (Photo: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

Anger on social media has been directed at military leaders rather than Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has not commented on the attack.

Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, also made no mention of the attack in a video address on Tuesday.

But Ukraine’s military said it fired six rockets from a US-provided Himars multiple launch system at a building “in the area of ​​Makiivka” where the soldiers were stationed.

Two rockets were downed but four hit the building causing it to collapse, a statement that was also made by the Russian defense ministry.

The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) said Moscow’s “unprofessional” military practices were likely to be partly to blame for the high casualty rate.

Posting on Twitter, the MoD wrote: “Given the extent of the damage, there is a realistic possibility that ammunition was being stored near to troop accommodation, which detonated during the strike, creating secondary explosions.

“The Russian military has a record of unsafe ammunition storage from well before the current war, but this incident highlights how unprofessional practices contribute to Russia’s high casualty rate.”

A soldier from the Carpathian Sich international battalion fires a mortar while conducting maneuvers near the front line, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, near Kreminna, Ukraine, January 3, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne REFILE - CORRECTING LOCATION
Ukrainian soldiers on the front line near Kreminna, Ukraine (Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)

Denis Pushilin, the Kremlin-appointed leader of the Donetsk region, has praised the “courage and true heroism” of the dead Russian soldiers.

Locals gathered in Samara, in southwestern Russia, on Tuesday for an Orthodox service in memory of the dead.

Mr. Zelensky has warned that Ukraine is now expecting Russia to launch a major offensive to “turn the tide of the war”.

He said: “We have no doubt that current masters of Russia will throw everything they have left and everyone they can round up to try to turn the tide of the war and at least delay their defeat

“We have to disrupt this Russian scenario. We are preparing for this. The terrorists must lose. Any attempt at their new offensive must fail.”

A full scale mobilization is something a patriotic group supporting the widows of Russian soldiers is calling on Mr. Putin to order to close the borders and ensure victory in Ukraine.

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But Russian officials have claimed that this is not currently being considered.

Mr. Putin is due to hold talks with Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Wednesday, according to Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.

Turkey acted as a mediator alongside the UN last year to establish a deal allowing grain exports from Ukrainian ports. But the chances of serious peace talks look remote as fighting continues.

In a call with US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, on Tuesday, Ukraine’s General Zaluzhny thanked America for the provision of anti-missile weapons systems which Kyiv said is knocking out more and more of the Russian missiles and they discussed equipment Ukraine needed to increase its chances against Russia.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, reiterated Britain’s long-term support for Ukraine “as demonstrated by the recent delivery of more than 1,000 anti-air missiles”, his office said on Tuesday.

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