Russia’s casualties in Ukraine spark outcry and rare government response

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting with Russian ambassadors, envoys and diplomats at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (AP Photo//Maxim Zmeyev, Pool) Maxim Zmeyev

Russia’s casualties in Ukraine spark outcry and rare government response

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In a rare move, the Russian Ministry of Defense has publicly responded to an outcry from surviving soldiers and family members of soldiers who died in a battle that resulted in hundreds of Russian service members’ deaths.

Officials responded to the letter on Monday, which was addressed to Oleg Kozhemyako, the governor of Primorsky Krai. Pro-Russian military bloggers said it was an unsigned open letter from members of the 155th brigade of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, which is normally based in Russia’s Far East, but were sent into “an incomprehensible offensive” in the village of Pavlivka in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, according to the Washington Post.

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Roughly 300 soldiers were killed, wounded, or are missing during the four-day period, in which they lost half of their equipment.

“As a result of the ‘carefully’ planned offensive by the ‘great generals,’ we lost about 300 people killed, wounded and missing as well as half the equipment in four days,” the letter said, and its authors placed blame for the failed operation on Eastern Military District Commander Lt. Gen. Rustam Muradov, 155th Naval Infantry Brigade Commander Colonel Zurab Akhmedov, and Russian Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov.

“How long will such mediocrities like Muradov and Akhmedov plan military operations for the sake of their reports and receive awards at the cost of the lives of so many people,” the authors posited.

The Russian Ministry of Defense responded to the letter on Monday, claiming that many of the details in it were overblown.

“Due to the competent actions of the commanders, the losses among the marines over this period do not exceed 1 percent of the combat personnel and 7 percent of the wounded, a significant part of whom have already returned to duty,” the ministry said in its statement.

Kozhemyako first dismissed the letter as a “potential fake planted” by Ukrainians, but later said in a video message that after talking to officers on the front line that “the number is not as high as it’s written in this letter.”

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The ministry’s response represents the first time since the beginning of the war last February that they responded to reports of mass casualties and criticism of commanders online. Criticism of the war, or even calling it a war instead of a “special military operation,” is illegal in Russia, though the Kremlin has appeared somewhat more tolerant of criticism of the military’s poor performance in Ukraine in recent months.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has gone far from accordingly. He expected to quickly topple the Zelensky government in Kyiv, but his problems within Russia’s military ranks were quickly discovered and exploited by Ukraine’s resistance forces. Failures including a frequent rotation of military leaders, ongoing territorial losses this fall, and reaching out to Iran and North Korea for weapons have raised international concerns that Putin is more likely to resort to using a tactical nuclear weapon.

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