Russian forces have denounced an “incomprehensible battle” in Donetsk after apparently suffering heavy casualties during a week of intense fighting in Ukraine’s main eastern region.
Moscow has spent the past seven days trying to breach Kiev’s defenses around the city of Pavlivka, but it appears to have made little progress with as many as 300 men killed, according to an open letter published on a prominent Russian military blog on Monday.
The men of the 155th Brigade of the Russian Pacific Fleet Marines sharply criticized a senior Russian official in a rare display of defiance, accusing the authorities of “hiding” the casualties “for fear of being held accountable”.
The letter, purportedly sent to a regional Russian governor from the front lines, came amid Moscow’s shaky offensive in a region that President Vladimir Putin claimed illegally annexed just over a month ago.
“Once again we were thrown into an incomprehensible battle by General Muradov and his brother-in-law, his compatriot Akhmedov, so that Muradov could earn bonuses to make him look good in the eyes of Gerasimov (the Russian Chief of the General Staff),” said the men in the memo, sent to the governor of Primorsky Krai.
“As a result of the ‘carefully’ planned offensive by the ‘big commanders’ we lost about 300 killed and wounded with some MIA in the last four days.
“We have lost 50% of our equipment. That’s our brigade alone. The district command, along with Akhmedov, is hiding these facts and distorting the official statistics on the number of victims for fear of being held accountable.”
They begged Governor Oleg Kozhemyako: “How long can mediocrities like Muradov and Akhmedov continue to plan military actions to keep up appearances and win prizes at the expense of so many people’s lives?”
Russian military commentators have also criticized the military’s approach in Donetsk.
“The situation in Pavlivka has been discussed at the highest level for several days and the blood continues to flow,” Aleksandr Sladkov, a Russian military journalist who works for All-Russian State Television and Radio, told Telegram.
“Troops say there is now a dilemma: exhausted units cannot be withdrawn without bringing in new ones. There are no new units and no possibility to withdraw and replace them because of the constant firing,” the Russian military journalist posted. Alexey Sukonkin also on Telegram. .
“Why did we withdraw from Pavlivka and now have to retake it?” Aleksander Khodakovsky, a Russian-backed commander of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, said he criticized Moscow’s tactical approach to the region.
Khodakovsky said Russian forces had used basements as defensive positions, meaning they did not see any flanking movement from the Ukrainians.
“That’s why quite a few Marines, including company commanders, were captured at the time. Not because they were weak-minded, but because they were being held hostage by their defense organization,” Khodakovsky said, adding that Ukrainian reconnaissance troops had used high-rise buildings in nearby Vuhledar and cameras mounted on top of mine shafts to direct artillery. strikes.
“Pavlivka’s defenders will be held hostage again. Supply and rotations will be difficult, it will be impossible to move through Pavlivka,” he said.
CNN cannot verify how many soldiers signed the letter, nor their ranks, but Governor Kozhemyako confirmed he had received a letter from the unit.
“We have contacted our Marine commanders on the front lines. These are guys who have been fighting since the start of the operation,” the governor said on Telegram.
Kozhemyako added that the combat commander had emphasized that the death of the (Primorsky) troops had been significantly exaggerated.
“I also know firsthand that our fighters in Pavlivka, as well as throughout the special military operation, have shown real heroism and unprecedented courage. We have inflicted serious damage on the enemy.”
Kozhemyako said the soldiers’ complaint had been forwarded to the military prosecutor’s office.
Russia’s defense ministry issued a rare public response to criticism of the military operation in Donetsk, denying that its troops suffered “high, senseless losses in men and equipment.”
Russia’s losses in the Vuhledar and Pavlivka area of the Donetsk region “do not exceed 1% of combat strength and 7% of wounded, a significant proportion of whom have already returned to work,” the ministry said on Monday. Russian state media agency TASS reported.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the fierce battle for Donetsk “remains the epicenter of the occupiers’ greatest madness” and refuted Kozhemyako’s claims that Moscow’s losses “were not that great”.
“They die by the hundreds every day,” Zelensky added. “The ground for the Ukrainian positions is literally littered with the bodies of the occupiers.”
Zelensky noted that the governor was about 9,000 kilometers (about 5,500 miles) from the front line and said, “The governor can probably better see from there how many soldiers and how are being sent to the slaughter from his region. Or he was simply ordered to lie.”
Social media and drone videos from recent days have shown numerous Russian tanks and other armored vehicles being attacked around Pavlivka, about 50 kilometers southwest of Donetsk and on the front lines for several months.
The Ukrainian military has released images of two Russian T-72B tanks and three BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles hit by Ukrainian artillery and anti-tank systems, with senior officials citing repulsed attacks from intense shelling in the area.
“The enemy is losing the opportunity to carry out their plans,” Oleksii Hromov, deputy head of the Ukrainian General Staff Operations Directorate, said Thursday.