Speed Reads

Pen v. sword

Russian uproar over reported mass troop casualties in disastrous battle gets rare official response

Russian military correspondents were in an uproar Sunday over a letter from Russian marines detailing massive losses during an offensive in the village of Pavlika in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk province. "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 stated.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky highlighted Russian losses in Donetsk in his nightly address on Monday.

Russian forces attacked Pavlika in late October, "aiming to advance toward the strategic town of Vuhledar," The Wall Street Journal reports. "That offensive appears to have turned into a disaster, with marines from Russia's 155th Brigade nearly surrounded, according to multiple accounts by Russian military correspondents, analysts," and a Russian commander in Donetsk.

The letter from the surviving marines blamed specific Russian generals for the Pavlika debacle and urged the governor of Russia's far-east Primorsky region, home of the 155th Brigade, to investigate. The outcry over the battlefield losses prompted a rare public statement from the Russian Defense Ministry, "the first time since the start of Russia's invasion that the ministry has officially responded to reports of mass casualties and criticism of commanders on Telegram," The Washington Post reports

"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," the Defense Ministry claimed Monday. Some Russian military bloggers agreed that the reported losses were probably exaggerated, while other accused the ministry of trying to cover up yet another military disaster.

Unlike the Kremlin, Russia's Defense Ministry "has remained remarkably tight-lipped about milblogger critiques of Russian failures throughout the war in Ukraine," the Institute for the Study of War think tank reported Monday night. The ministry's public response indicates that the military bloggers now have "considerable leverage" over Russia's war narrative "and additionally suggests that the situation in Pavlivka is dire enough to warrant a response."

At the same time, Russia's military is "trying to fend off another public scandal" after residents of Voronezh complained that hundreds of newly conscripted, poorly trained men from the Russian region likely died fighting in Svatorve, Ukraine, the Post reports. "If Russia loses Svatove, Ukrainian forces probably will be able to advance further into Luhansk, regaining much of the territory that Putin claimed to be annexed and absorbed into Russia."