Speed Reads

Death by HIMARS

Russian military bloggers say 'many 100s' killed in Ukrainian strike on Makiivka, slam Russia's military

In a rare admission of battlefield losses, Russia's Defense Ministry said Monday that a Ukrainian missile strike on the occupied city of Makiivka early Jan. 1 killed 63 Russian troops, later revising the number upward to 70 as debris was cleared from the razed vocational school in Donetsk province. Ukraine's armed forces initially said about 400 Russian soldiers were killed and another 300 wounded in Makiivka, but later said Russian losses are still be assessed.

Russian military bloggers put the number of dead at between 200 and 600, and many furiously accused Russia's military of "lethal incompetence," The New York Times reports. None of the claimed casualty counts "could be independently verified, but even the lowest number would represent one of the worst Russian losses in a single episode in the war," and a grave embarrassment for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BBC News Kyiv correspondent Hugo Bachega suggested the strike on Makiivka was so deadly, "Moscow decided that it couldn't stay silent." He added that the attack was also significant because it showed Ukraine is now using U.S.-provided HIMARS precision rocket systems to hit Russian "bases and troop concentrations," not just "military logistics and supply lines."

One influential war analyst, Igor Girkin, wrote on Telegram that "many hundreds" were dead in Makiivka and many more "remained under the rubble." Like many military bloggers, he slammed Russia's military for housing large number of troops in one location, within HIMARS range, in a building that also stored ammunition "without the slightest sign of disguise." Vladlen Tatarsky, a military blogger embraced by the Kremlin, described Russia's top officers as "untrained cretins" and called for their trial before a tribunal.

One of the Russian conscripts who survived the attack reportedly wrote that the official death toll of 63 is way too low, saying of his dead colleagues, "We are cleaning their brains off our boots."

The Institute for the Study of War said Monday night it could recall only "two other instances of mass milblogger criticism: the failed Russian river crossing in Bilohorivka in May 2022 and the botched Russian offensive operation on Pavlivka in October 2022. Such profound military failures will continue to complicate Putin's efforts to appease the Russian pro-war community and retain the dominant narrative in the domestic information space."