A window into how Ukraine has turned the tide of the war: On New Year’s Day, the Ukrainian military launched a precision strike against Russian barracks in Makiivka, near Donetsk City in the Donbas.
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The attack killed so many Russian troops that the Russian Ministry of Defense had to come out with an extremely high casualty figure.
Almost a month later, we are finally getting some clarity on what happened and how many Russian troops were killed in the precision strike.
The Strike on Makiivka
It was January 1, the first year of 2023. The Russian troops stationed in a makeshift barracks in Makiivka had just celebrated the coming of the new year. But the celebrations were also their undoing.
A few miles away, the Ukrainian military intelligence was tracking cellphone networks.
When the Ukrainians saw a large number of devices popping up in a particular location of Makiivka, they inferred that a large concentration of Russian troops was there.
Soon thereafter, the Ukrainians targeted the facility with the deadly M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).
The Russian Ministry of Defense publicly acknowledged the loss of 89 soldiers, though the Ukrainians claimed hundreds of killed and wounded Russians. A recent assessment by the British Military Intelligence provides some clarity.
“Russia highly likely suffered more than 300 casualties in a strike on troop accommodation at Makiivka near Donetsk City on 01 January 2023. We assess that the majority were likely killed or missing, rather than wounded,” the British Military Intelligence assessed in its latest estimate of the war.
The attack was so deadly that the new Russian commander in Ukraine, General Valery Gerasimov, banned the use of personal cell phones and tablets almost immediately after assuming his duties.
Russian Disinformation in the Ukraine War
The decision to publicly acknowledge such a large number of casualties suggests that the Russian Ministry of Defense is more sensitive to public criticism than it was in the previous months.
Through the Telegram social media platform, the Russian military blogger community has been particularly engaged in reporting and often criticizing the conduct of the war. The Ukrainian successes of the past months and Russian failures to achieve anything significant on the ground have empowered Russian commentators, who are growing increasingly vocal, in some cases even criticizing the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Often, Russian military bloggers have connections or even access to frontline operations and can thus present an alternative narrative to that of the Russian Ministry of Defense.
“Russian officials likely assessed that it was not viable to avoid comment in the face of widespread criticism of Russian commanders over the incident. The difference between the number of casualties Russia acknowledged and the likely true total highlights the pervasive presence of disinformation in Russian public announcements,” the British Military Intelligence added.
Disinformation has been a staple of Russian foreign policy for decades.
“This typically comes about through a combination of deliberate lying authorised by senior leaders, and the communication of inaccurate reports by more junior officials, keen to downplay their failings in Russia’s ‘blame and sack’ culture,” the British Military Intelligence assessed.
Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.