The New Year strike on a Russian military base in Makiivka has led to Moscow’s biggest admission of loss of life since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
But aside from the devastating and still mounting death toll, experts say the incident has exposed something even more alarming for Russia: broad incompetence and carelessness at the heart of its military command.
Just minutes after Ukraine rang in the New Year, four US-made HIMARS rockets rained down on a purported school building housing Russian army recruits in the industrial town of Makiivka in the occupied region of Donetsk.
Ukraine, along with Russian military bloggers, quickly put the death toll at a staggering 400. Moscow on the other hand, first estimated it at 63, but early on Wednesday revised it up to 89.
In either case, it is the biggest loss of life Moscow had reported from a single strike since it began its invasion of Ukraine ten months ago.
The announcement from the Russian Defence Ministry was an event in itself, since Russia rarely commented on its losses, and if it did, often played them down or completely denied them.
The admission came after news of the tragedy went viral, and Russian war bloggers began to put the blame on some of the country’s top commanders, accusing them of failing to protect their forces.
Jeff Hawn, a specialist on the Russian military and consultant for the American geopolitical research centre, New Lines Institute, said Russia, by playing down the losses, was trying to spin the strike in its favour.
“They want to minimise it, as usual, in order to minimise the backlash but they also want to say: ‘Look at the cowardly Ukrainians who are killing our men in their sleep’,” he explained.