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Russian military says 63 of its soldiers were killed in Ukrainian rocket attacks

By Sarah May on
 January 3, 2023

In an incident reportedly among the deadliest outcomes sustained by Russian troops since the conflict in Ukraine began last February, 63 soldiers died as the result of a rocket attack in the Donestsk region in the eastern part of the country, according to the Associated Press.

The rockets are said to have emanated from an American-supplied HIMARS launch system, weaponry the AP indicated has been pivotal in facilitating successful strikes on critical targets.

Fatalities acknowledged

Though initial information about the attack and resulting fatalities was somewhat sketchy, Dmitry Azarov, governor of the Samara region in Russia, indicated that multiple residents of his jurisdiction were indeed killed and injured in the strike, which occurred in the town of Makiivka, the AP noted.

Providing additional detail were Russian military bloggers who revealed that stored ammunition near the site of the strike had exploded, a fact which contributed to the substantial number of casualties reported.

On the Ukrainian side, General Staff on Monday confirmed that a strike occurred in Makiivka on Dec. 31. And though the official statement said that the Russian death toll was still being finalized, it declared 10 Russian military vehicles to have been damaged or destroyed.

Though losses of roughly 63 Russian soldiers have been acknowledged by the Kremlin, claims have also emerged – though they remain unverified – that upwards of 400 mobilized Russian troops were killed inside a vocational training facility in Makiivka, with an additional 300 sustaining injuries.

Additional reporting from the AP indicated that emergency crews were seen attempting to shift large concrete chunks from the rubble pile that resulted from Ukrainian rocket attacks, in what could be a sign that the harm inflicted on Russian forces was indeed greater than first suggested.

Russian pundit weighs in

Despite reports of larger-than-reported Russian casualties as a result of the attack in Makiivka, Russian pundit Sergei Markov has taken to Telegram to give an alternative take, as Sky News reported.

Markov posted on Tuesday that “the losses of the Ukrainian army are several times greater than the losses of the Russian army at the facility in Donetsk.

The pundit declared that high Ukrainian casualties are, in his opinion, attributable to the fact that “[a] totalitarian society is not afraid of high losses.”

Kremlin mulls tactical shift

The conflict in Ukraine has dragged on far longer than almost anyone – including Russian President Vladmir Putin – ever anticipated, and as a result, reports suggest that he is now in the process of recalibrating his military's approach to what has become a war of attrition.

According to Ukrainian officials, Putin is contemplating an escalation in the frequency of bombardments utilizing Iranian-produced exploding drones, as the AP further noted.

In his nightly video comments on Monday, Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, stated, “We have information that Russia is planning a prolonged attack by Shaheds [Iranian drones].”

Zelensky opined that Russia's objective is to try and defeat Ukraine by “exhausting our people, air defense, our energy” with the renewed emphasis on drones.

Putin's gambit

As the AP noted, citing the Institute for the Study of War, Putin is currently engaged in efforts to bolster support for his war tactics among important constituencies within Russia, and that “Russia's air and missile campaign against Ukraine is likely not generating the Kremlin's desired information effects among Russia's nationalists.”

The Institute added that “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.”

However, given the Ukrainian military's impressive success rate when it comes to combating drone attacks, Putin's new gambit may be destined to fail, the think tank suggests, but it may help exhaust the defense systems that have shown themselves to be so effective to date.

Though speculation has continued to run rampant about Putin's allegedly failing health and the possibility of his ouster in a Kremlin coup, the conflict in Ukraine shows no sign of abating, and whether Russia's reported change in tactics will substantially shift the trajectory of the situation on the ground, only time will tell.