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Russia blamed the use of mobile phones by its soldiers for the deadly missile strike


  • 89 Russian soldiers killed in New Year strike – Ministry of Defense
  • Bakhmut on the eastern front is still the scene of intense fighting
  • Kyiv again believes that Russia will begin a major mobilization

MOSCOW, Jan 4 (Reuters) – Russia’s defense ministry on Wednesday blamed the illegal use of cellphones by its soldiers for a deadly Ukrainian missile strike it said killed 89 servicemen, significantly raising the reported death toll.

Moscow earlier said 63 Russian soldiers were killed in the strike over the weekend. The ministry’s reaction came amid growing anger among some Russian commentators who have increasingly spoken out about what they see as a half-hearted campaign in Ukraine.

Most of the anger on social media was aimed at military commanders rather than Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has not publicly commented on the attack, another blow after major battlefield retreats in recent months.

The Russian Defense Ministry said four Ukrainian missiles hit a temporary Russian barracks at a vocational college in Makeevka, a sister city to the Russian-occupied regional capital of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

Although an official investigation has been launched, the main reason for the attack is apparently the illegal mass use of mobile phones by military personnel, the ministry said.

“This factor allowed the enemy to track and determine the coordinates of the location of the soldiers for a missile strike,” it said in statement issued shortly after 1 a.m. in Moscow on Wednesday (22:00 GMT on Tuesday).

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who rarely comments on specific Ukrainian military strikes, made no mention of the attack in a video address on Tuesday in which he said Russia was ready to launch a major offensive to improve its fortunes.

“We have no doubt that the current masters of Russia will throw everything they have left and everyone they can muster to try to turn the tide of the war and at least delay their defeat,” Zelensky said in a video address.

“We have to destroy this Russian scenario. We’re getting ready for it. The terrorists must lose. Any attempt at a new offensive must fail,” he continued.

The Ukrainian military said it carried out a strike that resulted in the loss of Russian equipment and possibly personnel near Makeevka. But he doesn’t give more details.

Russian nationalist bloggers and some pro-Russian officials in the region put the death toll in Makeevka in the hundreds, although some say these estimates are exaggerated.

BAKHMUT FIGHTING

General Valery Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, said the situation on the front line near the eastern city of Bakhmut was particularly dire.

Russian forces have repeatedly tried to take Bakhmut and the surrounding area, in some cases literally advancing over the corpses of their own soldiers, Zaluzhny wrote on the Telegram messaging app, saying Ukrainian forces were holding on.

A little known patriotic group which supports the widows of Russian soldiers calls on Putin to order a large-scale mobilization of millions of men and close the borders to ensure victory in Ukraine.

Zelensky echoed Ukrainian claims that Moscow is planning a full-scale mobilization, a step that Russian officials say is not currently under consideration.

A US State Department spokesman said Washington had seen reports “that the Ukrainian military has struck Russian military barracks that store ammunition on Ukrainian territory” and resulted in many Russian deaths. “We’ve also read reports that many of these soldiers were recruits.”

Putin plans to speak with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax, the latest in a series of talks the two men have had since the war began.

Turkey brokered a deal with the United Nations last year to allow grain exports from Ukrainian ports, but the chances of serious peace talks appear remote, especially as fighting continues to rage.

Ukrainian General Zaluzhny, summarizing a conversation on Tuesday with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, thanked the Americans for helping to provide anti-missile weapons systems that Kyiv says are destroying more and more of the Russian missiles aimed at power plants .

Zaluzhny said he discussed what equipment Ukraine needs to increase its chances against Russia, a message senior officials make daily.

“Right now is the time when together with our partners we need to strengthen our defense,” Zelensky said.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Zelensky that he could count on Britain supports in the long term, “as demonstrated by the recent delivery of more than 1,000 anti-aircraft missiles,” Sunak’s office said Tuesday.

Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, which he calls a “special military operation,” on February 24, 2022, to deter threats to Russian security and protect Russian-speakers. Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked imperialist-style territorial grab.

Reports from Reuters bureaus; Written by David Ljunggren, Grant McCool and Stephen Coates; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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