The Kremlin’s apparently false claim that its forces killed 600 Ukrainian troops in a retaliation strike is generating new discontent among Russian military bloggers critical of the military leadership since the invasion last February, a Washington-based think tank says.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the strike Saturday targeted a temporary Ukrainian deployment point at a school in the Donbas region city of Kramatorsk in retaliation for a Ukrainian military strike on New Year’s Eve. The Kremlin says the Ukrainian attack killed 89 Russian troops; Ukraine said its strike killed up to 400 Russians.
The Institute for the Study of War says in its latest assessment of the war that a Finnish reporter visited the site of the retaliatory strike on Sunday and said it hit an empty school.
Yana Pristupa, the school’s deputy director, also rejected Moscow’s claims, telling Associated Press reporters at the site that “nobody saw a single spot of blood anywhere. … It’s just people cleaning up.”
Several Russian military bloggers criticized the Russian claim, the assessment said. The bloggers noted that the Russian ministry frequently presents fraudulent claims and criticized the military leadership for fabricating a story instead of holding the Russian leadership responsible.
Russian blogger Gray Zone wrote on Telegram that “instead of the real destruction of the enemy personnel, which would have been a worthy response, a media operation of retaliation was invented.”
►Russian forces are intensifying measures to identify partisans in occupied territories, the institute reported. Russian occupation authorities blamed Ukrainian partisans for mining a gas pipeline in Luhansk on Sunday.
►Two people were killed and a 13-year-old girl was among at least five people wounded by a Russian rocket strike on a market in the northeastern Kharkiv region, Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said. More people could be trapped under the rubble, he said.
►More than two dozen Ukrainian junior athletes living in areas of war-battered eastern Ukraine are training in Cyprus for a month under an Olympic Dreams project.
KYIV DENIES RUSSIAN CLAIMthat a ‘retaliation’ missile strike killed 600 Ukrainian soldiers
‘Savage’ fighting in hotly contested Donetsk region
The heaviest fighting in Ukraine, described as “savage” by a senior US military official, continues to be centered in and around the eastern city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region that Russia has claimed to annex but does not fully control. The Ukrainians and Russians fire thousands of artillery rounds a day at each other across the rolling terrain. Each side occupies trenches, and progress is no more than a few hundred yards a day, according to the official who briefed reporters Monday on condition of anonymity.
The first wave of Russian troops to advance is often made up of convicts under the command of the Wagner Group, a contractor closely affiliated with the Kremlin. Better-trained forces occupy the territory seized at high cost by poorly trained contractors, the official said, adding that Russian commanders are willing to trade people for bullets.
US says Iran is complicit in Russian war crimes
Iran’s sale of lethal drones to Russia means the country may be “contributing to widespread war crimes” in Ukraine, a White House spokesman said Monday. National security adviser Jake Sullivan’s remark to reporters marked some of the sharpest US rhetoric against Iran since it began providing weapons to Russia soon after the invasion. The US and the EU are looking to further ostracize both nations while struggling to stop the transfer of weapons desperately needed by the Kremlin.
Sullivan said Iran had chosen “to go down a road where their weapons are being used to kill civilians in Ukraine and to try to plunge cities into cold and darkness, which from our point of view puts Iran in a place where it could potentially be contributing ” to Russian war crimes.
Kremlin sticks to the story of retaliation
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said reports from Westerners who visited Kramatorsk after the retaliatory strike have not shaken the faith of leaders in Moscow on the veracity of the Defense Ministry’s claims.
“The Defense Ministry is the main, legitimate and comprehensive source of information about the course of the special military operation,” Peskov said.
The Kremlin claimed a retaliatory strike in October that was clearly not a fabrication. After Ukraine struck a bridge linking the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula with Russia, the Kremlin began a massive barrage against Ukraine’s energy facilities billed as retaliation for the bridge attack. Relentless bombardments against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure are now a common occurrence.
Russians crack down on dissent among the rich and famous
Russian is cracking down on dissent. Authorities have announced a criminal investigation of Artur Smolyaninov, a popular actor who has criticized the war in Ukraine. Smolyaninov told Novaya Gazeta Europe that “if I were to go to this war, I would only fight for Ukraine.” Parliament member Sultan Khamzayev requested opening a criminal case and asked that Smolyaninov’s passport be revoked.
Russia’s Interior Ministry placed prominent philanthropist Boris Zimin on an international most wanted list on fraud charges. Zimin has funded several Russian independent media outlets as well as projects of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Zimin reportedly left Russia seven years ago.
Contributing: The Associated Press