reasons for the anger of Russian elite soldiers

Soldiers from the 155th Marine Brigade, the elite corps of the Russian military, published an open letter on Sunday condemning leaders accused of being used as cannon fodder in Ukraine. Criticisms in the media in Russia echoed so much that they received a response from the Ministry of Defense for the first time since the start of hostilities.

Another stone to be added to the building of growing dissatisfaction in Russia due to the progress of the war in Ukraine. This time, the criticism comes not from everyone, but directly from the front: the elite army soldiers An open letter published on Sunday, November 6. The mission prompted the Department of Defense to intervene in a Telegram discussion about the human cost to Russia of a “special military operation” in Ukraine for the first time since the war began.

Soldiers of the 155the After a particularly difficult battle near the city of Donetsk in Donbass, the Marine Corps broke out of silence. This attack, which was “carefully” planned by “our great generals”, resulted in the loss of 300 of our soldiers and half of our equipment in just four days,” complain the authors of the open letter widely shared on Telegram. A social network used by Russian military and political commentators.

Ingredients for slaughter

This brigade was tasked with leading an attack on the Ukrainian garrison on the outskirts of the village of Pavlivka, southwest of Donetsk, on November 2. “Moscow Times” explains the position of the Russian army as an important node in the Ukrainian military supply network.

The operation is part of Russia’s current front-line strategy. “Ukraine is sending new equipment to the forces stationed around Kharkiv as a priority [au nord du Donbass] and Kherson [au sud de l’Ukraine]and troops around Donetsk are less equipped, Moscow wants to take advantage of that,” said Sim Tack, a military analyst at Forces Analysis, a company that monitors the conflicts.

“Capturing this village would be an important victory for Moscow, as it has been on the disputed front line since 2015. [lorsque les combats sporadiques opposaient les forces séparatistes prorusses du Donbass à l’armée ukrainienne]”, Sim Tack explains.

But the attack did not go as planned. Survivors of 155e The brigade condemns the order to attack from the front without preparing a position defended by the Ukrainian army and artillery and in difficult weather conditions. Multiple items caused more than 300 “dead, wounded and missing service members,” according to the letter’s authors. “These are extremely high losses for a brigade,” confirms a military analyst.

The Ministry of Defense of Russia does not even hear this. In Telegram, he claimed that “Casualties amounted to only 1% of combat personnel and 7% of wounded, a significant number of whom have already returned to combat.”

This official version makes Sim Tack suspect. “Since the beginning of the war, Russian advances have always come at the cost of significant human and material sacrifices. If the information provided by the Ministry was accurate, this would be one of the attacks that required the least human and material costs. Moscow,” he said.

The elite corps became cannon fodder

Apart from the debate about the death toll, what is surprising is that the Ministry of Defense has directly intervened against its own soldiers. It’s unprecedented but “inevitable,” according to Jeff Hawn, an expert on Russian military affairs and foreign affairs consultant at the New Lines Institute, an American geopolitical think tank.

Indeed, the open letter “gained media visibility very quickly,” confirms Sim Tack. And this was shared by pro-Kremlin military analysts and observers on Twitter. Alexander Sladkov, one of the main war correspondents of the Russian official media, even acknowledged the existence of this letter without mentioning its content.

Jeff Hawn notes that “the Russian authorities should have denied it as soon as possible to prevent this case from getting too big and fueling the growing discontent of the Russian population.”

If these observers—mostly Ukraine war hawks—repeated the letter, it was essentially because it came from the elite corps of the Russian military. “Marine brigades are the equivalent of expeditionary forces in other countries, a bit like the French Foreign Legion, but without the foreigners,” Jeff Hawn explains.

There are 155 of these elite troops in the Russian armye The brigade was attached to the Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok before the war in Ukraine. “It’s a pocket army with all the necessary equipment to operate without the need for support from other units,” said Jeff Hawn. Such countermeasures are usually sent to hit important targets in well-planned operations.

Russian soldiers against their leaders

It has nothing to do with the attack on the garrison near the village. “This unit of professional soldiers was clearly being used as cannon fodder in hopes of gaining some territory,” Jeff Hawn said.

Survivors of the brigade also regret it in their open letter. They criticize their leaders for trying to reap glory without worrying about human losses. “This is very indicative of the pressure that Moscow is currently putting on divisional commanders. They are called upon to bring good news from the front as soon as possible, which may prompt them to launch high-risk attacks quickly rather than take their time.” , Sim Tack explains.

That is why this letter is so important. “This shows a deepening chasm between professional soldiers and their hierarchy, who are accused of not having their interests in mind,” emphasizes Jeff Hawn. This message from the letter caught the attention of war hawks who passed it on Telegram.

For them, it’s about protecting the general staff from dysfunction, which risks costing Russia dearly. The danger is that if professional soldiers’ anger at their leaders continues or grows, “at some point they will no longer want to follow orders on the front lines,” concludes Jeff Hawn. In this regard, I am not sure that the defense ministry’s casualty-minimizing response will reassure the soldiers on the front lines.

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