Russia held a funeral service for the deputy commander of its Black Sea Fleet in annexed Crimea on Wednesday, the latest in what Ukraine says is a string of high-ranking Russian military casualties since Moscow invaded on Feb. 24.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak on Sunday named six Russian generals who he said had been killed in Ukraine along with dozens of colonels and other officers.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has not confirmed any of those casualties. It has not revised its troop casualties since March 2, a week into the war, when it said that 498 of its soldiers had died. Ukraine puts the figure at 15,600.
Reuters could not independently verify most of Ukraine’s claims, but some have been confirmed from Russian sources.
Local Russian government in the southern port of Novorossiysk confirmed the death on Feb. 28 of Major General Andrei Sukhovetsky in a statement on its website. It said he had served in Syria, the North Caucasus and Abkhazia.
On Wednesday, hundreds converged in the Crimean city of Sevastopol to attend a funeral service with a gun salute for Andrei Paliy, a first rank captain and the deputy commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
Konrad Muzyka, director of the Poland-based Rochan consultancy, said the Ukrainian estimates of Russian high-ranking casualties were plausible, but they were difficult to verify and the actual figure was probably smaller.
“Even if we are talking about two generals, that’s a big deal,” he said. “We’re not only talking about generals, we’re also talking about colonels who are of course also really high in the organization.”
He said such casualties suggested Russia didn’t have a good understanding of Ukrainian artillery positions and Ukraine was having success in pinpointing the location of senior Russian officers, possibly via their mobile phone signals.
‘TOO MANY COLONELS, TOO FEW CORPORALS’
A senior foreign diplomat in Moscow told Reuters: “For me what is important is the reported heavy casualties at colonel and above, the backbone of the Russian army, not just generals,”
The diplomat said the Russian army was heavily centralized and hierarchical, and lacking in empowered Western-style junior officers. “There are too many colonels, too few corporals. So what happens is tasks requiring resolution, which in the West would be resolved at much lower levels, get passed up the chain for decision,” the source said.
The diplomat said that the hierarchical structure drew senior officers to the front to sort out problems or revitalize the effort, leaving them vulnerable to attack.
“Centralization of command and control, lack of dispersal, and paucity of secure communication also puts them in locations where they can be identified and picked off by Ukrainian UAVs,” the diplomat said, referring to unmanned drones.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands of people, displaced nearly 10 million and raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and the United States.
Russia says its “special military operation” was necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia and Moscow had to defend against the “genocide” of Russian speakers by Ukraine. Ukraine has dismisses those claims.
(Reporting by Reuters, editing by Mark Trevelyan and Vinay Dwivedi)