If true, the death of so many generals, alongside older Russian army and navy commanders – in just four weeks of fighting – exceeds the attrition rate seen in the worst months of fighting. in Russia’s bloody nine-year war in Chechnya, as well as Russian and Soviet campaigns in Afghanistan, Georgia and Syria.
“This is very unusual,” said a senior Western official, briefing reporters on the matter, who confirmed the names, ranks and “killed in action” status of the seven.
In total, at least 15 senior Russian commanders were killed in the field, said Markiyan Lubkivsky, spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.
The Russian government has not confirmed the death of its generals.
If the number of senior commanders killed turns out to be accurate, the Russian generals were either extremely unlucky or successfully targeted – or both.
Shooting generals is a legitimate tactic of war – and it has been openly embraced by Ukrainian officials, who say their forces focused on slowing Russian advances by concentrating fire on Russian command and control units near front lines.
jeffrey edmondsformer director for Russia at the National Security Council and now a senior analyst at the CNA think tank in Washington, said Ukrainian forces appear to be targeting “any gray-haired person standing near a bunch of antennae,” a signal that they could be senior officers.
Some experts suggest that the Russian military struggled to keep its communications secure and that Ukrainian intelligence units found their targets through Russian negligence, with Russian forces reduced to using unencrypted devices. There have been reports of Russian soldiers using cell phones.
The Pentagon and other Western officials say Russian generals typically serve closer to the front lines than their NATO counterparts. By design, the Russian military is made up of senior officers, making them plentiful, but not expendable.
Military analysts and Western intelligence officials say Russian generals in Ukraine could be more exposed and serving closer to the front because their side is struggling – and senior officers are being deployed closer to the action to cut the slack. chaos.
A Western official suggested that Russian generals were also needed to advance “frightened” Russian troops, including raw conscripts. Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Defense Ministry to withdraw the conscripts from combat, after publicly promising they would not be deployed.
The Pentagon, NATO and Western officials say the Russian military in Ukraine is struggling with low morale.
Russian soldiers attacked and injured their commander after their brigade suffered heavy casualties in fighting outside the capital, kyiv, according to a Western official and a Ukrainian journalist.
Troops from the 37th Motorized Rifle Brigade threw a tank at Colonel Yuri Medvedev, wounding him in both legs, after their unit lost nearly half of its men, according to a Facebook post by Ukrainian journalist Roman Tsymbaliuk. The post said the colonel had been hospitalized.
A senior Western official said he believed Medvedev had been killed, “due to the scale of the casualties suffered by his own brigade”.
Oleksiy Arestovych, military adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told the Washington Post that the Ukrainian military had focused its efforts on “slowing down” the Russian invasion, in part by “decapitating” forward command posts, which means to kill, not literally to decapitate. .
Killing senior officers can slow Russian advances by “three or four or five days” before new command structures can be put in place, Arestovych said.
He attributed successful targeting to both “excellent intelligence” and numerous Russian vulnerabilities.
Arestovych claimed that in addition to slowing Russian momentum, killing their generals undermines Russian morale, while strengthening Ukrainian resolve.
“The deaths of such commanders quickly become common knowledge and it is very difficult to hide,” he said. “Unlike the death of an ordinary soldier, it makes an overwhelming impression.”
Ukrainian and Western officials have named seven Russian generals killed in action: Magomed Tushayev, Andrei Sukhovetsky, Vitaly Gerasimov, Andrey Kolesnikov, Oleg Mityaev, Yakov Rezanstev and Andrei Mordvichev.
Russian officials and Russian media confirmed the death of only one general.
Sukhovetsky, deputy commander of Russia’s 41st Army, was killed by a sniper early in the war, Ukrainian officials said. At his burial in Novorossiysk, a port city on the Black Sea, a deputy mayor said Sukhovetsky “died heroically while on a combat mission during a special operation in Ukraine.”
Christo Grosev, director of open-source investigative group Bellingcat, said he confirmed Gerasimov’s death, first reported by Ukrainian intelligence. The Bellingcat Investigator also reported on a A March 7 phone call from a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer reporting the death to his superior, a call captured by Ukrainian intelligence and shared with reporters.
One of the first commanders Ukraine claimed to have killed, in late February, was Tushayev, a right-hand man of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
Kadyrov denied the claim on his Telegram channel, and Chechen Information Minister Akhmed Dudayev released an audio message allegedly from Tushayev, which he claimed proved he was alive.
Deaths of senior officers are celebrated on Ukrainian social media, but kept out of Russian news.
Killing Russian generals “feels consequential for Ukraine,” especially in “the David vs. Goliath narrative they’re living,” said Margarita Konaev, an expert in Russian military innovation at the Center for Security and Emerging Technologies at the Center for Security and Emerging Technologies. ‘Georgetown University.
She said the nature of the fighting – up close in urban environments – will likely increase body counts on both sides, for civilians, ordinary soldiers and commanders.
The urban dimension is particularly deadly, she says.
Mason Clarksenior analyst and Russian military expert at the Institute for the Study of Warfare, said Ukrainian reports suggest that radio communications through Russian forces are vulnerable to interception and tracking.
Prior to the start of the war with Russia, Clark said Ukrainian forces had learned to use communications to ‘target and locate’ sources of artillery fire in separatist enclaves in the eastern Donbass region. from Ukraine.
“They used this formation on a massive scale,” Clark said.
Ruth Deyermondpost-Soviet security expert in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, said it was unclear how the loss of senior officers in Ukraine might shape thinking in the Kremlin.
As Putin’s circle has shrunk and decision-making has become more opaque, she said, “you don’t even know what Putin is being told about the casualties” by his own military.
The reported high attrition rate for Russian commanders in Ukraine highlights the problem of invading the country on false assumptions, expecting to quickly overthrow the Ukrainian government and install a puppet regime to bring it back into the orbit of Moscow. A military operation planned by Russia to last a few days has entered its second month.
Russia is very sensitive to military casualties, especially involving senior officers.
Calling the invasion a ‘special military operation’ to liberate Ukraine from ‘neo-Nazis’, Russian authorities banned journalists from using the term ‘war’ and criminalized criticism of the military or broadcasting any information likely to harm its image.
After Russia’s initial failures, Putin merely doubled his war effort, with the Kremlin drowning out hopes of an exit ramp through peace talks. Russian authorities appear to be preparing for a long and bloody campaign, bolstering national unity through a propaganda blitz, as the military steps up its pressure on Ukraine.
Booth reported from London, Dixon from Riga, Latvia, and Stern from Mukachevo, Ukraine. Liz Sly in London contributed to this report.