what response to expect from Moscow?

Russia on Monday acknowledged the deaths of 89 of its soldiers in Ukraine. Some analysts expect a buildup of Russian troops in the coming weeks, hopefully before these losses.

A rare statement from Russia. Moscow on Monday admitted its biggest military loss in a single offensive in Ukraine with the deaths of at least 89 soldiers following an attack by the Kyiv army.

The bombing took place in Makiivka, a town located in Moscow’s long-occupied territory, east of Donetsk, a stronghold of pro-Russian separatists since their conflict with Kyiv began in 2014. According to Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, who did not gave the date of the attack, saying four missiles targeted the army’s “temporary deployment center”. Two other rockets were shot down, he said.

This announcement is extraordinary: it is not only the heaviest casualty toll in a single offensive acknowledged by Moscow since the start of its invasion in February, but also represents first communication about military casualties since September, when Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu 5,937 are said to have died in the ranks of the Russian army.

Different numbers on the Ukrainian side

Ukraine, that is admits to carrying out this strike, giving a date of December 31stbefore the New Year, for its part conveying contradictory information about the disappearance of Russian soldiers at Makiïvka.

The strategic communications department of the Ukrainian army spoke on Sunday on Telegram about 400 killed and 300 wounded. Meanwhile, the general staff indicated that there was no exact information about the number of Russian victims. Additionally “up to 10” number of military vehicles “of all types” were destroyed in this bombing according to Kyiv.

“Personnel loss for occupants is being clarified,” he added in a Facebook post on Monday.

Criticism of the Russian military command

In a note published on MondayThe American Institute for the Study of War, a think tank, reported that the “vague acknowledgment of the attack” by the Russian Ministry of Defense had “generated criticism of the Russian military command”, particularly among military bloggers.

“Even though the war has been going on for several months, certain conclusions have still not been drawn,” noted blogger Boris Rojine, who is close to Ukrainian separatist circles, denouncing the “incompetence” of senior Russian military officers. He noted in particular that Russian military personnel, being close to the front lines, were not sufficiently dispersed in Makiïvka.

“The best reaction to the Makiivka tragedy will not only be finding those responsible, but most importantly, an effective and systematic counterattack”, added the blogger at Telegram channel.

Towards Russian revenge?

Can such losses make Ukrainians fear serious reprisals? According to the UK MoD, “in mid-December, Russian military forces and Wagner’s proxy forces may increase the frequency of their infantry attacks around the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast”, slightly above Makiivka.

The UK Ministry of Defense estimated in its intelligence note on Tuesday that many of the operations carried out by Russia around Bakhmout in recent weeks have been “under-supported”, facing “significant reinforcements” from Ukraine.

“Both sides have suffered heavy losses” and “it is unlikely that the Russians will achieve a significant breakthrough near Bakhmout in the coming weeks,” he said.

However, Ukraine is concerned about increasing the strength, at least numerically, of Russian troops in the coming weeks or months. The Ukrainian Resistance Center, which was set up by special forces of the Ukrainian army, confirmed January 2 publication that “at the beginning of 2023, the enemy foresees a new wave of mobilization, which will affect the population of the temporarily occupied South”. In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to mobilize about 300,000 reserves.

Minister of the Armed Forces of France, Sébastien Lecornu, also planned for Sunday at LCI a “rather ground counterattack” on the “February-March” horizon, relying on the forces mobilized in September. “It is clear that we will enter a moment of massification, in which Russia will throw all their strength into battle”, emphasized the minister, adding that “the first quarter of 2023 will be decisive”.

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