If true, the killing of so many generals, along with more senior commanders of the Russian army and navy – in just four weeks of fighting – exceeds the rate of attrition seen in the worst fighting months of the bloody nine-year war they fought. Russia in Chechnya, as well as the Russian and Soviet campaigns in Afghanistan, Georgia and Syria.
“It’s very unusual,” a senior Western official, speaking to reporters about the matter, confirmed the names, ranks and status of those seven “killed in action.”
Markyan Lubkevsky, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, said at least 15 senior Russian commanders were killed in the field.
The Russian government has not confirmed the killing of its generals.
If the numbers of dead top commanders prove accurate, the Russian generals are either very unlucky or have been successfully targeted – or both.
Shooting generals is a legitimate tactic of war — and it has been publicly embraced by Ukrainian officials, who say their forces have focused on slowing the Russian advance by focusing fire on Russian command and control units near the front lines.
Jeffrey EdmondsThe former director of Russia at the National Security Council and now a senior analyst at the CNA think tank in Washington, said that Ukrainian forces appeared to be targeting “anyone with gray hair standing near a set of antennas,” an indication that they might be senior officers.
Some experts point out that the Russian military struggled to keep its communications secure and that Ukrainian intelligence units found their targets through Russian negligence, with Russian forces using unencrypted hardware. There have been reports of Russian soldiers using mobile phones.
The Pentagon and other Western officials say that Russian generals generally serve closer to the front lines than their NATO counterparts. By design, the Russian army is full of high-ranking officers, which makes them numerous, albeit unconsumable.
Military analysts and Western intelligence officials say that Russian generals in Ukraine may be more exposed and serve closer to the front because their side is struggling — and that senior officers are deployed close to working to break the chaos.
One Western official suggested that Russian generals were also needed to push forward “terrifying” Russian forces, including raw conscripts. Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Defense Ministry to withdraw recruits from combat, after publicly pledging not to deploy them.
Pentagon, NATO and Western officials say the Russian military in Ukraine is suffering from poor morale.
Russian soldiers attacked and wounded their commander after their brigade suffered heavy losses in the fighting outside the capital, Kyiv, according to a Western official and Ukrainian journalist.
Soldiers of the 37th automatic rifle brigade ran into a tank at Colonel Yuri Medvedev, injuring his legs, after their unit lost nearly half of its men, according to a Facebook post by Ukrainian journalist Roman Tsymbalyuk. The post stated that the colonel was taken to the hospital.
A senior Western official said he believed Medvedev was killed “as a result of the scale of losses incurred by his brigade”.
Oleksiy Aristovich, a military adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told The Washington Post that the Ukrainian military has focused its efforts on “slowing the pace” of the Russian invasion, in part by “beheading” forward command posts, meaning killing, not literally beheading. .
Aristovich said killing senior officers could slow the Russian advance by “three, four or five days” before new command structures are established.
He attributed the successful targeting to “excellent intelligence” and several Russian weaknesses.
Aristovich claimed that in addition to slowing Russian momentum, killing their generals undermined Russian morale, while strengthening Ukrainian determination.
“The death of these leaders quickly turns into public knowledge and it is difficult to hide it,” he said. “Unlike the death of an ordinary soldier, it makes a great impression.”
Ukrainian and Western officials announced the deaths of seven Russian generals in the battle: Magomed Tochaev, Andrei Sukhovitsky, Vitaly Gerasimov, Andrei Kolesnikov, Oleg Mityaev, Yakov Rezansev, and Andrei Mordvichev.
Russian officials and Russian media have confirmed that only one general has been killed.
Ukrainian officials said Sukhovitsky, deputy commander of Russia’s 41st Army, was killed by a sniper at the start of the war. At his burial in Novorossiysk, a port city on the Black Sea, the deputy mayor said that Sukhovetsky “heroically died during a combat mission during a special operation in Ukraine.”
Christo Grosev, director of the open source investigative group Bellingcat, said he had confirmed Gerasimov’s death, which was first announced by Ukrainian intelligence. Detective Bellingcat I also mentioned on a A March 7 phone call from a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer, reporting the death to his boss, was captured by Ukrainian intelligence and shared with reporters.
Tochayev was one of the first commanders Ukraine claimed to have killed, in late February, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s right-hand man.
Kadyrov denied the allegations made by his Telegram channel, and Chechnya’s Information Minister Akhmad Dudayev published what appeared to be an audio message from Tochayev that he said proves that he is alive.
The death of senior officers is celebrated on Ukrainian social media – but it is excluded from Russian news.
Margarita Konayev, an expert on Russian military innovation at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, said the killing of Russian generals “seems to matter to Ukraine,” particularly in their “David vs. Goliath story.”
She said the nature of the fighting – in close quarters in urban environments – would likely add to the body count on both sides, of civilians, rank-and-file soldiers and commanders.
The urban dimension, she said, is particularly deadly.
Mason ClarkSaid an analyst and a senior expert on the Russian army at the Institute for the Study of War Ukrainian reports Indicates that radio communications via Russian forces are subject to interception and positioning.
Before the start of the war with Russia, Clark said Ukrainian forces had learned how to use communications to “target and identify” artillery fire sources in separatist enclaves in Donbass region Eastern Ukraine.
“They used this training extensively,” Clark said.
Ruth DermondIt is not known how the loss of senior officers in Ukraine could shape the Kremlin’s way of thinking, said an expert on post-Soviet security at King’s College London’s Department of War Studies.
As Putin’s circle shrinks, and the decision-making process becomes more opaque, she said, “You don’t even know what Putin is being told about losses” by his military.
The high attrition rate of Russian leaders in Ukraine underscores the problem of invading the country based on the wrong set of assumptions, as they expect to quickly overthrow the Ukrainian government and install a puppet regime to return it to Moscow’s orbit. A military operation that Russia expects to last a few days has entered its second month.
Russia is very sensitive about military casualties, particularly among the senior officers.
Describing the invasion as a “special military operation” to liberate Ukraine from “neo-Nazis,” the Russian authorities banned journalists from using the term “war” and criminalized criticism of the military or revealing any information that would damage its standing.
After Russia’s initial failures, Putin doubled down on his war effort, as the Kremlin blunted hopes of an exit through peace talks. The Russian authorities appear to be preparing for a long, bloody campaign, strengthening local unity with a lightning propaganda campaign, while the military ramps up pressure on Ukraine.
Booth wrote from London, Dixon from Riga, Latvia, and Stern from Mukachevo, Ukraine. Liz Sly in London contributed to this report.