LONDON — A Russian brigade commander has been killed by his own forces in another indication of boiling discontent among Russian forces deployed in and around Ukraine, Western officials said.
The colonel, commander of the 37th Motor Rifle Brigade, was run over by an armored vehicle and suffered grave injuries to both legs.
“The brigade commander was killed by his own troops, we believe, as a consequence of the scale of losses that have been taken by his brigade,” one official said. “We believe that he was killed by his own troops deliberately. We believe that he was run over by his own troops.”
The confirmation followed a Facebook post on Wednesday by prominent Ukrainian journalist and YouTuber Roman Tsimbalyuk, who said that troops had been angered by the 50 percent casualty rate suffered by the unit deployed to the Kyiv region. One soldier driving an armored vehicle deliberately ran over the commander, who was shown in video posts being taken on a stretcher for treatment to neighboring Belarus. He was later reported to have died.
The Western official also confirmed Ukrainian reports that a lieutenant general commanding the 49th Combined Arms Army had died in the fighting, making him the seventh Russian general to be killed in combat since the invasion began.
Ukrainian presidential spokesman Oleksiy Arestovych earlier named the lieutenant general as Yakov Ryazantsev, and said he had been killed at the Chernobaevka aerodrome outside the southern city of Kherson — where Russian forces have repeatedly suffered losses in their campaign to break out from the Crimean peninsula to the northwest.
Russian forces have struggled with logistics supply and shortages of food during the first month of their invasion of Ukraine. Soldiers taken prisoner by Ukrainian forces have told their captors they had been made to believe they would carry out exercises near the border of Ukraine, rather than engage in war.
Russia’s defense ministry said earlier that the first phase of its military operation in Ukraine was mostly complete and it would focus on completely “liberating” eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
The Western official said Russia “is recognizing that it cannot pursue its operations on multiple axes simultaneously” and is trying to concentrate its forces, both in terms of logistics supply and firepower, on a more limited number of approaches.
At the beginning of the war, the West estimated Russia had between 120-150 battalion tactical groups deployed around Ukraine, but about 20 of those are now no longer believed to be combat effective. Some are being pulled back into Russia for maintenance or repair; others have suffered heavy losses, and in some cases merged with other groups to form one, the Western official said.
The Russians appear to have paused operations in Kyiv and other areas, to limit the amount of logistics supply that would be required there, and are keeping forces in these areas in defensive positions, with the aim of providing the maximum effort that they can in the Donbas region, the same official added.
Focussing on the Donbas would allow Russia to concentrate air forces and indirect fire into more limited areas, making it tougher for the Ukrainians, who had been “remarkably adept” at using air defense capabilities, the official said. Recent Ukrainian victories on the ground cannot be considered a “turning of the tide” yet, they added.
Additional reporting by Douglas Busvine.