The fallout from Ukraine’s devastating New Year strike on an army barracks in the Russian-occupied town of Makiivka, a suburb of Donetsk, continues to grow, with the Kremlin’s top propagandist now wading into the increasingly angry blame game.
The official death toll from the attack, according to RF military sources, rose to 89 on Wednesday, upping pressure on Russia's military leadership, as even pro-Kremlin commentators suggested the real figure could be in the hundreds.
Russia’s defense ministry has announced a commission was working to establish how so many troops lost their lives and said "guilty" officials would be punished.
So far President Vladimir Putin has done well to avoid being held directly responsible for such embarrassing setbacks, and the Kremlin will be hoping that blame can be pinned solely on military commanders.
In a sign of just how seriously the criticism is being taken by the Kremlin, Margarita Simonyan, the influential head of RT, Russia's state-controlled international TV channel, welcomed the army's promise that officials "will be held accountable."
"I hope that the names of these persons will be announced,” she said.
"It is time to understand that impunity does not lead to social harmony. Impunity leads to new crimes. And, as a result, to public dissent."
Russian Lt. General Sergei Sevryukov said the tragedy had likely taken place because Russian troops had used cell phones, giving away their location to Ukrainian forces. But some critics have accused the military of trying to shift the blame.
The U.K.'s Ministry of Defense (MoD) said on Wednesday that claims of ammunition being stored near where troops slept was a "realistic possibility."
"The Russian military has a record of unsafe ammunition storage," it said in a statement.
"This incident highlights how unprofessional practices contribute to Russia’s high casualty rate."
State television military correspondents – whose influence has risen during the offensive – have accused top commanders of deadly incompetence, AFP reports.
The strike also led to a rare public display of grief in some cities, including in the Samara region on the Volga River, where many of the dead servicemen came from.
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