Russia blames its own troops for deaths of 89 servicemen for using their mobile phones

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Russia blamed its own soldiers’ illegal use of mobile phones for the deaths of 89 troops by Ukrainian missile strikes over the weekend.

In a statement on Wednesday, Russia’s defence ministry said four Ukrainian missiles hit a temporary Russian barrack in a vocational college in Makiivka, the twin city of the Russian-occupied regional capital of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

Russia had earlier said 63 soldiers were killed in the strike over the weekend.

The ministry said that while an official probe has been launched, the main reason for the attack was clearly the illegal mass use of mobile phones by Russian troops.

“This factor allowed the enemy to track and determine the coordinates of the soldiers’ location for a missile strike,” it said in the statement.

The ministry’s reaction comes amid mounting anger among some Russian commentators, who have been criticising Moscow’s half-hearted campaign in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military said it launched a strike that resulted in Russian loss of equipment and possibly personnel near Makiivka. However, it did not provide any additional details.

President Volodymyr Zelenksy also did not make any mention of the strikes in his daily address.

In his video address on Tuesday, Mr Zelensky said that Russia was set to launch a major offensive to improve its fortunes.

“We have no doubt that the current masters of Russia will throw everything they have left and everyone they can round up to try to turn the tide of the war and at least delay their defeat,” he said.

“We have to disrupt this Russian scenario. We are preparing for this. The terrorists must lose. Any attempt at their new offensive must fail.”

He also reiterated that Moscow is planning a full-scale mobilisation, a step that Russian officials say is not currently being considered.

The US has said that it had seen reports of Ukrainian strikes on Russian military barracks but did not give further details.

A state department spokesperson said Washington had seen reports “that the Ukrainian military struck a Russian military barracks that stored ammunition inside of Ukrainian territory” and led to many Russian deaths.

“We have also read reports that many of these soldiers were new recruits.”

(Additional reporting by agencies)