Western officials have said they believe a Russian commander was run over by mutinous forces during the fighting in Ukraine, in a sign of what they described as the “moral challenges” faced by the invading forces.
They highlighted – and repeated – reports from earlier this week from a Ukrainian journalist that a colonel of the 37th separate guards motor rifle brigade was run over by a tank. Some reports said he had died of his injuries.
One official said they believed that the brigade commander was “killed by his own troops” as “a consequence of the scale of losses that had been taken by his brigade” in the bitter fighting.
However, while there was some evidence to corroborate the claim that the commander had been run over, it was less clear whether, as the western officials claimed, the colonel had died. On Friday night, they partially retracted the claim in light of conflicting evidence on social media. They said they were seeking to clarify whether he was alive or dead – and said the key point was that he was a victim of a mutiny, not whether he had been killed or not.
The original report of the mutiny was made on Wednesday on Facebook by a Ukrainian journalist, Roman Tsymbaliuk, who said that it occurred after the unit, which had been fighting in Makariv, west of Kyiv, had lost “about 50% of their personnel” .
“After choosing a convenient moment, during the fight, he ran over the commander standing next to him, injuring both his legs,” the journalist wrote. The colonel was then moved to a hospital in Belarus.
A separate film released by the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, showed the commander, Yuri Medvedev, being transported by medical troops, in which he is clearly alive.
In it, a Chechen fighter speaks to a soldier on a stretcher who clearly has leg injuries, saying: “Hold on… How are you? OK? Talk to us… ”The stricken soldier replies:“ I’m OK. Where are you from? ”
Corroborating evidence for the claim made by western officials that the colonel had died was limited to the headline of a report on the MailOnline website, which said: “Russian commander who was deliberately run over with a tank driven by his own disgruntled soldiers in protest at the huge death toll in his unit has DIED. ”
Britain and other western countries believe that Russian forces are suffering from increasingly poor morale as they incur heavy losses in the fighting. The US has estimated that 7,000 Russians have been killed, out of an invasion force of about 150,000.
Western officials believe that about one-sixth or maybe one-fifth of Russia’s original invasion force, which comprised an estimated 20 battalion tactical groups, is “no longer combat-effective” – a high degree of losses, reflecting the botched invasion and fierce Ukrainian fightback.
Seven Russian generals have been killed in the fighting, which has also led to several thousand Ukrainian military fatalities and civilian casualties. The latest official UN figure for civilian deaths is 1,081 but that is almost certainly an underestimate.