The Russian military late Tuesday blamed its soldiers’ unauthorized use of cell phones for a deadly rocket attack over the weekend.
The death toll at a Russian facility in Makiivka, a town in the partially Russian-occupied eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, had risen to 89 as of Tuesday.
“It is already obvious that the main reason for what happened was the switching on and massive use—contrary to the prohibition—by personnel of mobile phones in a reach zone of enemy weapons,” Gen. Lt. Sergei Sevryukov said in a Russian Defense Ministry statement that was posted in English on Telegram.
The attack was carried out one minute into the new year, according to Sevryukov, adding that Ukrainian forces fired rockets from a U.S.-provided HIMARS multiple launch system.
The strike was one of the deadliest attacks on Russian forces since the war began 10 months ago, yet according to NBC News some influential pro-military voices in Russia—along with officials in Ukraine—suggested that the death toll may be much higher.
The missile completely destroyed the school building where the Russian servicemen were based, according to the British Defense Ministry. And Russian expert Keir Giles told NBC that if soldiers were being housed alongside ammunition, it would suggest an “indifference to casualties” on the part of the Kremlin.
It would not be the first time Russian soldiers’ phone use had undermined the Kremlin’s mission in Ukraine. Over the summer, Polish Foreign Intelligence intercepted Russian phone calls, on which soldiers expressed mounting frustration and referred to “Putin pressing on in his criminal war in Ukraine.”
“Dumb people are making stupid decisions because they thought the Ukrainians would kiss their feet,” a solider said at one point on the recordings, leading analysts to conclude that morale was “quite low” within the ranks of the Russian military fighting in Ukraine.