Russian defense ministry blaming its troops for Ukraine missile strike deaths

Russia's defense ministry is blaming its troops in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine for violating rules, which it says led to dozens of deaths in a recent Ukrainian rocket strike.

A senior military official read out a statement on Wednesday about the attack on a Russian barracks in Makiivka, which is adjacent to the regional capital of Donetsk. He says rockets were fired from a HIMARS launcher supplied by the United States.

The statement says the rocket strike came early on New Year's Day, and that the ministry updated the death toll in the attack from 63 to 89. It said the deaths include a deputy commander.

The ministry blamed its troops' unauthorized use of mobile phones, which it said allowed Ukrainian forces to pinpoint their location and launch the missile strike.

The statement said the ministry will hold accountable those involved in the violations.

Britain's defense ministry said in its intelligence update published on Wednesday that, given the extent of the damage in the attack, "there is a realistic possibility that ammunition was being stored" near the barracks and that it was detonated, creating secondary explosions.

About 600 people were reportedly in the barracks at the time of the attack.

Criticism has been mounting among military experts and lawmakers in Russia against the country's military commanders for allowing a concentration of troops at one location, leading to many casualties.

Observers say the Russian defense ministry is apparently trying to avert criticism of its military commanders by asserting that the many casualties were caused by troops violating the rules.

The Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank, said in a report on Monday that Russia's defense ministry is likely attempting to deflect the blame for its poor operational security onto pro-Russian officials and mobilized forces in Donetsk.