Putin hammer blow as picture shows stacked coffins at airport

Russia: Stacks of wooden coffins arrive in Novosibirsk

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Russia’s mounting casualties in Ukraine have been starkly illustrated in a video clip apparently showing stacks of makeshift coffins at an aircraft hangar in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. The footage even features close-ups of what appear to be death certificates pinned to the wooden crate, with each document including a surname and initials.

One bears the words “Gerdbold. Buryatia.” Earlier this week, relatives of 39-year-old Gennady Gerbold told the US-backed Radio Free Europe (RFE) website they had been informed of his death a fortnight ago by officials from the Wagner Group mercenary army, with whom he had been fighting.

His sister, Olesya Gerbold, said she last spoke to Gennady on November 27, at which point he was a prisoner in Penal Colony No. 8 in the Omsk region, having been convicted of murder.

She said: “He swore to me that he would never go to Ukraine. On November 28, the next day, he disappeared, and he stopped communicating. And on November 29, the penal colony informed me of his ‘departure.

“Of course, I tried through the Federal Penitentiary Service, and it was like he never existed and there hadn’t been anyone with that name.”

Wagner recruited large numbers of prisoners to send to fight in Ukraine, although founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has insisted it no longer does so.

Tolmachevo Airport officials have denied the clip was shot there, telling Russian state-controlled media: “This is false information. The premises, which are broadcast in this video, do not belong to and are not located on the territory of Tolmachevo Airport.”

Siberian officials have not commented on the video – but have admitted many people from the region have died while fighting as Wagner contractors.

Large numbers of Buryats, one of Siberia’s two main indigenous groups, have been drafted in to fight Putin’s war in disproportionate numbers compared with many other regions of the country, particularly the Russian capital of Moscow, and St Petersburg.

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Earlier this month, the BBC Russian Service claimed there had been a five-fold increase in the number of Russians killed in Ukraine in the first two weeks of February compared with January.

US officials are on record as suggesting Russian casualty numbers have rocketed as a result of fighting around Bakhmut.

At the weekend, the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) tweeted satellite shots showing large numbers of destroyed Russian tanks in the Vuhledar sector of Donetsk Oblast.

It explained: “These vehicles were likely elements of Russia’s 155th Naval Infantry (NI) Brigade which has been at the forefront of recent costly offensives.

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“NI is seen as an elite infantry force within the Russian military. Unlike the similarly prestigious airborne infantry (VDV), NI has not deployed as a single large formation in Ukraine. Instead, individual units have been attached to Ground Forces-dominated Groups of Forces.”

As such, NI has been tasked with some of the toughest tactical missions of the war and “has suffered extremely high casualties”, the MoD said.

It added: “The supposedly enhanced capability of NI brigades has now almost certainly been significantly degraded because it has been backfilled with inexperienced mobilised personnel.

“This lack of experience is almost certainly exacerbating Russian officers’ tendency to micromanage, which in turn reduces operational agility.

“There is a realistic possibility that degraded NI units will again be committed to new assaults near Vuhledar.”

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