On Friday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense announced that Russian Major General Andriy Kolesnikov had been killed in action somewhere in Ukraine. Exactly where Kolesnikov was killed isn’t clear, but just two days earlier Maj. Gen. Vitaly Gerasimov, first deputy commander of the 41st Army, was reportedly killed in fighting near Kharkiv. Maj. Gen. Andrei Sukhovetsky, deputy commander of the 41st Combined Arms Army, was reportedly shot by a sniper near the city of Mariupol on Feb 28. Sukhovetsky’s death was confirmed directly by Vladimir Putin. In addition to these three generals, Russia has lost at least three colonels, at least one of which has been confirmed by Russia.
In 2014, U.S. Maj. Gen. Harold Greene was killed in Afghanistan when a U.S.-trained Afghani soldier opened fire as Green was reviewing troops at an Afghan army base. He was the first U.S. general to be killed in action in over 40 years.
That at least one of these officers was killed by a sniper is a good indicator that Ukraine’s best riflemen are doing what they’re supposed to do when given the opportunity — take out high value targets that have the greatest impact on Russia’s ability to organize and act. But that doesn’t answer the bigger question: What the hell are generals doing on the front lines in the first place?
For Gen. Sukhovetsky, the answer may be as simple as the reason that Russian tanks stopped outside of Kyiv were found to be carrying dress uniforms — things weren’t supposed to go this way. The general may have well been expecting to be conducting a review of Russian troops on the main square of Mariupol, rather than catching a bullet in the smoldering suburbs.
Another reason for all the high-ranking deaths may come down to a single word: Morale.
Since the start of the invasion, there have been reports that Russian troops didn’t understand the action they were going into. There have also been videos showing Russian forces reluctant to drive through screens of civilians blocking highways, or holding desultory chats with Ukrainian motorists. Russian generals may have found it necessary — or been ordered — to get hands-on with troops who thought they were going on a training exercise, only to find themselves rolling into hell.
In any case, it’s not clear how much damage is being done to Russia by the loss of these generals and colonels. If there’s anything the Russian Army has in quantity, it is guys whose uniforms are weighted down with medals. These commanders may represent invaluable knowledge and leadership being lost. Or they could just be the most corrupt jackasses ordered to get in there after it was discovered they spent the money that was supposed to go to maintaining tanks on a new dacha.
Either way, these deaths don’t seem like a good sign for the overall health of the Russian military.