Russian Paratrooper Unit Battered in Debut, Sparking Anger at Commander

  • A newly formed Russian paratrooper unit suffered losses and failures during its debut in Ukraine.
  • British intelligence said Russian milbloggers demanded that a top commander resign in response.
  • This marks a “blow” to Col. Gen. Mikhail Teplinsky’s reputation, according to the UK’s assessment.

A newly formed Russian paratrooper unit appears to have been severely battered during its combat debut in Ukraine earlier this month, and the fallout has led to outrage against one of Moscow’s top commanders, according to Western intelligence.

The 104th Guards Airborne Division, which is part of Russia’s expanded VDV Airborne Forces, deployed to the southern Kherson region in late November in response to Ukraine’s recent territorial advances across the strategic Dnipro river. But by early December, the 104th had “highly likely suffered exceptionally heavy losses and failed to achieve its objectives,” Britain’s defense ministry said in a Thursday intelligence update.

Many of the Russian soldiers in this unit were “highly likely inexperienced,” and the 104th lacked sufficient air support and artillery, it added.

This assessment is not far off from what the UK predicted a few weeks ago, that the 104th would probably be “poorly trained” and fail to live up to the “elite” standards that the VDV had historically maintained before the war heavily degraded them.

Following the recent carnage near the Dnipro river, Russian military bloggers have been demanding the resignation of Col. Gen. Mikhail Teplinsky, who’s long been the commander of the VDV and was recently appointed to oversee the “Dnepr” grouping of forces, which operates around the Kherson region.

Britain’s defense ministry called this “a blow to Teplinsky’s reputation as one of the more capable Russian field commanders of the war.”

A group of Ukrainian marines sail from the riverbank of Dnipro at the frontline near Kherson, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023.

A group of Ukrainian marines sail from the riverbank of Dnipro at the frontline near Kherson, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023.

AP Photo/Alex Babenko



Teplinsky is a longtime favorite among Russia’s ultranationalists and has enjoyed a pretty unusual run as a military leader throughout Moscow’s full-scale war in Ukraine.

The airborne commander oversaw successful combat operations last fall but was later dismissed from a leadership role, leading to a display of insubordination and frustration. He was reinstated into a position of authority earlier this year, but in the aftermath of the Wagner Group’s chaotic rebellion, it was rumored that the general would be arrested due to his ties to the mercenaries. That, however, didn’t happen.

By October, Teplinsky had replaced Col. Gen. Oleg Makarevich as commander of the Dnepr grouping of forces, according to an assessment at the end of that month by analysts at the Institute for the Study of War think tank. Britain’s defense ministry noted at the time that Teplinsky already had experienced commanding operations in that area, where he oversaw a successful Russian withdrawal last year, and said that Moscow’s military leadership likely held him “in high regard.”

It remains to be seen if the recent setbacks suffered by the 104th impact Teplinsky’s leadership role. Russia has sacked a number of commanders who have disappointed over the course of the war.

In this handout photo taken from a video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Monday, March 27, 2023, Russian paratroopers aim a weapon fire toward Ukrainian position at an undisclosed location.

In this handout photo taken from a video released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Monday, March 27, 2023, Russian paratroopers aim a weapon fire toward Ukrainian position at an undisclosed location.

Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP



The VDV — like several other so-called “elite” Russian forces — has at times been misused by Moscow’s military for combat roles that are inconsistent with what the force is designed to do. They have also endured heavy losses on the battlefield — much like the Russian military as a whole, which may have suffered up to 350,000 casualties by to some recent Western estimates.

Ukraine’s recent advances across the Dnipro come as it continues to defend against renewed Russian offensive efforts in the eastern region. The White House said this week that since Moscow’s assault began more than two months ago, it hasn’t produced any strategic gains but has endured a severe cost — in both human life and military equipment — as a result.

“Russia is determined to press forward with its offensive despite its losses,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement shared with Business Insider on Tuesday.

“It is more critical now than ever that we maintain our support for Ukraine so they can continue to hold the line and regain their territory,” she added as the Biden administration continues to press Congress to approve more funding amid uncertainty over future US security assistance to Kyiv.


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