More Russian military troops died in combat in the first year of the war against Ukraine than in all of the country’s other wars since World II combined, a new survey is reporting.
Russian troops are being killed in what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” at a monthly rate of at least 25 times the number killed in Chechnya and 35 times the number killed in Afghanistan, according to data compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The staggering numbers highlight the stark reality of the Kremlin’s tactic of waging a war of attrition against Ukraine. Kyiv has both benefited from a wide-open weapons pipeline from the West and waged a campaign that has seen them successfully claw back much of the terrain it lost in the early stages of the war.
“The Ukrainian military has also performed remarkably well against a much larger and initially better-equipped Russian military, in part due to the innovation of its forces,” CSIS said in its report, “Ukrainian Innovation in a War of Attrition,” released earlier this week.
According to CSIS, Russia lost 14,000 to 16,000 troops in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 and between 12,000 and 25,000 soldiers in Chechnya. The think tank estimates that 60,000 to 70,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine in just over a year.
Losses on both sides continued to mount in the grinding trench warfare along an extended front in southern and eastern Ukraine.
The Associated Press reported that Ukraine’s military might pull troops back from the key stronghold of Bakhmut, an adviser to Ukraine’s president said Wednesday in remarks that suggested Russia could soon take the city that has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.
Kremlin forces have waged a bloody, monthslong offensive to take Bakhmut, a relatively obscure city of salt and gypsum mines in eastern Ukraine.
“Our military is obviously going to weigh all of the options,” Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told CNN in an interview. “ … We’re not going to sacrifice all of our people just for nothing.”
Analysts say the fall of Bakhmut would be a blow for Ukraine and offer tactical advantages to Russia, but would not prove decisive to the war’s outcome. Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy this week said one of his top generals told him that Russia lost about 800 soldiers in one assault on a single day.
“Russia does not count people at all, sending them to constantly storm our positions. The intensity of the fighting is only increasing,” Mr. Zelenskyy said.
The CSIS report tracked the damage done to Russian forces just in the year since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion to begin. Prior to the invasion in February 2022, Russia had a military that was five times the size of Ukraine, its defense budget was 11 times larger, and its economy was eight times the size of Ukraine’s. Yet, with its smaller and less equipped military, Ukraine was able to beat back Mr. Putin’s armored blitzkrieg before launching a series of counterattacks that pushed back dug-in Russian troops.
The CSIS analysts gave much of the credit for Ukraine’s successes on the battlefield to its culture of military innovations, such as the use of unmanned aircraft systems — drones — in combined operations.
“Many of Ukraine’s innovations have come from the bottom up, thanks to a military environment that encourages and enables junior officers to seek innovation,” according to the report.
The Russians have usually sent three waves of troops against entrenched Ukrainian defenders. The first wave is usually green conscripts and fighters from private military organizations like the Wagner Group whose casualty rates are often high. Next comes a second line of replacements and only then, a third line of what the CSIS analysts characterized as “relatively competent Russian forces.”
“Russia is accepting enormous casualties in return for only a small amount of territory,” according to the report. “Despite intense fighting throughout the winter, Russia has only captured approximately 400 square miles of Ukrainian territory across the entire eastern front since September 2022.
Separately, Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Mr. Zelenskyy, denied on Wednesday that Ukraine had used drones to attack Russian territory following official Russian statements that Ukraine had targeted infrastructure deep inside Russia, the AP reported. Insisting it is fighting a defensive war, Kyiv has long been coy about its possible attacks inside Russian territory.
“Ukraine does not strike on the territory of the Russian Federation,” Mr. Podolyak wrote on Twitter, suggesting the targeting of Russian infrastructure was the result of “internal attacks.”
— This article was based in part on wire service reports.