Here’s why Russia lost more than 300,000 troops in 17 months of the Ukraine war

More than 300,000 Russian troops have been “liquidated” in the full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched by President Vladimir Putin nearly 15 months ago, according to figures released by Kyiv’s military.

As part of its daily update on the war, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces posts figures on Russia’s troop and equipment losses. Moscow lost 610 soldiers over the past 24 hours, according to the military’s Wednesday casualty toll of Russian troops—bringing the total to 300,590.

While estimates of casualty figures vary, with Ukraine’s figures usually outstripping those of its Western allies, analysts have told Newsweek that Russian losses are increasingly affecting its ability to fight effectively. Poorly trained recruits, many of them from non-Russian ethnic areas, are often treated as “cannon fodder,” one said.

The toll continues to rise ahead of an anticipated counteroffensive from Ukraine to recapture its occupied territories, and as a bloody battle for the industrial city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine intensifies with counterattacks from Kyiv.

Russia itself rarely releases figures on troop losses, but when it does its estimates are far lower than those of Ukraine. In September 2022, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the conflict in Ukraine since February 24, 2022. This marked only the second time Russia released casualty figures in the war.

Estimates from Ukraine’s Western allies also tend to be more conservative than Ukraine’s, though far higher than those released by Russia. At the start of May, the U.S. National Security Council said that Russia had suffered 100,000 casualties, including 20,000 dead, since December alone. This followed an estimate in November 2022 from General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of 100,000 casualties during the first eight months of the invasion.

An assessment by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency that was leaked in April found that Russia had suffered 189,500-223,000 total casualties, including 35,500-43,000 dead and 154,000-180,000 wounded.

The casualty figures have not been independently verified by Newsweek. Newsweek has contacted the Russian Defense Ministry for comment.

Russia Lost a Generation of Officers

“Despite any estimations, the losses are awful,” Pavel Luzin, a Russian political analyst and visiting scholar at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, told Newsweek.

Luzin said that such colossal casualties had damaged the “organizational integrity” of the Russian Armed Forces. Russia has lost not only soldiers, but also many officers on the battlefield in Ukraine.

“Russia lost a generation of officers, especially if we speak about bottom-level officers like lieutenants and captains,” Luzin added. “The most professional units have been lost already, and most of them [were] lost in the first six months of the war.”

The BBC’s Russian service reported in September 2022, citing publicly available data, that Russia had lost more than 900 special forces soldiers, paratroopers, marines and pilots in over six months of Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

That figure included 151 soldiers from Russia’s military intelligence, 337 marines, 245 troops from the National Guard’s special forces and riot police, 144 members of elite paratrooper units, 20 members of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Federal Guards Service (FSO), as well as at least 67 combat pilots.

Poor Leadership

Poor leadership within the Kremlin is partly to blame for the death toll, said Luzin, noting that Russian military chiefs played only a minor role during planning for the war.

“The main role was played by intelligence officers around Vladimir Putin, by FSB guys and so on. They believed they needed [Russia’s] Armed Forces just for fire support. They believed that they [had] the situation in Ukraine under their control,” he said.

But reality turned out to be vastly different to what the Russian Armed Forces were expecting, said Luzin. “The military leadership commanders were not prepared for this. And that’s why they lost so many elite troops.

“There is a paradox—Russia was unprepared for the war in terms of military, technical terms, in terms of training of people and so on. But at the same time, the Russian Federation could not be prepared better than it was at the beginning of 2022.”

Poorly Trained Troops

Putin has drafted the majority of people for his war so far from Russia’s republics, including Dagestan in the Caucasus, Yakutia in northeastern Siberia, Buryatia near the Mongolian border, and the Krasnoyarsk territory, according to military analysts from the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT).

Mark Voyger, a non-resident senior fellow at Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and professor at the American University of Kyiv, told Newsweek that most Russian casualties were likely from these regions.

“Apart from the elite forces that were sent to the meat grinder in the beginning… most of the cannon fodder has come from impoverished or non-Russian ethnic areas,” said Voyger, a former special adviser for Russian and Eurasian affairs to Lieutenant General Ben Hodges when he was commander of the U.S. Army Europe.

Vladimir Budaev of the Free Buryatia Foundation, a pro-democracy group based in the U.S., previously told Newsweek that Russia’s apparent targeting of ethnic minorities in the conflict would backfire on Putin’s war efforts.

Budaev explained that many people in these regions were handed summons shortly after Putin announced a partial mobilization in September 2022, despite not meeting criteria set out by Russian defense officials, such as to have had relevant experience.

CEPA’s Voyger also pointed to a months-long recruitment practice by Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group—a paramilitary outfit that is heavily involved in fighting in Bakhmut, alongside conventional soldiers—to recruit “prisoners and other undesirables” for the war.

Prigozhin was hiring in penal colonies in Russia, offering male prisoners commuted sentences and cash incentives in return for six months of military service in Ukraine.

A 48-year-old former Russian convict hired by the Wagner Group told The Wall Street Journal that he was given just three weeks of training and wasn’t expected to survive his first mission.

Meanwhile, multiple reports emerged of ineligible men being called up for military service. In October 2022, a Moscow government official who was conscripted as part of Putin’s mobilization decree, despite having no combat experience, was killed in Ukraine.

Some conscripted Russians died before reaching the battlefield, while others died shortly after being deployed in Ukraine.

Insufficient Equipment, Ammunition

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov acknowledged in October 2022 that Russia lacked equipment for its soldiers in the war, simultaneously announcing the formation of a council created by Putin to resolve those problems.

Alexander Štupun, spokesperson for the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said that same month Putin’s troops were struggling to obtain equipment and armor. Just weeks earlier, it became evident that Russia had already begun to draw on its reserves of Soviet-era systems, such as T-62 tanks, Grad multiple rocket launchers, 2S7 Pion self-propelled guns, and MT-LB armored personnel carriers.

More recently, Prigozhin has been launching heated verbal attacks against Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov over an apparent lack of ammunition for his fighters in the battle for Bakhmut.

Mikhail Vinogradov, founder and president of the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation, said Russia’s lack of equipment in the war was likely due to the fact that the Russian armed forces weren’t prepared for such a lengthy and large-scale conflict.

Despite mounting losses within the Russian army, Voyger told Newsweek he believes that Putin will continue to launch offensives, although at this stage, he lacks the troop numbers to “overwhelm Ukraine.”

What About Ukrainian Casualties?

Like Russia, Ukraine largely avoids releasing casualty figures for its own forces. However, they are also substantial, Western intelligence estimates suggest.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency assessment leaked in April estimated that Ukraine had suffered 124,500-131,000 casualties, including 15,500-17,500 dead and 109,000-113,500 wounded.

In November 2022, Gen. Milley said that the two sides’ casualties at that point had already both exceeded 200,000, in addition to up to 40,000 civilians.

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