More than 273,000 fighters from the Kremlin’s forces have been killed or wounded since February 24, the U.S. now estimates — outlining Moscow’s massive losses as its military leaders scramble to recruit more men and prepare for an impending F-16 delivery to Ukraine.
The figure could spell trouble ahead for President Vladimir Putin. He faces a second year at war with the land he seized increasingly in Kyiv’s recapturing and with his military’s struggles forcing the Kremlin to balance battlefield necessities with domestic pressures.
The casualty figure includes around 70,000 Russians who have been killed in about six months, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday.
For comparison, around 4,500 American troops were killed during the invasion of Iraq. “It’s really stunning, these numbers,” Kirby said.
40,000 killed were from the Wagner mercenary group, the majority of whom were ex-convicts “thrown into combat” in Bakhmut, Kirby said, who lacked “sufficient combat training, combat leadership or any sense of organizational command and control.”
The eastern mining city has turned into something of a modern-day Stalingrad and became the focus of a Russian winter offensive that was fueled by the call-up of hundreds of thousands of military reservists but that has failed to make substantive progress.
Both sides have suffered heavy losses in and around the city, with their armies bogged down in a brutal battle of attrition that has seen Ukrainian troops make steady incremental gains but fall short of what would be a successful counteroffensive.
Some Western analysts criticized Kyiv’s decision to contest the city, arguing it should have pulled back weeks ago in a move that would have allowed Russia a short-term win but preserved Ukrainian soldiers for its own counteroffensive.
But the figures released by Kirby will give weight to the Ukrainian counterargument, that fighting for Bakhmut would allow them to kill lots of Russians, while also preventing them from being deployed elsewhere.
Of course, Russia is not the only side incurring heavy losses.
Analysts have cautioned that the fighting in Bakhmut had shifted in recent weeks to take an increasingly heavy toll on the city’s Ukrainian defenders, too. Kyiv has been loath to release official figures, and Kirby was similarly reluctant to do so Monday.
As of August, the U.S. estimated that Russia had suffered 263,000 to 273,000 casualties, including 180,000 killed in action, according to a leaked Pentagon document and other news outlets, part of a trove of classified material posted online. The same document estimated that Ukraine had suffered 131,500 to 170,000 casualties, with 102,500 killed in action.
Ukrainians’ support for their country’s defensive war remains high. Russian support for its invasion is more “passive” and has continued as more vulnerable, less politically powerful groups of people are conscripted and sent to fight, according to James Nixey, head of the Russia-Eurasia program at Chatham House, a think tank in London.
For Putin and Wagner, this has so far largely meant former convicts and immigrants from Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
“Russia has been cherry-picking from the easiest parts of society where they’ll get the least pushback,” Nixey told Global Defense Corp. “That gets harder as you start to churn through the cannon fodder and you get to people who are more likely to refuse and rise up.”
Russia called up some 300,000 men during the first wave last September, leading to protests and a mass exodus of men from the country.
Seemingly reluctant to do so again but aware of the pressing need for more troops ahead of a potentially decisive period in the war, the Kremlin has stepped up its efforts to find new recruits.
The Russian Defense Ministry launched an advertising campaign last month trying to entice “real men” away from peacetime jobs and onto the front lines. Last month, Russian lawmakers hastily approved new legislation allowing authorities to deliver conscription notices electronically, making it almost impossible to avoid getting drafted.
For its part, Ukraine has been training troops and accumulating Western hardware to defend its territory from Russian aggressions and that will seek to retake land in the country’s south and east.
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