Putin considers Russian service members to be expendables, with 279,000 dead in the Ukraine war

Dead bodies of Russian servicemen lie on the ground in the recently recaptured town of Lyman, Ukraine, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. AP

Kyiv claims that more than a quarter of a million Russians have been killed in Vladimir Putin’s ongoing war against Ukraine, but despite the staggering human cost, there is no obvious sign that the pool of potential Russian fighters is diminishing.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine claimed on Monday that the total of “liquidated” Russian personnel had surpassed 279,000.

“For people living in small towns, villages and prisons, the war is an option to earn 10 times more money than they got before,” Boris Grozovski, an expert on the Russian economy from the Wilson Center think tank, told Newsweek. “So they and their families see war as a lottery to get out from poverty.”

“They see it as a chance,” he told Global Defense Corp, comparing it to the collectivization that took place in the Soviet Union between 1929 and 1933. Then the government in Moscow “gave to the poorest peasants and workers a chance to join become big bosses if they committed crimes against their more rich and independent neighbors.

“Now Putin says to poor Russians: ‘Go and kill Ukrainians. If you are lucky and return alive, you will become rich. If you die, your family will get huge sums of money from the government.”

Soon after the start of the war, Putin told Russia’s Security Council in March 2022 that the family of a Russian soldier killed in Ukraine would receive nearly 7.5 million rubles ($77,000) and additional payments as well as “monthly monetary compensations.”

As Newsweek reported in May, vacancies analyzed by the Foundation of Ukrainian War Victims, found that the average salary for jobs “directly related” to the war totaled 300,000 rubles, far higher than the national average of around 63,000 rubles.

Throughout the war, there have been numerous reports of Russian troops complaining that they and their families have not received payments for their efforts on the battlefield, but the incentives that are advertised are enticing.

Some jobs offered one-off payments of up to 450,000 roubles, plus a monthly salary of 400,000 roubles, the foundation claims. Other vacancies offered 500,000 roubles a month.

Troops are also being offered help with their credit and debt obligations, which is normally unavailable for those in ordinary jobs.

That contrasts with the increased financial difficulty that draft dodgers might face following legislation passed by Russia’s parliament, which includes raising the maximum age for conscription from 27 to 30.

The failure to respond to a call-up notice issued online might see people banned from registering real estate or receiving a bank loan. They might also face a fine that has been increased 10-fold to 30,000 rubles for individuals.

“For many people in poverty, the war is the option to get their affairs in order,” said Grozovski. “They take this option, because don’t have any other options to improve their situation significantly. The construction of such a social system is one of the biggest of Putin’s crimes.”

Last week, Reuters reported a doubling of Russia’s annual military spending to over $110 billion for 2023—one-third of the government’s overall expenditure.

Grozovski said the large increase in military spending has brought the country’s deficit of 2.6 trillion rubles for the first half of the year close to the size that the government had planned for the whole of 2023.

The ballooning price tag of Putin’s war is easier to show than the human cost, with accurate casualty figures being hard to come by. Moscow hasn’t updated its tally from September 2022 of just under 6,000, and while some experts cast doubt on Ukraine’s figures, Kyiv is equally tight-lipped about its troop losses.

After analyzing obituaries, mortality data from the Federal State Statistics Service, and National Probate Registry records, independent Russian language news outlets Meduza and Media Zone said up to 150,000 Russian men under 50 had died fighting in Ukraine by the end of May.

“It’s impossible to independently verify these figures,” Kyiv-based foreign policy security analyst Jimmy Rushton said. “But even if a lower figure is more accurate, it’s clear that Russia has taken huge numbers of casualties, around six times the number of Soviet troops that died in nearly a decade in Afghanistan.”

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