How many soldiers has Russia lost?

How many soldiers has Russia lost?

Any estimate from western governments is untrustworthy given their incentive to inflate the scale of Russian losses, just as any estimate from Russia is untrustworthy given that … it’s Russia. Lying is part of the Kremlin’s institutional DNA.

But these numbers are notable in light of Russia’s surprising admission that conscripts have been part of the fight in Ukraine despite Putin’s personal pledge to the nation that they wouldn’t be. We scratched our heads yesterday wondering why the government would come clean about that since it’s out of character.

These figures create an obvious possibility: Maybe so many conscripts have already been KIA that the Kremlin has concluded there’s no point in hiding the ball. Families will discover in due course that their sons and husbands aren’t coming home and will want an explanation. Might as well ‘fess up now.

The U.S. lost a combined 7,000 troops in roughly 30 years of total warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, although that comes with the major caveat that both countries had American-backed national forces leading the fight after a certain point. The Afghan army lost many thousands of troops in battle with the Taliban over the last decade, sparing U.S. soldiers from having to take the lead. Russia has no such national force of locals in Ukraine, or at least none west of the Donbas. If they want to win, they’ll have to do it all themselves.

European estimates of Russian casualties run considerably higher than ours, by the way:

Poor tactics do have a tendency to lead to poor morale:

And if you believe some sources, Russia has either failed to make gains over the last few days or has actually lost some territory to the Ukrainians:

Unsurprisingly, Ukraine’s estimates of Russian casualties run higher than everyone else’s.

The combination of wishcasting and information bubbles is a tremendous liability to westerners rooting on Ukraine in trying to form an accurate sense of what’s happening. If you want to see the Russians ousted, chances are high that you’re following a variety of experts and sources on social media who also want to see them ousted and are curating the information they share accordingly, to boost Ukrainian morale. The claims presented above are the best-case scenario for the situation on the ground, not necessarily the true state of the situation on the ground.

But Dan Foster reminds us that Russia has many ways of puncturing that bubble if it has evidence of the Ukrainians in retreat to share. “The great disparity between footage of RU military taking losses and UKR military taking losses could be the result of propaganda and wishful thinking,” he writes, “but I also think if there were lots of outsized UKR losses we’d see them on certain American accounts with large followings.” There are plenty of pro-Russian or anti-anti-Russian influencers in the right-wing media ecosystem. Why aren’t they flooding the zone with proof of the Ukrainians being routed?

The thrust of Russian western propaganda at the moment involves accusing Ukraine of staging false-flag operations to make Russia look bad. This morning they’ve resorted to accusing Zelensky’s people of hiding the truth about the bombing of Mariupol’s maternity hospital yesterday, alleging that the building had been taken over by a Ukrainian militia:

Assuming that it really was Podgurskaya in the photos, it wouldn’t be odd to find her at a maternity hospital in Mariupol. She lives there and was indeed very pregnant as of last month.

Don’t ask me what this means either, except that I suppose it was inevitable that the Russian government would eventually reach this degree of denialism. It just came sooner than we expected, much like the heavy Russian casualties did:

Could the extent of the army’s losses be leading Putin to look for an early exit from the war? Western diplomats aren’t hopeful:

“It’s hard to offer an overture when the Kremlin’s position continues to be that ‘We’ll continue to pummel Ukraine until and unless Ukraine changes its constitution … demilitarizes [and] denazifies,’ whatever that means,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive U.S. decision…

“It’s hard to see how this is going to end,” said one senior European diplomat, one of those who requested anonymity to share their take.

“It sounds bad to say that there are no off-ramps — but diplomatic ones, I don’t see them,” the official added, explaining there are some issues on which they can’t compromise, including neutrality for Ukraine if that’s not something Ukraine itself desires.

Ironically, unexpectedly heavy Russian losses might mean a longer conflict. “If Putin believes he is in a fight for the survival of his regime, he is likely to be willing to escalate this — both within Ukraine and beyond, because the stakes become existential,” one expert told WaPo. “When you are fighting for your life, maybe literally, or certainly for the survival of your regime, which he conflates with the survival of the country, you could go to extreme lengths.”

Read this proposal from Fred Kaplan at Slate imagining what an eventual peace deal might look like. Ukraine would agree not to join NATO, which would be fine by NATO, and would formally concede Crimea to Russia since the prospects of reclaiming that territory anytime soon are nil. In return, Russia would withdraw and a UN-supervised referendum would be held in the disputed territories of Luhansk and Donetsk to see whether the people there want to remain part of Ukraine, part of Russia, or independent. The mega-sanctions on Russia would gradually be eased as Putin complies with each term of the deal. Anyone have a better idea?

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Jazz Shaw 1:01 PM on May 27, 2023