This claim is tucked away halfway through a WaPo story about Russia leaving its fallen soldiers behind, as though it’s common knowledge and not a newsworthy fact to mention up front.
Uh, it was news to me. And I follow reporting on the war reasonably closely.
The true number of Russian KIA has been a subject hotly debated since the start of the war. The Ukrainians’ latest estimate is north of 18,000; Russia has acknowledged 1,351 but hasn’t updated that number recently. If Ukraine has the bodies of 7,000 Russians in its possession, we’re forced to assume that their estimate is fairly close to the true number. Figure that for every Russian that’s died on the battlefield whose body is unrecoverable, another has died and their body has been retrieved by their comrades to be returned to Russia.
So, 14,000 dead — equivalent to the number the Red Army lost in a decade in Afghanistan. Maybe more?
Do note: Ukraine isn’t refusing to return those 7,000. They say they’ve offered to do so multiple times, only to be rebuffed by Russia. We can guess why.
Ukraine has about 7,000 unclaimed Russian corpses in morgues and refrigerated rail cars, according to Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration. He said his government’s figure of 18,600 Russian dead was based on Ukrainian reports from the battlefield and intercepted Russian military communications.
Ukraine tried to return the bodies of 3,000 Russian service members on the third day of the war, he said. “They said, ‘We don’t believe in such quantities. We don’t have this number. We’re not ready to accept them.’ ” Ukraine proposed an exchange several times, he said, but “they won’t discuss this at all yet.”…
Keir Giles of the London-based think tank Chatham House said the difference between Western and Russian military attitudes about their war dead was “night and day … in exactly the same way as their attitude to civilian casualties and collateral damage is utterly unrecognizable from how Western militaries operate.”
That figure doesn’t include Russians who died and were abandoned in parts of Ukraine where the morgue may be overwhelmed and refrigerated cars aren’t available. Those bodies need to be disposed of quickly: “In nearby Bashtanka village, Mayor Oleksandr Beregovyi said dead Russians were buried in mass graves after their documents were collected.” Add those to the unknown but swelling number of KIA.
As for why the Kremlin doesn’t want them back, each body that’s returned to Russia for burial is further evidence that the “special military operation” has been costlier than the Russian public may have assumed it would be. We’ve already reached the point where Russian casualties are sufficiently high that Putin’s own spokesman feels compelled to acknowledge it. Repatriating thousands of dead soldiers would increase domestic chatter that the war is going badly and risk public unrest. Better to leave those bodies behind and assure the parents of the fallen that they’re MIA or “in the field” and currently indisposed.
No wonder the Russian army’s morale sucks.
As for Ukrainian casualties, no one knows but we’d have to guess that they’re higher than 18,000 given that the Russians are attacking civilians, not just Ukrainian troops. Ed wrote earlier about the horrible Russian missile attack on a crowded train station in the Donbas, which killed 39 people and counting as I write this:
The scene in Kramatorsk after the Russians blew up a railway station that was being used as an evacuation centre. pic.twitter.com/H40YrXHhqM
— Jimmy (@JimmySecUK) April 8, 2022
Here’s a detail that shouldn’t go unnoticed, though:
10 children were killed at Kramatorsk station when a missile hit a crowd fleeing the Russian advance.
"For the children" was written on the side of it.
(video via @u24_news) https://t.co/CrmY4dJ4xx pic.twitter.com/jGeJqH7wGh
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) April 8, 2022
It’s usually hard to prove genocidal intent but writing “for the children” on your armaments as you bomb civilians helps clarify things.
Meanwhile, there’s a too-good-to-check story circulating about a tactic the Ukrainian army has supposedly been using to frighten Russian soldiers. A former Zelensky advisor told MSNBC yesterday that Ukrainian troops are outfitting commercial surveillance drones “to look like something out of the worst Terminator movie, so it looks incredibly scary.” Why do that? His answer:
What would you do if you’re a Russian soldier and you see something that belongs to Skynet? You run. Where do you run to? You run to your mama. Because you don’t have your mama, you run to your base.
That way they lead us to their bases and no camouflage works against that, and then our artillery shoots at the base and that way we protect, you know, our civilians, we protect, you know, the land of Ukraine from any collateral damage, and we don’t waste any shells. So, you know, if there’s a major problem, just be creative.
I’m skeptical that a Russian on the ground could see a drone in the air in such fine detail as to be terrified by its appearance. The truth is probably much simpler: The Russians know that Ukraine is now getting lethal anti-personnel Switchblade drones from the U.S., and so if they happen to encounter a drone overhead they might reasonably conclude that they’re about to die. And so they run.
And sometimes they do end up running right back to their base. That much of the story is true. I’ll leave you with this, which probably resulted in the need for another refrigerator car.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) April 7, 2022
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) April 7, 2022