Groundhog Days: Over 1000 Russians Now Die Every Day In Sputtering East Ukraine Offensive
Reinforcing failure, Putin-style
Assessing Russian casualties is more an art than a science. Nevertheless, we can tell that Vladimir Putin’s new offensive is producing little more than a mountain of corpses, so far.
According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, more than 6,000 personnel of the Russian Armed Forces (RuAF) were killed in Ukraine during the week beginning 9 February, with Tuesday 14 February being the deadliest day of the war for Russia. If anything, the casualties in the current week stand to be far higher, and to keep climbing thereafter.
Of course, Ukrainian MoD numbers could be inflated. The UK Ministry of Defense numbers are more conservative than theirs. Mediazona, an independent organization, works from public information, such as obituaries and social media posts. Their numbers are consistently about a tenth of Ukraine’s reports of Russian combat deaths and therefore serve as a good baseline of hard confirmations.
Lately, they have had to find new volunteers to help keep up with the firehose of information. On January 27, Mediazona had confirmed 876 Russians killed in the previous ten days, and their numbers have been tracking upwards week on week since then.
Today, their website shows 1,555 confirmed Russian deaths in the last two weeks. Multiply that number by ten for a liberal estimate, and likely over a thousand Russians have been killed in Ukraine every day for 14 days, matching the bloody opening days of the renewed invasion. Again, this chart from UK MoD will be conservative by comparison.
Combined with open source images and video of Ukrainian battlefields in recent days, my overall impression is a bloody Russian debacle. At least 150,000 fresh troops have been committed to a three-pronged attack in the east without enough training or equipment to succeed in the offensive against an entrenched Ukraine.
At this point, the Kremlin dream of completing the conquest of Luhansk and Donetsk is “likely more aspirational than realistic,” CNN says, quoting an unnamed “senior US military official.” Winter isn’t even over, but Putin’s spring offensive is clearly not going to reach his objectives, culminating well short of them.
In Luhansk, the Russian salient projecting west from Kreminna has expanded only slowly, and only at the cost of more burning tanks and heaps of corpses. East of Bakhmut, where Wagner forces have reportedly been replaced by regular RuAF, there are incremental advances into urban terrain, where they become sitting ducks for Ukrainian armor. South of Bakhmut, Ukrainian tanks engage Russian infantry companies that seem to lack anti-tank missiles. How is that even possible in 2023?
However, the numbers above are averages. Today appears to have seen a temporary lull in the fighting around Bakhmut, for example. Russian operations reportedly paused as regular Russian forces coped with the results of their “progress” so far.
Updating Telegram viewers from inside the city, Ukrainian defender “Mad’ar” says that Russian forces announced a “sanitary day” to evacuate dead and wounded from the battlefield, “which they carried all day today, no time for assaults.”
Peace is not breaking out. Instead, RuAF are displaying a level of military discipline that Wagner PMC did not. This pause will be followed by another cycle of reconnaissance, bombardment, and advance. Russian attacks shall resume presently.
“The day was without intense concentration of firefights, the night was quite active,” he says. There was “no territorial success of the enemy. So for Bakhmut, it was a light day, but it doesn’t mean the night will be calm, we’ll see. We prepare actively for the meeting.”
Russian aviation is supposedly gearing up for a major attack. Perhaps they will sortie. However, this is going to be a gasp, not a turning point, because the basic problems in Russian air regiments have not been solved. A whole year into this war, Russia still has more airplanes and helicopters than trained ground crews to put them in the air.
Last week, a reasearcher with the International Institute for Strategic Studies reported that Russian forces have already lost more than half the working tanks in their inventory, which if true, is staggering. Nor is that all up to Ukrainian action.
“The Russian army's ability to sustain their own equipment in the field is dismal,” Sean Spoonts, a U.S. Navy veteran and editor-in-chief of Special Operations Forces Report (SOFREP), told Newsweek.
Tanks break down more under combat conditions, and we're seen lots of photographs of Russian tank 'dumps' found by Ukraine after advancing where disabled tanks sat unrepaired in the dozens. So not only are their combat losses very serious, they are unable to get tanks back into action that suffer mechanical breakdowns in the field. This is likely due to a shortage of spare parts and trained technicians.
With Russia reportedly setting the stage for further conscription waves, Moscow has turned to China for help with the material requirements of troop mobilization, such as body armor and helmets. Now US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that Beijing wants to “creep up to the line” and start giving Russia weaponry. That should not frighten Ukrainians, however. Instead, it should terrify Russians to become so dependent.
Of course, Putin will be happy to send troops to die on T-34 tanks with cheap Chinese gear, if he thinks he can still win that way. And from his perspective, as long as RuAF continue to attack Ukraine, even uselessly, Putin still has not lost. The only way he ever loses is if he stops attacking, because then Russians will have time to ask what it has accomplished.
His budget is running a deficit, Russian oil production is declining, and by the end of the year Putin’s regime will scramble to pay for things. Factories and businesses in the hinterland will become the first targets for further conscription, gutting workforces and the rural economy. To be convicted of a crime in Russia now is to be sent to the front. If Putin wants to fight until 2024, 2025, or 2026, he can find the bodies, money, and equipment to keep fighting, and thus stay ahead of the consequences.
Estimating that 200,000 Russians have already been killed, and accepting that this figure will likely surpass a quarter-million by April, the scenario in which Putin keeps fighting until 2026 could add up to a million dead Russians, nor will their sacrifice be enough to defeat Ukraine.
No realistic scenario exists in which Putin prevents the expansion of NATO, or expands the periphery of Russia, or restores Russia to great power status versus the west. On the contrary, invading Ukraine has accomplished everything Putin sought to prevent.
Thus the best scenario for Putin is in fact the worst for Russia, while the best scenario for Russia is the worst one for Putin. If the west sends F-16 fighters, long-range missiles, advanced drones, tanks, and armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine this spring, the tide of battle will turn, and then perhaps the war can be over in 2024, with only half a million dead Russians.
From a sheer humanitarian perspective, this is preferable to letting Russia bleed endlessly, for no other purpose than to keep Ukraine bleeding.
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I am in no way an expert on military affairs. but post wwII wars seem to be mostly goalless. macarthur could have finished north korea and truman fired him since the mission was to maintain a status quo that allowed for the continued oppression of north koreans. During Viet Nam Johnson's plan was to basically do the same. Putin at least had a desired goal in his invasion but the west's support has remained to defen the ukraine and maintain the status quo. history has illustrated for almost 75 years now that no matter the length of the contest as long as the goal is not total defeat of the attacker tensions and disharmony. continue and in the end there is more death and continued conflict. i don't know the answer, but if we are afraid of an escalating conflict, it will eventually escalate, even if temporarily put on simmer. see north korea continuing to flex threats; see the vietnamese eventually winning, the taliban's quick success after twenty years, the need for a second iraqi invasion and the fumbled aftermath even after eliminating saddam, see even the lack of support for democratic movements after the arab spring, see the continued arab radicalism due to israeli aggression that no one tries to militarily interfere or arm the oppressed. you can go back in history to the long struggle and centuries struggles until now we think germans are prussian but they have almost no genetic linkage to the original prussians. see the centuries long battle for the irish independence and the northern struggle for another 80 years thereafter and compare with the relatively swift defeat of nazi germany and the helping hand thereafter and other (much fewer instances) of the total defeat.
and i could list in the former category the civil war here in the us and the continued post-war instability in this country for almost 160 years now. as i said, i know little of tactics and operations, but results are available via history and i just think we should not be cowered by the threat of nuclear weapons, putin knows we have the same weapons and the consequences, we could bandy the same threat back. history illustrates the most successful way to attack aggression is direct obliteration of the attackers and then complete investment in rebuilding.
likewise i think we bungled the jan 6 attack and are still bungling it here, speeches about protecting democracy will do little to protect if attacks against it continue.
but perhaps you see things differently and i would be interested in your response if you care to share. i was inclined to write because this post tended to indicate the west should move towards greater effort
by the west.
(not very well written, but i hope i have nevertheless been able to convey my doubts about western approach.)