On Monday, Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Russian tabloid sympathetic to the Kremlin, published a story reporting nearly 10,000 Russian soldiers killed as a result of the first month of fighting between Russia and Ukraine. The article was quickly taken out of circulation and edited.
Although the new version omitted the number of Russian casualties in Ukraine, the original file was online long enough for Western media to report it. The Russian response was swift and commented that the number was false and that their account had been hacked.
If true, this number would be close the range of Ukrainian and U.S. estimates of casualties the Russian Army is suffering at the hands of the Ukrainians. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry reported that the Russians have lost 15,000 soldiers, while the Americans put the estimate at closer to 7,000.
Western intelligence reports prior to the invasion estimated that the Russians had amassed nearly 200,000 military personnel on Ukraine’s borders. For this reason, 10,000 deaths might seem like an insignificant number. It is important to note that the reports do not include the number of soldiers wounded in the Ukrainian campaign; the numbers of wounded soldiers usually exceed the number killed, so the total number of casualties for the Russians may be higher.
Secondly, it is important to understand what kind of troops the Russians have lost during the first month of the war. Some reports indicate that a good number of Russian paratroopers have been killed by Ukrainian forces during the first weeks of the war. This may force Putin to employ more conscript soldiers than are already on the ground. However, due to uncertainty, something natural in wartime, it is impossible to know the type of troops that Ukrainian forces have already defeated.
It is also important to analyze Russian casualty estimates in the context of modern warfare. Once this is done, we can understand the magnitude of the casualties Russia has suffered in its invasion of Ukraine.
Russian casualties in Ukraine compared to recent American wars
Let’s start by comparing Russian casualties in Ukraine with the most recent wars of its most direct geopolitical rival: the United States. Russian casualties in one month of invasion are higher than the casualties in any of the three most recent US wars: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the first Gulf War.
Iraq: 4,507 killed between 2003 and 2011.
The Iraq war began in 2003 after George W. Bush authorized the invasion and ousting of Saddam Hussein, which was accomplished in just over a month of fighting. After the American tanks arrived in Baghdad, a long insurgency war began in which American troops were involved until 2011. During these eight years of military operations, Americans suffered 4,507 deaths.
Afghanistan: 2,461 soldiers killed between 2001-2021.
The longest war in U.S. history began just weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in response to the Taliban government’s support for Al-Qaeda. After the ousting of the Taliban, U.S. troops remained in the country to stabilize the new Afghan government, an objective that failed miserably last year with the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. During those twenty years of fighting, the U.S. lost 2,461 soldiers.
The United States led the international coalition to oust Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait in 1990. American forces conducted an extensive bombing campaign for five weeks before coalition forces launched a ground offensive that decisively defeated the Iraqi Army (one of the largest at the time) within days. The U.S. lost 146 soldiers in combat actions during that war.
First Gulf War: 146 soldiers killed between January-February 1991.
Russian casualties in Ukraine are the highest for Moscow since World War II
The numbers look worse for the Kremlin when compared to the casualties suffered by Russia or the Soviet Union over the past 40 years.
Afghan War: 13,310 killed between 1979-1989
In 1979, Soviet tanks entered Afghanistan in order to install a pro-Soviet government. The war became a nightmare for the Kremlin as the Red Army fought for ten years against a U.S.-funded insurgency until Gorbachev announced the withdrawal in 1989. During these ten years of fierce fighting, the Soviet Army lost 13,310 soldiers.
Chechen wars: 5,732 soldiers killed and missing between 1994-1996.
The first war in post-Soviet Russia began shortly after the Muslim-majority region of Chechnya declared its independence from Russia. The Russian president at the time, Boris Yeltsin, sent armored columns to Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. The columns were met with intense and effective Chechen resistance. Although the Russians took the capital, they withdrew in defeat after two years of fighting the Chechen insurgency. Russia, according to official sources, suffered 3,826 confirmed deaths and 1,906 soldiers missing in action during the war period.
While there are many uncertainties about the true number of Russian casualties in Ukraine, if even the most conservative estimates are true, Russia is suffering a quantity of casualties rarely seen in conventional wars in recent decades.