As the war in Ukraine approaches its 15th month, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” is set to surpass yet another ominous milestone by the end of the week – 190,000 Russian soldiers killed in action. According to the Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, as of April 28 the number of dead Russian soldiers is 189,460. The total number of Putin’s soldiers killed in action will soon equal the total number of Russian troops committed in the initial full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022 – 190,000.

And to think, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley gave the Ukraine army less than 72 hours.

It took just 15 months for the Russian death toll to equal the number of forces they committed to the initial invasion. By comparison, over the course of 21 years, the United States lost 58,220 Americans in the Vietnam War between June 1954 and April 1975. Russia, in contrast, only saw 14,500 soldiers die in Afghanistan between December 1979 to February 1989; that number is 1,190 less than the official death count released by the Soviet Union in 1988 of 13,310.

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When you take into consideration the ratio of wounded soldiers to those killed in action, historically around 3:1, then another 568,380 Russian soldiers, at a minimum, have been wounded in action. That number starkly explains the partial mobilization in September 2022 and subsequent mobilizations since – upwards of 500,000.

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The cost in lives, on the Russian side of the equation, is unprecedented, and yet Putin and his generals continue to feed Russian soldiers into the Ukrainian “meat grinder.” In the Donetsk region area alone, over 80,000 Russian soldiers have been killed since Jan. 1.

Why Donetsk, and especially why Bakhmut, since the small salt mining town is of little strategic significance? According to Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s head of military intelligence, “This is the only place where they have had some tactical success, despite huge losses. And against the background of the lack of success elsewhere, they face the problem that even their ‘deceived’ society needs to show something, some kind of victory. This is the only place where they can do something.”

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Budanov went on to add that Wagner Group founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, once said he would take Bakhmut – making it essential, at least from the Kremlin’s point of view, that the Russian army capture the town. The growing animosity between the two groups contributed to an exchange of gunfire between Wagner Group forces and the Russian military in the Luhansk Oblast on April 23.

The sheer number of Russian losses is numbing, but the loss in military experience and training are irreplaceable in the short term. As it is, the Russian military has never been known for having a strong noncommissioned officer corps – the backbone of any army, or an adequate training regime to incorporate new soldiers into the ranks. Replacing casualties with fresh bodies in the form of mobilized reservists or conscripts does not reconstitute these once ‘elite’ formations – the Spetsnaz, Russian Airborne Forces (Vozdushno-desantnye voyska Rossii, VDV) and Naval Infantry. One such unit, the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade, has been reconstituted on multiple occasions after battlefield defeats in Kyiv, Bucha, Irpin, Pavlivka, and is now best known for its dismal performance in Vuhledar in February.

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The conventional Russian military is running on empty and awaiting the inevitable – the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Defensive positions have been prepared and trenches are being filled with the next round of replacements. Meanwhile in Moscow, Putin’s brain trust hides behind threats of nuclear escalation and propagandists’ excuses, while general officers stay clear of open windows. When the offensive begins, 190,000 will rapidly transition to 200,000.

Now, more than ever, is the propitious time for the Biden administration to fully commit to Ukraine and bring a decisive end to this war – to win! That means providing President Volodymyr Zelensky and his generals the combined arms capability they need – precision deep strike capability afforded by ATACMS and F16s, to expel Russian ground forces from all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea.

Reports that Ukraine refrained from launching deep strikes into Russia on the anniversary of the invasion because “the White House had long worried that attacks inside Russia could provoke an aggressive response from the Kremlin” reinforces the perception, held by many, that the Biden Administration is afraid to win or afraid of what could happen if the counteroffensive falls short.

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One thing is for sure, though, you will never know if you do not take the shot, and sadly, the Biden Administration is content to hold the ball and let the clock run out. Indecision is a decision.

Putin’s army in Ukraine is running on empty and the Biden Administration is needlessly giving them time to reconstitute their forces and prepare defensive fortifications. Fear of winning should have no place in American thinking.

Infuriatingly, however, it is becoming all too indicative of the Biden Administration’s approach to “managing” the war in Ukraine. While Putin is running on empty troop-wise, President Joe Biden and his National Security Advisors appear to be running on empty when it comes to closing out Putin and his generals.

 The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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