Intense Kremlin attacks attempting to gain ground against fortified Ukrainian positions in the eastern Donbas sector likely have pushed counts of Russian dead and wounded to near-record levels for the entire war.
Russian, Ukrainian and independent sources attest to particularly heavy Russian losses suffered in recent weeks, with a peak coinciding with Moscow’s launch of mass attacks by Russian tanks and infantry across the open and heavily mined ground near the city of Avdiivka, in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
The real exception to mass anecdotal, official and third-party reports of what appears to be a nearly unprecedented Russian military casualty rate in October has been official announcements by the Kremlin and its senior members asserting everything is progressing well.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in an appearance on state-run television on Tuesday was shown visiting troops in east Ukraine and telling them: “The situation today suggests the enemy has fewer and fewer opportunities. And they will continue to be reduced, thanks exclusively to your combat work.”
A loyal close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Shoigu was filmed smiling and laughing when a Russian soldier told him Ukrainian troops were “in a panic.”
Independent agencies monitoring the Russo-Ukraine war are painting a dramatically different situation on actual battlefields.
Ragnar Gudmundsson, an Iceland-based analyst tracking losses of personnel and equipment on both sides of the Russo-Ukraine War since the early days of Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion, in a Wednesday situation update reported Russian service personnel dead hit a probable wartime record of more than 1,400 killed in combat in a single day on Oct. 20., and have averaged 900 men a day killed in combat from 10-20 October, a time window coinciding almost exactly with the launch of major Russian army attacks in the Avdiivka sector.
The only times in the war when Russian military body counts piled up at a roughly comparable pace on a week-by-week basis, according to Gudmundsson’s estimates, were in February and March 2023, and June 2022.
Both were periods of intense and bloody Russian attacks in mostly urban terrain, around the cities of Bakhmut and Severodonetsk respectively.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine publishes full information on casualties. Only a portion of the estimated losses on either side can be confirmed by independent sources. Casualty spikes and trends identified by Gudmundsson and others match Kyiv Post research into selected battles and accounts to Kyiv Post by battle participants.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) on Tuesday published – for the Ukrainian military – a report giving unprecedented detail of recent Russian military losses. According to those official Kyiv claims, elements of Russia’s 2nd Combined Arms Army (CAA), the command group responsible for attacks against Aviivka and neighboring localities, have suffered crippling losses and a major battlefield defeat.
The worst-hit single formation in 2nd Army, per that report, was Russia’s 114th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade, losing from its ranks 190 dead and 160 wounded in October to date. A full-strength Russian combat brigade on paper contains 1,800-2,000 men, but, of those 600-800 normally are assigned battlefield combat duties.
The AFU estimate listed eleven brigade-equivalent formations thought to be under the 2nd Army’s command, most suffering losses comparable to the 114th Brigade. The Ukrainian official claims, if accurate, would mean a Russian force of 20-25,000 men went from battle readiness to combat ineffectiveness, due to heavy losses, in a little more than three weeks, and about 1,500 soldiers – all front-line fighters not easily replaced without gutting rear area staff and support units – died and 2,000 were seriously wounded.
AFU spokesmen have stated army intelligence documents Russian combat losses almost exclusively using drone video confirming individual dead and wounded soldiers. Selected drone video is made public but not enough to independently confirm the AFU claims.
The fact of heavy Russian casualties among troops thrown into attacks in Avdiivka and elsewhere on the front in October, and Ukrainian defenses under heavy pressure while inflicting heavy losses, has been reliably documented and backed up by a near-flood of anecdotal accounts from both sides of the fighting line.
The independent Russian information platform Astra on Monday published an open video appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin from wives and mothers of soldiers from the north Russian city Kirov claiming their husbands and sons, although reservists mobilized with minimal training and equipment, were thrown into combat in the Donbas sector.
“Local commanders used violence and the threat of violence to force the Kirov reservists to conduct bloody attacks across open ground, killing and wounding many of them,” a spokesperson said.
“The deployments directly violate Russian law banning placement of reservists called up to serve in local territorial defense unit, in combat,” she said.
“Our men were not ready to perform these tasks. As a result of this, our regiment suffers personnel losses every day. Dialogue with the command is impossible. Our guys are intimidated, threatened, and threatened until they are shot,” the spokesperson said in a video published on YouTube.
Other sources have documented heavy Russian losses behind the lines in recent weeks, most commonly to long-range strikes by Ukrainian precision-guided munitions. One of the bloodiest took place on Oct. 21 following the detonation of a US-made HIMARS rocket penetrating inside a motel used by Russian service personnel in the city of Donetsk. One Russian military blogger said 73 soldiers and officers died in the strike. Other accounts confirmed the site had been used by Kremlin troops and the fact of the rocket hit but did not give details on casualties.
Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian Interior Ministry spokesman and military blogger, on Sunday, published a video purportedly showing a Russian priest working in rehabilitation of invalided and retired Russian service personnel, making the statement that the Russian Federation since February 2022 has suffered more than a million military casualties of all types.
The declaration is rare for Russian social media where persons openly discussing dead and wounded counts in the Ukraine war can be prosecuted for compromising Russian Federation military secrets, slandering the Russian government in public, or both.
"We have a million wounded" - a Russian priest named the numbers of Russian army losses that he heard.— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) October 22, 2023
If there is a million wounded, then, according to military maths, there is three times less dead - about 300,000. pic.twitter.com/m4UIFgMM7a
The Russian economic information platform Suverennnaya Ekonomika in an Oct. 21 article reported Russia faces one of the worst demographic crises in its history with its present 146-million-member population on track to fall to 138 million by 2046. The article blamed high emigration and unwillingness by Russian women to have large families but did not mention the war.
Interviewed on state television, Shoigu in a rare admission of Russian military limitations quoted soldiers telling Shoigu that heavy Ukrainian artillery fire was having an effect.
“The enemy’s artillery is causing a lot of problems. We are taking measures,” the soldiers were quoted as saying.
AFP wire service material was used in this article.
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