Russia possessed a large of number of combat vehicles when it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Now there are less – perhaps even too few for a new Kremlin offensive.
The most widely-used resource for estimating the critical data point of Russian equipment losses in Ukraine since February 24 is a Netherlands-based group called Oryx, who claim that Russia has so far lost 1,876 tanks.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry (MoD), it says, uses much the same methodology. Total Russian equipment losses in Ukraine today, per the MoD, was 12 tanks, 15 armored personnel vehicles, among other weapons systems. Overall verified Russian equipment losses in Ukraine so far, Oryx says, have gutted Moscow’s forces.
According to Oryx, since the invasion, Russia’s total heavy equipment losses, excluding tanks, include:: 1027 infantry fighting vehicles, 142 armored personnel carriers, 75 towed artillery pieces, 154 self-propelled artillery pieces, 93 multiple rocket launchers, and 68 surface-to-surface anti-aircraft systems. Other sources, for instance the Pentagon or British Intelligence, are a bit more conservative, estimating losses generally 20-30 percent less than Oryx or the Ukrainian MoD.
Unlike the British and US governments, Oryx has clearly stated its methodology. Oryx includes in its counts only heavy weapons someone took a picture of and happened to post in an open information resource an Oryx researcher could spot. A Russian tank gets counted as eliminated to Russia only when researchers see compelling evidence – very frequently a new video or photographs, of an actual destroyed vehicle. After checking the type and doing due diligence for faked information and duplication, Oryx records the loss.
The Oryx team emphasizes its published loss estimates are almost certainly low-balled to some degree, because they are counting only destroyed heavy weapons someone took a picture of and happened to post on the internet, rather than every single tank, infantry fighting vehicle, artillery piece and anti-aircraft system the Ukrainians have managed to take out.
RF officials have claimed they started the Ukraine war with more than 2,800 battle-ready tanks in combat formations and another 10,000 in reserve. The Kremlin has claimed it similarly has deep reserves of other key equipment like infantry fighting vehicles. News reports from both outside and inside Russia, however, have suggested those claims were overstated.
In late March, according to Ukrainian military intelligence, a senior officer in Russia’s 13th Tank Brigade committed suicide after learning that the reserve tanks of the unit were in un-serviceable condition, and in some cases stripped to the hulls. In late May, Ukraine’s Army General Staff flagged the rail movement of a battalion of obsolete Russian T-62 tanks into the Zaporizhia sector, and asserted this was evidence Russia had already run through its reserves of modern tanks.
The Ukraine-based military information website Defense Intelligence in May estimated as many as 90 percent of the tanks supposedly held in reserve by Russia are in fact so rusted rotten that they are essentially rendered useless.
On August 8, US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Colin Kahl, told reporters that Washington estimates Russia has lost at least 4,000 armored vehicles, particularly from hits by first-line anti-tank guided missiles like the US-manufactured Javelin, and the UK-manufactured NLAW. Both are modern fire-and-forget weapons that target a tank’s roof, where the armor is thinnest.
On the personnel front, Russia’s losses are no easier to estimate – but a general picture can be obtained by analyzing various sources.
According to the official daily update from the General Staff of Ukraine, Russian losses between Feb. 24 and Aug. 15 are set out below. Figures in brackets are increases in losses on the previous day.
- Personnel – 43750 (+200)
- Tanks – 1876 (+12)
- Armored Fighting Vehicles – 4141 (+15)
- Artillery Systems – 985 (+5)
- Multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) — 261 (+0)
- Means of air defense – 136 (+0)
- Aircraft – 233 (+0)
- Helicopters – 195 (+1)
- Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operational-tactical level – 787 (+3)
- Cruise Missiles – 187 (+0)
- Ships/Boats – 15 (+0)
- Automotive equipment and tank trucks – 3044 (+5)
- Special Technique – 92 (+1).
On the most recent day of reporting, the enemy suffered the greatest losses in the Donetsk direction.
According to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhny, Ukrainian defenders have defeated a fifth of Russian occupying forces.
“During today’s telephone conversation (with the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley) we note that the enemy has experienced significant losses, primarily in manpower – a fifth of the units of the Russian Armed Forces involved in hostilities in Ukraine have been destroyed,” said Zaluzhny.
Assessments by Western experts
And although to some, Ukraine’s daily report of more than 43,000 destroyed Russians seems exaggerated, according to Western experts, this number is almost twice as high. According to different information, today the Russian losses of personnel reach 70-80 thousands people.
According to a July 17 report of Admiral Antony Radakin, Chairman of the Committee of the Chiefs of Staff of Great Britain, Russia had lost more than 30 percent of the offensive potential of its ground forces.
Radakin said: “This means 50,000 Russian soldiers who have died or were wounded in the war, the loss of almost 1,700 Russian tanks and almost 4,000 armored fighting vehicles belonging to Russia.”
He added: “Russia started this invasion with the ambition to capture all of Ukraine [including] capturing major cities in a month. It had the ambition to sow division and put pressure on NATO [as a] challenge to the world order. But Russia is failing in all of these ambitions and is a less powerful state than it was at the beginning of February.”
On July 8, news outlet CNN reported on a statement made by the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl, referring to Russian losses. The statement referred to 70,000-80,000 Russian servicemen having been killed or wounded in Ukraine to that point. At the same time, Kahl noted that such losses were “remarkable” given that Russia had not achieved any of its stated objectives.
“The Ukrainian morale and will to fight is unquestioned, and much higher I think than the average will to fight on the Russian side. So, I think that gives the Ukrainians a significant advantage,” Kahl added.
On August 11, The New York Times, citing Kahl’s statement and a source in the Biden administration, published information that 500 Russian occupiers are being killed or injured on the front every day, and that the overall pace of Russia’s offensive has slowed down due to the provision of new weapons for the Ukrainian army.
The Pentagon believes that about 70-80,000 personnel of the Russian army have been eliminated by the Ukrainian armed forces since the invasion began. On August 8, a journalist of the U.S. edition of Foreign Policy, Jack Detsch, reported this via Twitter.
According to Detsch’s sources, the Pentagon tends to believe that the figures published by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine significantly underestimate the true number of eliminated Russian personnel.
British intelligence notes that at least six Russian commanders have been dismissed and another ten generals killed. In particular:
- Colonel-General Aleksander Chayko was dismissed from the post of commander of the Eastern Military District in May 2022;
- Colonel-General Aleksandr Zhuravlev, commander of the Western Military District, was absent from the Day of the Russian Naval Forces in St. Petersburg on July 31 (he was replaced by Lieutenant General Vladimir Kochetkov);
- General Aleksandr Dvornikov was removed after he was “given overall command of the operation in Ukraine”;
- Instead of General Gennadiy Zhidko, General Sergei Surovikin commands the Southern Group of Forces.
Reasons for understating losses
On July 20, at a security forum in Aspen, CIA Director William Burns estimated Russian losses in the war against Ukraine to be around 15,000 people killed and 45,000 wounded. At the same time, he estimated losses of the Ukrainian army to be “probably a little smaller,” although still significant for both sides.
It is worth noting that Burns provided the same estimate of 15,000 dead in the first months of the war. Probably, this can be connected with the desire to force the Ukrainian government to sit down at the negotiating table. Pretending that Ukraine cannot inflict significant losses on Russia.
For its part, the Ministry of Defense of Russia reported on losses for the last time on March 25. Then, it was claimed that 1,351 personnel had died and 3,825 had been injured. Russia does not include losses among those mobilized from the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), and mercenaries from Wagner’s private military company.
There is evidence to suggest that Russia is experiencing manpower problems. The Kremlin is actively seeking volunteers from prisons not only on the territory of the Russian Federation, but from other parts of the world. It is also pursuing mobilization in the unrecognized DPR and LPR and other occupied territories of Ukraine. Russia has also allowed young people to enter the army immediately after school raised the conscription age to 65. All this points to problems with the staffing of battalion-tactical groups.
On July 30, CNN reported that so-called volunteer battalions were being formed throughout Russia; furthermore that at least 30,000 people could be recruited into these units since no military experience is required.
As part of its campaign, the Kremlin has obliged each of the 85 Russian regions, including temporarily occupied Crimea, to form and financially stimulate a new battalion of “volunteers” to participate in its war against Ukraine.
“True, not all regions are ready to create such battalions at the expense of the local population. In particular, Moscow’s authorities are forming the so-called ‘mayor’s regiment,’ which mainly recruits people from other regions and even citizens of Central Asian countries (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan). To encourage them, a high salary and the opportunity to obtain Russian citizenship are being offered,” the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine explained on July 26.
It is understood that Moscow has involved the Chechen military and Syrian fighters in the war – likely a strategy to avoid internal outrage in Russia due to the scale of military losses and to avoid the need to conduct a general mobilization.