Accessibility links

Breaking News

Russia suffers massive losses in Ukraine, but effect on Kremlin policy unclear

FILE - In this photo released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on June 25, 2024, Russian soldiers fire the 152-mm howitzer "Msta-B" in an undisclosed location in Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
FILE - In this photo released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on June 25, 2024, Russian soldiers fire the 152-mm howitzer "Msta-B" in an undisclosed location in Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Several recent journalistic investigations have provided statistics showing that Russia’s military has suffered staggering losses since launching its February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

In late June, independent Russian outlet Important Stories found “more than 71,000 Russian men died in the war” since February 2022. Based on figures compiled by the Russia’s State Statistics Service, the report also found that at least 45,000 Russian soldiers died in Ukraine in 2023 alone.

Earlier in June, an open-source investigation conducted by independent Russian media outlet Mediazona and the BBC’s Russian-language service confirmed the names of 64,000 Russian soldiers who had been killed since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. The journalists who conducted the research suggested that the number of fatalities are likely at least twice as high.

On the second anniversary of the invasion, Mediazona and Meduza, another independent Russian media outlet, jointly published a study that found an estimated 83,000 Russian soldiers had been killed in Ukraine.

Reporting on that study, The Kyiv Independent noted that Mediazona and Meduza had announced in July 2023 that they had “accessed a restricted but non-classified database of inheritance cases, and compared trends to those in publicly available mortality data from Russia’s State Statistics Service, records from the Russian Probate Registry, and obituaries.”

Last August, The New York Times quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying that up to 120,000 Russian troops had been killed and 170,000 to 180,000 wounded, compared to nearly 70,000 Ukrainian troops killed and 100,000 to 120,000 wounded.

The Kremlin does not release official statistics on miliary casualties. On Monday, The Kyiv Independent confirmed that Ukraine's General Staff is reporting that Russia has lost more than 540,000 troops in Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale invasion — a number that includes killed and injured.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in February claimed that 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the February 2022 invasion. He also said that he wouldn’t disclose the number of Ukrainian troops that were wounded or missing.

Stats censored

Sergei Krivenko of Moscow-based Citizen Army Law, a human rights group, says Russia’s aggressive censoring of stats, along with virtually no remaining independent news outlets, means that the rate of casualties is unlikely to sway popular opinion about the war.

“In the ’90s, when the Chechen war began, there were independent media outlets that objectively discussed the military topic on their pages and told the truth about the losses,” he told VOA’s Russian Service. "And this had a sobering effect on society. There is the most severe censorship now, the authorities have everything under control, and for publications of this kind you can easily get a prison term."

Krivenko also noted that the majority of troops sent to Ukraine are contract soldiers — an important distinction from the Afghan and Chechen wars fought primarily by “forced conscripts [that] ... were sent to slaughter, which caused tension and backlash in society, event to the point of creating social movements.”

Those who voluntary sign contracts to fight in Ukraine, he added, “made their own choice.”

“In addition, they receive a decent salary,” he said. “That is, ordinary people do not feel particularly sorry for them."

Krivenko said that while Russia’s “enormous” losses in Ukraine cannot be hidden, with cemeteries “expanding in every [Russian] city and town,” it will not force the Kremlin to change course.”

“They will only turn up patriotic rhetoric more intensely to explain the growing losses,” he said. “They will repeat that ‘there is a war with the West, so everyone goes to the front.’”

Roman Dobrokhotov of The Insider, an independent investigative outlet based in Latvia, said focus groups have shown that Russians are tired of the war in Ukraine — mainly over casualties and its effect on the economy.

“[W]e see from the focus groups that we have been observing for a long time that even those who previously supported the war and were generally loyal to Putin want him to end this senseless war," he said, adding that he believes Putin is aware of this growing sentiment.

“Hence, there is increasing speculation that the Kremlin wants to return to peace talks,” Dobrokhotov said. “But it does not look like Putin is ready to return to pre-war borders. I would be surprised if the Kremlin agreed to leave, for example, Mariupol. And Ukraine will never capitulate."

Yevgeniya Chirikova, an exiled Russian environmental activist based in Estonia, said she sees no signs that Putin is ready to end the war in Ukraine.

“That’s not why he went to North Korea,” she told VOA. “And the growing number of killed and maimed on both sides does not bother him at all. Until Russian troops receive a tough rebuff in Ukraine, no changes will happen.”

But, she added: “It is felt that the limit of patience on the part of Russian society is close to exhaustion.”