In 36 days of action on Iwo Jima during World War II, approximately 7,000 US Marines were killed. Now, 20 days after Russian President Vladimir V. Putin invaded Ukraine, his military has already lost more soldiers. The conservative side of the estimate, at more than 7,000 Russian army deaths, is larger than the number of American forces killed during 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
It is a remarkable figure amassed in just three weeks of action, American officials believe, with ramifications for the combat efficiency of Russian forces, particularly personnel in tank formations. Pentagon officials say a 10 percent mortality rate, including dead and injured, for a single unit renders it impossible to carry out combat-related tasks.
With more than 150,000 Russian forces currently active in the battle in Ukraine, Russian casualties, when adding the estimated 14,000 to 21,000 injured, are around that amount. According to Ukrainian, NATO, and Russian officials, the Russian military has also lost at least three generals in the conflict.
According to Pentagon authorities, a large and growing number of battle dead might sap the desire to fight. The outcome, they claim, can be found in daily intelligence reports read by senior Biden administration officials: A recent report on Russian forces’ low morale reported soldiers simply parking their trucks and heading off into the woods.
The American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters, caution that their numbers of Russian troop deaths are estimates based on news media analysis, Ukrainian figures (which tend to be high, with the most recent at 13,500), Russian figures (which tend to be low, with the most recent at 498), satellite imagery, and careful examination of video images of Russian tanks and troops under fire.
When an armored vehicle is damaged by, say, a Javelin anti-tank missile, American military and intelligence officers know how many troops are usually in a tank and can extrapolate the number of losses.
The high number of casualties explains why Russia’s much-vaunted force has mostly stopped outside of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.
“Losses like this undermine morale and unit cohesiveness, especially since these men don’t understand why they’re fighting,” said Evelyn Farkas, the Obama administration’s top Pentagon official for Russia and Ukraine. “Overall situational awareness diminishes.” “Someone has to drive, and someone has to shoot.”
“But that’s just the ground forces,” she clarified. With his ground forces in disarray, Russian President Vladimir Putin has increasingly turned to the sky to strike Ukrainian cities, residences, hospitals, and even schools. Officials claim that the aircraft bombardment has helped hide the Russian military’s poor performance on the ground. Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, announced this week that an estimated 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers have died in the conflict.
There are numerous indicators of Russia’s difficulties. Russian news outlets said late last week that Mr. Putin had placed two of his senior intelligence officials under house arrest. According to Andrei Soldatov, a Russian security services expert, the officers who manage Russia’s main intelligence service, the FSB, were investigated for delivering weak intelligence before of the invasion.
In an interview, Mr. Soldatov claimed, “They were in charge of providing political intelligence and establishing support networks in Ukraine.” “They told Putin exactly what he wanted to hear” regarding the invasion’s course.
It’s possible that Russians are only hearing what Mr. Putin wants them to hear about his “operation” in Ukraine, which he refuses to label a war or an invasion. Since the conflict began, he has maintained tight control over Russian press channels, with state media failing to report most casualties and downplaying the destruction.
However, some Russians have access to virtual private networks (VPNs) and can access Western news.
“I don’t believe he can keep Russians from learning the truth indefinitely,” C.I.A. Director William J. Burns told the Senate last Thursday. “Especially as the realities of killed and wounded returning home, and the growing number of them, the realities of the economic consequences for ordinary Russians, the realities of the horrific scenes of hospitals and schools being bombed next door in Ukraine, and of civilian casualties there as well, began to puncture that bubble.”
The generals’ fatalities are slowly filtering out, first from Ukrainians, then through NATO officials, with one death being acknowledged by Mr. Putin in a speech. Maj. Gen. Andrei Kolesnikov, a commander from Russia’s eastern military area; Maj. Gen. Vitaly Gerasimov, the 41st Combined Arms Army’s first deputy commander; and Maj. Gen. Andrei Sukhovetsky, the 41st Combined Arms Army’s deputy commander have all been named.
Around 20 Russian generals were in Ukraine as part of the war effort, according to Western diplomats, and they may have pushed closer to the front to boost morale. In an interview, Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia, remarked, “Three generals already – that’s a shocking number.”
A fourth general, Maj. Gen. Oleg Mityaev, the commander of the 150th motorized rifle division, was killed in action on Wednesday, according to Ukrainian officials. Many Russian generals are chatting on unsecured phones and radios, according to two American military officials. The Ukrainians intercepted a general’s phone call, geolocated it, and bombed his location, killing him and his staff, they claimed.
If the number of Russian military deaths continues to climb, civil groups that raised awareness about troop deaths and injuries during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan may resurface. However, according to some military experts and lawmakers, the Russian toll is unlikely to sway Mr. Putin’s plan.