Russia suffered more combat deaths in Ukraine in the first year of the war than in all of its wars since World War II combined, according to a paper called “Ukrainian Innovation in a War of Attrition” – a new analysis by the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a bipartisan nonprofit policy research organization.
The analysis of the force disposition and military operations of Russian and Ukrainian units shows that the average rate of Russian soldiers killed per month is at least 25 times the number killed per month in Chechnya and 35 times the number killed in Afghanistan, highlighting the stark realities of a war of attrition. The Ukrainian military has also performed remarkably well against a much larger and initially better-equipped Russian military, in part due to the innovation of its forces.
According to CSIS estimates, there have been approximately 60,000 to 70,000 Russian combat fatalities in Ukraine between February 2022 and February 2023. [Note that the Armed Forces of Ukraine General Staff provides much higher numbers: approx. 150,600 liquidated personnel of the Russian forces as of March 2, 2023. – UWC.] These estimates include regular Russian soldiers from the Russian armed forces, Rosgvardiya, Federal Security Service, and Federal Guard Service; fighters from pro-Russian militias, such as the Donetsk People’s Militia and Luhansk People’s Militia; and contractors from such private military companies as the Wagner Group. Overall, Russia has suffered roughly 200,000 to 250,000 total casualties—personnel wounded, killed, and missing—during the first year of the war.
While some types of authoritarian regimes are willing to accept high casualties in interstate conflicts, Russian casualty numbers are unprecedented for post-World War II Russia.
One of the most interesting puzzles is how Ukraine—which has a significantly smaller military, weaker military capabilities, a limited defense industrial base, and a smaller economy—was able to blunt a Russian blitzkrieg and then conduct a series of counterattacks against dug-in Russian forces. Before its invasion in February 2022, Russia had nearly five times as many military personnel as Ukraine, a defense budget eleven times larger, an economy almost eight times larger, and significantly better military capabilities.
Ukraine has performed extraordinarily well against an adversary with a significant advantage in material resources. One factor that has likely contributed to Ukraine’s performance is military innovation, exemplified by Ukraine’s utilization of unmanned aircraft systems in combined arms operations. Many of Ukraine’s innovations have come from the bottom up, thanks to a military environment that encourages and enables junior officers to seek innovation.
While military innovation will be necessary as the war continues, it will not be sufficient to outweigh the matériel needs of the Ukrainian military, such as air defense systems, long-range artillery, armored vehicles, fighter aircraft, munitions, spare parts, and logistical resources. The West, including the United States, should prepare for a protracted war and long-term support to Ukraine.
Read the whole analysis, rich in charts and diagrams, on the CSIS site.