One of the biggest mysteries of the current conflict in Ukraine – aside from just what exactly Russian President Vladimir Putin is thinking on any given day – is the number of troops killed or injured in the fighting so far.
Both sides have been reluctant to release official figures and, as the war drags on into its tenth month, the public has had very little to go on.
What’s the latest?
On Thursday Dec. 1, it was claimed as many as 13,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky said.
“We have official estimates from the General Staff… And they range from 10,000 … to 13,000 dead,” Mykhailo Podolyak told Ukraine’s Channel 24 on Thursday.
Is this accurate?
It’s difficult to say as we only have this statement to go on. Podolyak did add that President Zelensky would make the official data public “when the right moment comes,” but he did not give any idea of when that might be.
Why do we not know for sure?
Both Ukraine and Russia have legitimate reasons for hiding the true scale of their losses.
Putin fully expected the entire invasion of Ukraine to be over in a matter of days, with Russian troops being welcomed by Ukrainians and a joyous victory parade in Kyiv to mark the complete occupation of the country, achieved with minimal losses of men and machines.
Proof of this assumption came with the discovery that many Russian soldiers killed while taking part in the initial assault on the capital were found to be carrying their dress uniforms to be worn during the expected celebrations.
This was the plan that was sold by Putin to the Russian public and ever since this was obliterated by Ukrainian resistance, the Kremlin has been engaged in continuous and increasingly desperate attempts to spin defeat after defeat.
Yet spinning the fact that tens of thousands of Russian troops have been killed by Ukrainians who were supposed to welcome them with flowers and hugs appears to be too much for even the vast Kremlin propaganda machine to deal with. Instead, it has largely ignored the issue.
What about the Ukrainians?
For Ukraine it is simply a matter of morale which remains incredibly high among both the public and the armed forces, but is inevitably suffering as the war drags on.
Ukrainian authorities have therefore been cagey about releasing official casualty figures as they fear it could adversely affect the country’s resistance to Russian aggression.
What have both sides said officially up until now?
In June, as Russian forces battled to take full control of the easternmost Luhansk region,
President Zelensky said Ukraine was losing “60 to 100 soldiers per day, killed in action, and around 500 people wounded in action”.
He did not give a total figure, but this number could roughly be in line with the estimate of 13,000 given by Podolyak, albeit it with a wide margin of error.
Official figures from Russia are almost certainly vastly lower than reality. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in September said 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting to that point.
As this was the last official statement on the matter, it is still the official figure.
What about international estimates?
Top U.S. General Mark Milley last month said more than 100,000 Russian military personnel have been killed or wounded in Ukraine, with Kyiv’s forces likely having suffered similar casualties.
Those figures – which could not be independently confirmed – are the most precise to date from the U.S. government.
Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have also been killed in the worst fighting in Europe in decades.
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