Saturday, February 24

The ‘fog of war’ makes it impossible to confirm the number of military casualties

A mother broken in pain after the death of her son in the town of Buzova. / REUTERS

kyiv has not updated its death data since March 12 and the Kremlin puts its number at 1,351

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is leaving a huge number of dead. All international observers agree that the mortality of this conflict is much higher than other more recent ones and that the loss of troops among the ranks of the Kremlin Army is very numerous. The question is: How many bodies accumulate after seven weeks of fighting? “It’s hard to count casualties when bombs keep falling,” a Pentagon diplomat reasoned a few weeks ago. It is what is called ‘fog of war’, the prevailing confusion during any warlike conflict.

Since the invasion began on February 24, each side has made its figures public and has obviously done so in an interested manner. It is another war tactic. The idea is simple: you magnify your opponent’s casualties and minimize your own to keep morale high. kyiv has been very discreet in acknowledging its losses. He has only provided two reports. The last one was made public on March 12, when President Volodímir Zelenski himself acknowledged the death of 1,300 soldiers of the country’s permanent ground force, made up of 130,000 uniformed personnel. Since then, silence. As if only those defending the Russian flag were falling, and that there have been bombings confirmed by the international press in which dozens of Ukrainian soldiers have died.

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The corpses recognized by kyiv are few, no matter where you look, especially if you take into account the violence of the attacks and the power of the opposing Army, considered one of the largest in the world. There is a standard ratio used by wartime observers that estimates that for every one dead there are three wounded. Under this rule, the current fighting would have left 5,000 Ukrainian soldiers dead, a figure that analysts say is likely to be much higher. Russian General Sergei Rudskoy said last week that his forces had killed 14,000 troops from the opposing army and put the wounded at 16,000.

Personal losses among the troops of the invaded country, however, would be, according to some sources, below the Russian ones for several reasons. According to the France-based Foundation for Strategic Research, attackers in a conflict risk greater losses than defenders because assault forces often fight to break through positions protected by fewer troops but well entrenched. In addition, the Ukrainians use “high-tech guerrilla-based tactics” rather than engaging the enemy “in direct confrontation or in the open,” thus shielding them from Russian firepower.

To all this we must add that the kyiv Army has undergone significant improvements in the last eight years. Since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its aid to pro-Russian separatists in the east, the government has increased defense spending and improved its military command capabilities. To its 3,500 million euros of defense budget for 2021, we must add the aid received from the United States and the rest of NATO allies that have also provided advice for the training of their troops.

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“Significant losses”

What the Zelensky government is not silent about is the Russian casualties. He updates the number almost daily and according to this balance, around 19,000 of the soldiers sent by the Kremlin have already died. Like kyiv, Moscow has only referred to its fallen twice since the fighting began. The last time he placed the number at 1,351, to which must be added 3,825 wounded. Last Thursday, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, acknowledged “significant losses. And it’s a great tragedy for us.” He did not go into more detail.

US and NATO analysts, who use models to calculate losses based on intelligence reports on the ground, satellite imagery and their knowledge of the Russian military, are not so optimistic. They assure that the sum of deceased, wounded and prisoners oscillates between 30,000 and 40,000 people. Personal losses, according to the same sources, would be between 7,000 and 15,000. The latter is the same number of Russian soldiers killed in combat during the ten years that its war with Afghanistan lasted, in the 1980s. If confirmed, when the fog of war dissipates, the Russian Army would have lost 25% so far of the 140,000 troops deployed in what they call a “special operation” in Ukraine.

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