The Heavy Toll Of Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine

Wednesday, March 30, 2022
Image credit: 
RU/SU 2186, Poster Collection, Hoover Institution Library & Archives.

Image credit: 
RU/SU 2186, Poster Collection, Hoover Institution Library & Archives.

An article in the Sunday Times (of London) echoes several others that try to put present-day Russian losses in Ukraine into their correct historical perspective. One very obvious problem is that we cannot be certain exactly what Russian losses actually are at the time of writing in late March 2022, but it does not seem unreasonable for the Sunday Times, using Western military intelligence sources, to estimate a death toll of 10,000, which although much more than the Kremlin admits (at 1,500) is also lower than the Ukrainians claim (at 16,000).

Using the 10,000 figure for the campaign that began on February 24, 2022, the newspaper points out that Russian losses have been running at the rate of over 350 per day. It contrasts this figure with previous campaigns over the past three-quarters of a century, with some remarkable results. During the seven-year Iraq war, for example, the 4,598 U.S. soldiers who lost their lives did so at the rate of 1.8 per day. For the twenty-year war in Afghanistan, where 2,324 U.S. soldiers were killed, the rate was about 0.3 deaths per day. Of course this does not take into account the non-U.S. losses in the coalition—such as the 179 British servicemen who died in Iraq and 457 in Afghanistan—but the fact remains that the per diem losses by the Russians in Ukraine are presently one thousand times higher than the Americans in Afghanistan.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” states the Sunday Times, is “one of the costliest invasions of modern times.” This is even higher than the rate at which British forces died in the Second World War, when 384,000 were killed over six years, about 185 a day. The Vietnam War cost the lives of some 58,220 American servicemen over twenty years, an average of eight per day, although the paper notes that during the main years of fighting between 1966 and 1970 some 30 troops a day died.

Of course it is probably unfair on President Putin to compare the average death rates of a war that had only been going on for a month to ones that lasted two decades like Vietnam and Afghanistan, not least because the heaviest losses are often incurred early on in campaigns. Yet the Sunday Times also points out that one of the reasons for the high Russian losses in Ukraine has been because they have only committed four Russian troops per thousand of the local population, whereas the Western countries’ campaign in Bosnia committed nineteen troops per thousand in 1995 and twenty troops per thousand in Kosovo in 2000. In Germany at the end of World War II, there were no fewer than 101 Allied troops per thousand Germans.

Mention of the “Great Patriotic War,” as it is known in Russia, puts even Putin’s present-day losses into proper historical perspective, however, for in that conflict the Russian death toll of 8.6 million servicemen over nearly four years averaged a staggering six thousand per day.

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