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ISW: Russia’s current losses in Ukraine mirror rate of new force generation

Russia’s recruitment efforts may not offset casualties, posing challenges to Russia’s military capacity in Ukraine, ISW says.
Russian soldiers moments before being hit by an FPV drone near Avdiivka in late 2023. Ukrainian combat footage.

Russian forces may be suffering losses along the entire front in Ukraine at a rate close to the rate at which Russia is currently generating new forces, the US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) notes.

Ukrainian Ground Forces Command Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Volodymyr Fityo reported on December 7th that Russian forces suffered nearly 11,000 casualties, either killed or incapacitated by injuries, in the Kupiansk, Lyman, and Bakhmut areas in November 2023.

The pace of operations in the Kupiansk, Lyman, and Bakhmut sectors is presently slower than in the Avdiivka area. These casualties imply a potentially higher Russian casualty rate in Avdiivka due to its intense operational tempo. Ukrainian authorities had previously documented 5,000 Russian personnel casualties, a mix of fatalities and injuries, near Avdiivka and Marinka (west of Donetsk City) during a concentrated period from October 10 to 26, when Russian forces initiated two significant mechanized assault waves in an attempt to seize Avdiivka.

At present, Russian forces are engaged in large-scale infantry-led offensives aimed at capturing Avdiivka. This strategic move appears to be driven by the intention to preserve armored vehicles, even though it entails the heightened risk of incurring more significant personnel losses.

Ukrainian authorities have notably highlighted that Russian defensive actions have resulted in substantial casualties. Ukrainian forces are said to have inflicted over 1,200 fatalities and wounded more than 2,200 Russian personnel on the eastern (left) bank of Kherson Oblast between October 17 and November 17.

Ukrainian forces persist in their counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhzhia Oblast, likely imposing comparable casualties on the defending Russian forces in this region of the front. However, it’s essential to note that the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) cannot independently verify the Russian casualty figures provided by Ukraine. Reliable data regarding Russian casualties in Ukraine remains elusive. Nevertheless, if the Ukrainian-provided numbers are reasonably accurate, they imply that Russian operations in Ukraine are generally characterized by high attrition rates. This suggests that the substantial Russian losses are not solely a consequence of the costliest offensive operations near Avdiivka.

Both Russian and Ukrainian officials have confirmed that Russian crypto-mobilization initiatives yield an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 personnel each month. This recruitment rate could potentially be lower than the rate of Russian casualties occurring in Ukraine at present.

During the spring and summer of 2023, Ukrainian authorities disclosed that Russia was enlisting approximately 20,000 individuals each month through crypto-mobilization endeavors.

Ukrainian officials have noted that the composition of Russian forces along the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast front has remained largely unchanged since the summer of 2023. This implies that while new personnel are being committed to the region, it may not necessarily bolster the overall strength of the grouping.

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev previously claimed that the Russian military recruited 42,000 personnel between November 9 and December 1.

Ukrainian data on Russian casualties along the front indicate that the monthly Russian casualty rate might surpass the 20,000 monthly recruitment figure and possibly even approach the significantly higher estimate provided by Medvedev. As a response to ongoing Russian operations in Ukraine, the Russian military command has hurriedly dispatched newly formed and understrength units to reinforce various sectors of the front. This has hindered the broader, long-term efforts to establish operational and strategic reserves and to restructure the Russian ground forces.

Both recruiting and casualty figures likely fluctuate over the course of the year, and all available figures are likely exaggerated. The reported numbers match observed battlefield conditions, however, as well as other Ukrainian reports that the Russian military has only been able to sustain its current manning level in Ukraine despite its reportedly high numbers of new recruits.

“High Russian casualties will likely prevent Russian forces from fully replenishing and reconstituting existing units in Ukraine and forming new operational and strategic reserves if Russian force generation efforts continue at current rates while the Russian military continues operations. Russia does appear able to continue absorbing such losses and making them good with new recruits, however, as long as President Vladimir Putin is willing and able to absorb the domestic consequences,” ISW says.

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