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ISW: Putin’s slip reveals Russian casualties, force generation challenge

Putin’s inadvertent admission about Russian casualties in Ukraine aligns with lower estimates from Ukrainian sources, suggesting Russia’s losses may be outpacing its ability to generate new forces.
Russian troops.
Russian troops. Credit: Fars News Agency
ISW: Putin’s slip reveals Russian casualties, force generation challenge

The US-based Institute for the Study of War reports that that on June 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin inadvertently disclosed that Russian forces may be experiencing approximately 20,000 monthly casualties in Ukraine, a figure close to or slightly below the number of new personnel Russia reportedly recruits each month.

Putin inadvertently suggested that roughly 5,000 Russian personnel are killed in action in Ukraine each month, which further suggests that roughly 15,000 Russian personnel are wounded in action, assuming a standard three-to-one wounded-to-killed casualty ratio,” ISW says.

In the footnotes, the ISW explained that Putin absurdly claimed on June 5 that Ukrainian forces suffer 50,000 casualties per month and that half of these are wounded in action (WIA) and the other half is killed in action (KIA).” Then he alleged that the Ukrainians have a five-to-one “irretrievable loss” rate compared to Russian forces, which suggests that the Russians are suffering about 5,000 KIA per month.

“Putin’s statements are an exaggeration and there is no indication that Ukrainian losses are as high as Putin claims. Nevertheless, Putin was willing to suggest that Russian forces suffer at least a fifth of his exaggerated Ukrainian KIA claim,” ISW wrote.

The think tank says it can’t confirm Putin’s suggested casualty rate, but his suggested figure does “align somewhat with the lower end of Ukrainian reporting about Russian casualty rates.”

In May, Ukrainian Ground Forces Commander Lt. Gen. Oleksandr Pavliuk stated that Russian forces suffer about 25,000 to 30,000 casualties per month, while in January, HUR Deputy Chief Maj. Gen. Vadym Skibitskyi reported that Russia recruits around 30,000 personnel monthly. The latter aligns with unofficial Russian reports on crypto-mobilization efforts.

Recently, Russian forces have developed a more sustainable force generation system for ongoing offensives and intensified building operational and strategic reserves. They’ve used their control over the broader conflict in Ukraine to maintain a combat pace that matches or slightly undershoots their recruitment rates. This approach has enabled them to quickly replenish frontline losses and maintain their offensive momentum, although it restricts how much they can escalate operations in any direction, according to ISW.

The small surplus of newly generated forces not immediately deployed as front-line reinforcements has enabled Russian forces to gradually build operational reserves. In early May 2024, Pavliuk stated that Russia plans to generate approximately 100,000 more personnel for offensive operations in June and July, and an additional 300,000 by the end of 2024.

Russia will likely fall far short of this immediate and near-term goal, even at the lower limit of reported or suggested monthly Russian casualties and the upper limit of reported monthly Russian force generation,” ISW says.

The think tank says it continues to assess that “likely poorly trained and equipped Russian operational- and strategic-level reserves are unlikely to be ready to act as a first-echelon penetration force or as a second-echelon exploitation force capable of conducting large-scale assaults in 2024 if Ukrainian forces have the wherewithal to resist them.”

Other key takeaways from the report:

  • Limitations on Western capabilities to train partner pilots on F-16 fighter jets are reportedly creating bottlenecks that will affect Ukraine’s ability to effectively field F-16s in the future.
  • French authorities are investigating multiple recent pro-Russian sabotage and societal influence operations in France amid continued Russian hybrid war measures against NATO states and France aimed at weakening support for Ukraine.
  • The Russian Investigative Committee announced the arrest of a French citizen on June 6 following the early June arrest in France.
  • Ukrainian forces struck an oil refinery in Rostov Oblast and reportedly struck an oil depot in Belgorod Oblast on the nights of 5 and 6 June.

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