On the 90th day of the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry reported that the invading troops had suffered a total of 29,350 deaths in their ranks, a figure not recognized by the government of Vladimir Putin , which does not offer official numbers.
The report stated that the Armed Forces of Ukraine also destroyed 1,302 tanks, 3,194 armored fighting vehicles, 606 artillery systems, 201 multiple rocket launchers, 93 air defense units, 205 aircraft, 170 helicopters , 480 tactical and operational UAVs, 112 missiles cruise ship, 13 ships/boats, 2,213 motor vehicles/tanker trucks and 43 special equipment units.
Although some reports from Western countries have lower estimates, a journalist from the newspaper Le Figaro indicated Monday that the French foreign intelligence service estimates some 28,000 dead Russian soldiers, although a deputy said that the numbers are based on reports from Ukraine.
The Kremlin has not communicated on the issue since March 25, a month after the war began. That day the Russian government admitted that 1,351 soldiers fell in combat, compared to a previous official balance of 498 dead soldiers, published on March 2.
The figure for Ukraine practically doubles the estimated 15,000 dead suffered by the Soviet Union during a decade of war in Afghanistan (1979-1989), which caused national trauma and the collapse of the USSR.
In other comparisons, 2,455 US service members died in the war in Afghanistan (2001-2021), while in Iraq, the US-led coalition lost 4,815 soldiers between 2003 and 2011.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, it did so with the aspiration of taking the country in a lightning offensive of just a few days or a few weeks. Many Western analysts also thought that it would. However, Moscow seems mired in what is increasingly seen as a war of attrition, with no end in sight and little success on the battlefield.
There was no quick victory for the powerful forces of Russian President Vladimir Putin, nor a rout of Ukrainian withdrawal that would allow the Kremlin to control most of the country and establish a puppet government. Instead, Russian troops were stuck on the outskirts of Kiev and other major cities in the face of a staunch Ukrainian defense . Russian armored convoys were paralyzed on long stretches of highway. Troops ran out of supplies and gasoline and became easy targets from the air and ground.
Of course, Russia has seized considerable tracts of territory around the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed eight years ago. He has also succeeded in cutting off Ukraine’s access to the Sea of Azov and finally securing control of the key port of Mariupol after a siege that prevented some of his troops from fighting elsewhere as they battled persistent Ukrainian forces entrenched in a massive metals compound.
But the offensive in the east also appears to have run out of steam, as Western weapons pour into Ukraine to bolster an outgunned army.
Every day, Russian artillery and warplanes relentlessly pummel Ukrainian positions in Donbas in an attempt to break through the defenses put up during the separatist conflict.
They have made only small gains, clearly reflecting both Russia’s insufficient numbers and Ukrainian resistance . In a recent incident, the Russians lost hundreds of troops and dozens of combat vehicles in the Luhansk region as they tried to cross a river to build a bridgehead.
“The Russians are still far behind where we think they wanted to be when they started this new effort in the eastern part of the country,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said on Friday, describing the fighting in Donbas as very dynamic. with small towns and villages that change hands every day.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian forces have methodically targeted Western weapons shipments, ammunition and fuel depots and critical infrastructure with cruise missiles and airstrikes, hoping to weaken kyiv’s military and economic potential.
The Kremlin appears to harbor an even more ambitious goal of isolating Ukraine’s Black Sea coast from the Romanian border, something that would also allow Moscow to build a land connection with the breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova, where Russian troops are stationed. But Moscow seems to know that this goal is not attainable at the moment, with the limited forces at its disposal.
“I think they are realizing more and more that they can’t do it all, certainly not all at once ,” said Justin Crump, a former British tank commander who runs Sibylline, a strategic advisory firm.
Moscow’s losses have forced it to rely increasingly on hastily reassembled units in the Donbas that could only make small gains.
A mass mobilization would likely spark widespread discontent in Russia, stoke anti-war sentiment, and carry huge political risks. Authorities have opted for more limited options, such as lifting the current 40-year limit for those who want to join the army.
The lack of resources was on full display last week with Russia’s sudden withdrawal from areas around Kharkiv . Ukraine’s second largest city had been under attack since the beginning of the war. Apparently, some of those troops were redirected to Donbas, but they were not enough to tip the scales on the battlefield.
Ukraine, for its part, continues to receive Western weapons, including US howitzers and drones, tanks from Poland and other heavy equipment sent to the front line immediately. “Ukraine’s plan is simple and obvious: wear down Russian forces as much as possible in the coming months, buy time to receive Western weapons and instruction on how to use them, and then launch a counteroffensive in the southeast,” said Sunhurovskyi, the military expert based in kyiv.
The slow progress in eastern Ukraine has angered warmongers in Russia, who have warned that Moscow cannot win unless it mobilizes massively and concentrates all its resources on a decisive attack. The Ukrainian authorities, for their part, are gaining more and more confidence in the face of the slow progress of the Russian offensive and growing support from the West.
Although Ukraine’s President Volodimir Zelensky reiterated last week that pushing the Russians back to their pre-invasion positions would be a victory, some of his advisers have voiced more ambitious goals, such as the possibility of retaking Crimea and Donbas .
Russia, for its part, appears to be trying to bleed Ukraine dry with systematic attacks on fuel supplies and infrastructure while fighting military gains in the east. The Kremlin could also hope that the West will lose interest in the conflict in the face of economic problems and other challenges.
“Their last hope is that we lose all interest in the conflict in Ukraine by the summer,” Crump said. “They calculate that Western audiences will lose interest in the same way they did in Afghanistan last year. Russia believes that time is ticking in its favor.”