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War in Ukraine: behind the 50,000 dead Russian soldiers identified, there is a much larger toll

The BBC claimed this Wednesday, April 17, to have identified 50,000 Russian soldiers killed on the Ukrainian front since February 2022. A figure that shows the magnitude of Russian human losses while predicting a much higher number of victims.

A heavy number. The BBC has identified 50,000 Russian soldiers as having been killed since the start of the offensive in Ukraine in February 2022. In collaboration with the independent Russian media Mediazona, journalists were able to provide names, surnames, ranks and even faces. about his soldiers who died during Vladimir Putin’s “special operation.” A “special operation” that was intended to be lightning but has continued for more than two years.

More than 27,300 Russian soldiers died during the second year of combat, or 25% more than the first year, according to their research published Wednesday, April 17.

To establish this macabre list, our colleagues carefully reviewed official reports, newspapers and social media for any mention of death by local authorities or family members. They were also interested in data from inheritance records and from 70 cemeteries throughout Russia. Aerial images allowed them to observe the newly established graves and then confirm through photographs or videos taken in the field that they belonged to former soldiers or officers.

This figure, which does not include the militiamen who died in the occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, is eight times higher than the only official balance reported by Moscow in September 2022, which was then 5,937 soldiers.

A figure far below reality

Like the Ukrainians, the Russians communicate very little on this topic. “If a significant assessment is confirmed, this could raise questions in civil society,” underlines Arnaud Dubien, director of the Franco-Russian Observatory in Moscow and associate researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, contacted by BFMTV.com.

“Then one might ask whether the conflict justifies so many deaths, while currently 90% of the Russian population does not feel affected,” he points out.

However, the 50,000 soldiers identified are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Much higher estimates are multiplying among Westerners. The latter “do not speak only of dead soldiers but of those who are considered ‘out of combat'”, says General Jérôme Pellistrandi, defense advisor for BFMTV.

Last August, the New York Times, citing US officials, estimated Russian military losses at 120,000 dead. In late January, British Defense Minister James Heappey estimated Russian losses at more than 350,000 dead and wounded. These estimates remain quantitative, unlike those of the BBC, which has carried out extensive identification work.

“It is estimated that for every soldier killed, three others are wounded,” says Arnaud Dubien, who points out that some of the wounded “are then treated and return to combat.” This specialist in Russia tells us another estimate prepared by a “renowned Russian demographer” whose name he withholds for his own safety.

“At the end of October, this demographer gave a very limited lecture and then estimated that between 75,000 and 83,000 Russian soldiers had died since February 2022,” he told us, considering these figures “extremely credible.”

Before adding: “Since the end of October, with an order of magnitude, we can estimate that this toll amounts to between 100,000 and 120,000.”

Three soldiers killed by a destroyed tank

Another military theory supports the likelihood that the total number of dead is much higher than the 50,000 Russian soldiers identified by the BBC. General Jérôme Pellistrandi explains to us that for every war vehicle destroyed, we can estimate that three soldiers died.

According to the specialized blog Oryx, which keeps a list of Russian and Ukrainian material losses since February 2024, 10,952 Russian vehicles have been destroyed to date. If we multiply 10,952 by three, we obtain 32,856 deaths. A figure that would only include the military present in the vehicles at the time of their destruction.

The Russian media Mediazona, however, qualifies this theory: “An impact against armored vehicles does not always mean the death of the crew: drone images often show soldiers evacuating.”

Being a journalist in Putin’s Russia


The BBC specifies that an increase in the number of soldiers killed was observed in January 2023 in the Donetsk region, occupied by Moscow, in the spring of 2023 during the Battle of Bakhmut or even during the large-scale offensive on the city of Avdiïvka , released last year. autumn and which lasted four months.

The Wagner mercenary group, which helped Russia capture Bakhmout, then estimated the losses of its group at 22,000 people, the British media reports.

The “cannon fodder” strategy

This increase in human losses can be explained by the strategy then adopted by Moscow: the “cannon fodder” or “meat grinder” strategy.

“It’s about sending soldiers en masse to flood the front and exhaust the Ukrainian forces,” explains General Jérôme Pellistrandi, who draws a parallel with the Red Army during World War II, which “did not hesitate to sacrifice itself to win.”

But compared to the 20th century, Moscow no longer has the same demographic resources. “Today Russia can no longer send millions of men, free cannon fodder, but today it has money to pay subcontracted workers,” declares Arnaud Dubien, director of the Franco-Russian Observatory in Moscow. Subcontracted workers whose death is therefore costly.

The BBC investigation also tells us that the profile of soldiers evolved throughout the war. Experienced soldiers, wounded or killed at the beginning of the conflict, were gradually replaced by volunteers, civilians or even prisoners who were promised amnesty in exchange for their commitment. Poorly trained, these soldiers have less chance of survival.

Author: Juliette Brossault
Source: BFM TV

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