On 25th of March, 2022 (keep the date in mind) Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Defence Minister, released figures for Russian army casualties in the month-long war, or “special military operation,” in Ukraine. 1,351 Russian servicemen had been killed, and another 3,825 wounded. NATO sources put the number killed at between 7,000 and 15,000.
On 22nd of September, Shoigu updated the figures to 5,937 Russian servicemen killed. Neither of these numbers included Donbas militiamen, or the Chechen forces, or mercenaries of the Wagner Group. Up to that time, much of the fighting in northern Donetsk and in Luhansk had been conducted by the Donbas militias, who had been carrying the main burden of the fighting with the Ukrainian army since 2014, by the mercenary Wagner Group, and by forces comprised primarily of Chechens under a Chechen leader. Both of the latter were engaged in the fighting around the city of Bakhmut, a vital supply link for Ukrainian forces which had been shelling the city of Donetsk since the war broke out in 2014.
At the same time, Shoigu put the Ukrainian losses at 61,207 dead and 49,368 wounded. The precision with which the Ukrainian losses are given is clearly spurious. Aside from the necessary inaccuracy of the sum of multiple estimates, they present of ratio of dead to wounded of 6:5, where a very rough rule of thumb would be more like 1:3 or 1:4.
Mediazona is a dissenting Russian media outlet founded by two members of Pussy Riot, so there is no question as to their dissent. Their services are sought out by, for example, the BBC, especially for anything detrimental to the Russian government. For the BBC, Mediazona did research on Russian casualties from information on funerals and various other notifications of deaths. On the 3rd of September, they claimed to have identified 6,024 Russian servicemen killed. By the 16th, the BBC was reporting 6,476 killed. The most remarkable thing about this is how close it is to the official Defence Ministry number. To give this some context, the CIA, Estonian Foreign Intelligence and MI6 were asserting that 15,000 Russian troops had been killed. Such estimates were dwarfed by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, which was claiming to have “liquidated” 55,100 Russian fighters. The take-away here is that the official Russian figures on their own casualties are reasonable, and that the Ukrainian figures are one of those forms of propaganda which consists in looking through whichever end of the telescope best fits the pre-determined story.
The Ukrainians do not provide their own casualty figures. These numbers are classified. However, in November, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley said that Russia’s armed forces had suffered 100,000 killed and wounded, and that Ukraine’s casualties had probably been similar. Given that the U.S. is the major sponsor of and major arms supplier to the Ukrainian war effort, Mark Milley must know exactly what Ukrainian casualty figures are, or he must explain to the Administration why he doesn’t. So his “probably” is obfuscation. While this announcement didn’t get a lot of traction, another did.
The sanctions so enthusiastically applied against Russia by the EU and the UK have rebounded very badly against the countries applying them, especially the UK and Germany, which is discovering how dependent its economy is on cheap Russian energy, and why Angel Merkel was so keen to push through Nord Stream 2 over the persistent and ruthless opposition of the US. Meanwhile the Russian economy is strengthening, much to the surprise of The Economist.
The EU needs all the money it can get, and the bureaucrats who govern are hungry for the €300 billion of frozen Russian central bank assets, and the €19 billion of assets seized from private Russian citizens, always referred to by these bureaucrats as oligarchs. There is, however, a difference between “freezing” and “seizing.” Brussels has not been able to find a legal way to take ownership of these funds, and some member states are rightly concerned about the precedent such a seizure would set. In the latest attempt to construct a framework for plundering these resources, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, made an ill-advised broadcast in which she said, “It is estimated that more than 20,000 civilians and more than 100,000 Ukrainian military officers have been killed so far.”
This revelation caused a storm in Ukraine and elsewhere. The EU PR gurus addressed the problem by editing the offending sentence out of the video, and re-releasing the edited version.
One expects of government bureaucrats a certain facility in the plundering of funds; that’s their day job. But this well of comedic talent in Brussels is something unexpected, and it evoked gales of laughter across the internet. Take three. The numbers that von der Leyen had given were only estimates, a spokeswoman said, and estimates of “dead and wounded,” at that. Unfortunately, she said “killed.” What about the 20,000 civilians? Were they “killed,” or “killed and wounded”?
The bottom line here is that Ukraine, in the estimation of the EU, has lost 100,000 men killed. That number is somewhere between a third and half of the entire Ukrainian army, although there have been repeated call-ups of the increasingly elastic category of fighting-age men.
Many Western readers may have realised that they, and by extension all of us, are suffocating in a miasma of misinformation and disinformation that is generated and re-generated by the news industries of the West. They may struggle to maintain their composure under the barrage of lies about climate change, CO2, “free” renewable energy; they may have despaired at the enthusiastic abandonment of hard-won Western civil liberties and traditions of the rule of law when Covid-19 came; at the loss of all reason, caution or medical ethics in the coercive application of mRNA “vaccines.” Yet many of these same readers have suspended all scepticism concerning Russia’s “unprovoked and unjustified” war in Ukraine. This cohort may well embrace every story from the Ukrainian military, and cheer at every video of a Russian tank being destroyed or Russian troops being killed by drone-directed artillery. So be it.
Yet both General Mark Milley and Ursula von der Leyen assert, for every Russian body over which we might care dance a jig, there is at least one Ukrainian body. In fact, if we pay attention to those numbers for which there is considerable agreement between the Russian Defence Ministry and sceptical indirect investigation, there is a shocking imbalance of casualties in Russia’s favour. Col Douglas McGregor, practically the lone ex-military voice in the US that is critical of the Western response, agreed with von der Layen’s estimate, and added an estimate of 400,000 casualties in total. He added that the recent fighting, and consequent Ukrainian casualties had been so great that the number of deaths was probably closer to 120,000. His own estimate of the ratio of Russian to Ukrainian deaths is one to eight, which would put total Russian deaths in combat at around 15,000.
Shortly after those casualty figures released by Sergei Shoigu on the 25th of March, a tentative agreement for a cease-fire and settlement was reached between representatives of Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul. As described in an earlier post, this agreement was sabotaged in an aggressive campaign of war-mongering lead by then British P.M. Boris Johnson. The cost in lives of this sabotage is terrible enough, but the economies of Europe in particular, and the U.S. to a lesser extent are being devastated by the sanctions designed to cripple the Russian economy, which has withstood these attacks handily. The conditions offered then by Russia will not be repeated. Russia, and Putin, have learned their lesson, not least from the revelations by Angela Merkel on Western and Ukrainian attitudes to the Minsk agreements. A full-scale Russian war effort is about to commence with the freezing of the Ukrainian soil, and all that has happened before will pale in comparison.
As this is being prepared, Poland, the most enthusiastic EU supporter of war in Ukraine, is on the brink of mobilisation, having announced that up to 200,000 Poles will be summoned for military training next year. Poland, it must be said, has irredentist claims on Ukraine dating from the 14th century, and particularly on Galicia and Volhynia in Western Ukraine, which were part of Poland from the Polish-Ukrainian war of 1918-19 until the joint German-Soviet invasion of 1939. The outcome of Polish military intervention in Ukraine (in which 1,700 Poles are said to have died already) may not be what Western puppeteers anticipate.
Decisions about war are the most immediately consequential decisions that any government makes. They are now, and always have been, taken by small coteries of men, and increasingly women keen to get into the business of wielding power of the lives of populations; from the ineffectual Ursula von der Leyen to the ruthless and cynical Victoria Nuland. Any polity which lacks the information or the power to demand accountability and rationality from such men and women cannot claim to be self-governed. And here we are, in spite of our remoteness from the theatre, doing what we can to bring about the total destruction of Ukraine.