First published at NewCatallaxy blog, 23 December, 2022.
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.
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