Attrition: Where Have All The Soldiers Gone


June 5, 2024: Over two years of fighting in Ukraine have left Russia with few sources of new recruits for the army. In addition, its combat losses are over a million killed, severely wounded, captured or deserters. At least as many military age men have fled Russia to avoid military service and the high probability of being sent to Ukraine.

Although Russia has a population four times that of Ukraine, declining birth rates since the 1980s have reduced the number of military age men even more. Ukraine has similar problems but to less of an extent. After all, Russia was the invader and the Ukrainians were defending their homeland with lots of material assistance from western Europe and the United States. The only allies Russia has are Iran and North Korea. China will help Russia overcome economic sanctions, for a price. In practical terms, Russia is on its own and can no longer depend on Russian male civilians to make themselves available for military service. Russia instead entices a growing number of foreign workers in Russia, as well non-Slavic minorities, into enlisting for the money. There is also a critical shortage of junior officers and NCOs (sergeants) to train new recruits. As a result, Russian soldiers currently sent to Ukraine are poorly trained and well aware of how dangerous it is for Russian soldiers in Ukraine. That’s because Russia was the invader and is still attacking. The Ukrainians have become expert defenders because they are better trained and led in defending their homeland. Ukrainian soldiers suffer far fewer casualties than the Russians. In practice that means for every Ukrainian casualty, there are five Russian casualties.

In addition to heavy personnel losses the Russians have lost over 20,000 armored vehicles, a third of them tanks. The first year of fighting wiped out nearly all of Russia’s best tanks and since then they have been depending on second rate tanks, most of them older models taken out of storage and refurbished for combat. The losses have been so heavy that, for the last two years, the annual May 8th military parade in Moscow celebrating victory in World War II, the only tank available for the parade has been a lone World War II T-34/85 tank in running condition and able participate in parade in place of dozens of more modern tanks that used to be available. Those tanks were destroyed or captured in Ukraine. The Russian government prefers not to discuss that, but the lone T-34/85 speaks for itself.

Currently most of the Russian tanks Ukrainian forces encounter are older models, like T-62s, taken from storage depots and made ready to operate in Ukraine, and then quickly destroyed. Ukraine has lots of modern anti-tank weapons including some it manufactures itself as well as many more from NATO military aid.

Given the number of tanks Russia continues to lose in Ukraine, its older tank reserves could keep the fighting going for another two or three years. Beyond that the heavy troop losses and the fact Russia is the invader and not defending Russia itself as was the case during World War II, popular support for the war in Ukraine is falling rapidly. To make matters worse, there is another corruption scandal among the senior commanders of whom over a dozen have been accused or implicated in corruption scandals. This comes at a time when many Russians are angry at the heavy troop losses and now see the Russian generals making illegal profits from the war effort. Worse, the government has mobilized the Russian economy to support the war effort. That means higher taxes and more economic sanctions. The combat losses and many Russian men fleeing the country to avoid military service has caused a labor shortage. There is plenty of work but not a lot to spend your money on because of the sanctions and concentration on military production.

It's hard times for Russia and Russians but, unlike World War II, this time it is self-inflicted.




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