Attrition: Russia Conceals Casualties


December 16, 2023: Leader Vladimir Putin is not pleased that Russian forces are losing in Ukraine and blames the generals and military staff for not identifying and dealing with the problems. The generals are reluctant to tell Putin that he is the problem. Putin refuses to believe that Russian forces cannot defeat the Ukrainians. Putin also refuses to believe it is the Ukrainian willingness to fight the Russian invaders, and not just all the military aid sent by NATO nations, that causes this. Putin also doesn’t want to hear about Russian soldiers avoiding service in Ukraine, refusing to fight once they got there, and often deserting if compelled to fight. Most junior officers agree with their troops but are much less likely to desert or remind their superiors that the Russian situation in Ukraine has become increasingly difficult.

Their subordinates are another matter with large numbers, in one recent case about 60 Russian soldiers, deserting at once. These deserters often leave their weapons behind. This means local police can look for and detain these reluctant soldiers if they can find them.

The low morale of the Russian soldiers is not just about the risks of getting wounded or killed. The Ukrainians have destroyed and disabled Russian forces in Ukraine by successfully blocking or destroying supplies and reinforcements sent to Ukraine. Russian troops complain that they are not able to replace losses or obtain supplies needed to maintain morale and prevent desertion or soldiers refusing to fight. Even the elite Russian units, which comprise about ten percent of Russian forces, are taking a beating and not able to persuade their superiors that the situation is very bad and that most Russian forces are on the defensive and too demoralized by troop losses and lack of supplies to change the situation.

The growing number of Russian soldiers deserting is widely known in Ukraine but mentioning it in Russia can get you arrested, or at least warned to keep quiet about the desertions because the police have more urgent criminal matters to deal with. That includes the growing incidence of robbery, burglary, and assault. Many of these crimes are committed by criminals who got out of jail by agreeing to sign a six month contract to serve in special assault units that tended to suffer heavy casualties. The few survivors of these units leave the military at the end of their contract and often return to a life of crime.

On the other hand, Ukraine presently does not have sufficient forces and munitions to force the Russians out of Ukraine. But there are many ways to reduce the number of Russian troops in Ukraine and the Ukrainians have come up with some clever ways to exploit this desire by Russian soldiers to be anywhere but in Ukraine fighting Ukrainians. Russian soldiers are now taking advantage of the Ukrainian “I Want to Live” program for Russian soldiers who prefer to sit out the war, even if it is in Ukrainian custody as a prisoner of war. So far over 25,000 Russians have accepted the I Want to Live program and accepted detention for the rest of the war.

For the Russian military all these losses due to desertion or eagerly surrendering at the first opportunity are a major embarrassment. Russian leader Vladimir Putin is outraged at this sort of thing but going public about the situation will only give desertion and the surrender program more attention, and even Putin realizes that Russian military age men would prefer to avoid joining the fighting in Ukraine.




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