Yesterday, the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda published a report that stated “According to the Russian Defense Ministry, during the special operation in Ukraine, the Russian Armed Forces lost 9,861 people killed and 16,153 wounded.”
According to CNN, the article was published Monday at 12:09 AM Moscow time. At 9:56 PM Moscow time the story was updated and removed all references to the death count.
So, this article was updated because 1) this figure embarrassed the Russian government, or 2) the data was incorrect, or update: 3) it could be hackers.
I have two problems with this report:
- The wounded-to-killed ratio is way off.
- This is an unexplainably high loss rate.
First, lets look at the wounded to killed ratios, which I have done blog posts on (see: Wounded-To-Killed Ratios | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)) and have a chapter on in my book War by Numbers. The wounded-to-killed ratio is 1.64-to-1. Normally you would expect to see a figure like 3-to-1 or higher.
For example, the other Russian figure released: 498 killed and 1,597 wounded, has a wounded-to-killed ratio of 3.21-to-1. The Donetsk People’s Republic reported as of 17 March 349 killed and 1,930 wounded for a wounded-to-killed ratio of 5.53-to-1. And now suddenly, there is a wounded-to-killed ratio of 1.64-to-1. No war in American history has had a wounded-to-killed ratio that low.
So, either this data is under-reporting the wounded by at least a factor of two, or it is over-reporting the killed by a factor of two.
How does one over-report the killed? Well, this happened with the U.S. data on the Korea War, where the actual number killed in combat was 33,686, along with 2,830 non-battle deaths. But, there were 17,730 other deaths in the U.S. armed forces during the course of war due to natural causes and accidents. Some people lumped these figures together, producing a figure of 54,260 U.S. deaths for the Korea War. This higher figure was even published by the Pentagon (see: How Many Americans Died in Korea?). You will still see that figure banded about on some websites.
Or, someone could have simply typed down the wrong number. Most people, news organizations and this blog do make typos. Regardless, the killed number is suspicious because it does not mesh well with the wounded figure. If, for example, there were three wounded for every killed, then this would mean the Russian casualties were about 40,000, which is very high. This leads us to our second point.
If the Russians lost 40,000 people out of a force of 150,000 this is unusually high losses. Over 25% of the force. Not only is this historically unusually high, but it is kind of hard to imagine. At 25% losses, the Russians would have certainly been stripped of almost all infantry from almost all units, plus a whole lot more. Yet I gather Russia still have units functioning in Ukraine.
Furthermore, it is estimated by the U.S. that Ukrainian losses are 2,000 to 4,000 killed. So, does this mean that Ukrainian Army is achieving a 5-to-1 kill ratio (or merely a 2.5-to-1 kill ratio)? That is a little hard to believe considering the advantages in firepower that the Russian Army has.
And then there is the question of actually how the Ukrainian Army managed to cause 40,000 casualties. The Ukrainians don’t have the firepower the Russians do, and at least during World War II 60% or more of casualties were caused by artillery. So, in that environment how do the Ukrainians suffer 2,000 to 4,000 dead and the Russians suffer 10,000? Were the Russians doing human waves attacks? We do not see evidence of that.
So, while I am hesitant to dismiss this report, I am also hesitant to accept it. One must hold out the possibility that this report is simply wrong.