Putin’s renewed invasion of Ukraine passed a year ago last month without seeming to end. Soon another grim milestone will be reached. As of February 24, 2022, Russia has lost nearly a million young men to the war, both due to excessive casualties on the battlefield and hundreds of thousands of young Russians fleeing forced conscription into the Russian armed forces.
The scale of Russian casualties on the battlefield is completely out of line with modern Western military expectations. The West attaches great importance to short, decisive war battles and pays close attention to minimizing losses. In contrast, Russian military strategy is still largely dictated by Soviet-era doctrines of human-wave-style attacks with massed infantry and artillery overwhelming the opponent’s defenses.
These crude tactics have recently evolved into an even more blunt instrument in Bakhmut. New Russian assault units have been created to overpower Ukrainian defenses. Their new attacks have begun and are largely disappointing. Spread too thinly, the lack of a Russian concentration of force – in addition to superior Western military equipment joining the battle in the coming weeks and months – will lead to even more Russian casualties.
Russia entered the war with about 150,000 men. Current estimates of Russian losses are nearly 200,000 killed, wounded and missing; an initial employee turnover of 130 percent within 12 months.
During the first weeks of the renewed Russian offensives, between 800 and 1,000 Russians fell daily. On some days, more than 1,000 casualties have occurred. That is more than 20,000 per month. To put these figures into context, these daily figures even exceed those incurred in relation to the number of battles fought during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Russia can only maintain these numbers if they recruit more fighters. There are rumors of another round of forced conscription to bring an additional 500,000 men to the front. Last year, Putin agreed to raise the conscription age from 27 to 30.
Russia mobilized up to 300,000 conscripts last fall, and many of them will now have replenished depleted Russian ranks. However, it is estimated that up to 700,000 Russian men fled Russia last year to avoid conscription, terrified of being sent into Putin’s meat grinder in eastern Ukraine. This brings the figure to nearly a million young Russian men lost as a direct result of Putin’s ill-conceived war.
In January 2022, a month before the war, Russia had seven and a half million men of fighting age ready for conscription. In just twelve months, that number has shrunk to six and a half million. If the war continues at its current rate, not much of a young male Russian society will remain.
Robert Clark is the director of the Defense and Security Unit at Civitas. He previously served in the British Army