The Russian government pays lip service to the high number of deaths in its ranks. A change in tone which undoubtedly aims to prepare Russian opinion for an even heavier toll.
Correspondent in Moscow
The question is eminently sensitive. Since the start of their “special military operation” in Ukraine, the Russian authorities were very quiet about the human and material losses suffered by the army. Same thing on the Ukrainian side, moreover, each of the protagonists being more talkative about the blows allegedly struck at the opponent. But the superiority on paper of the Russian army, whether in terms of men or armaments, armored vehicles in particular, immediately shone the spotlight on its difficulties. The Kremlin now admits that these are considerable. “We have suffered significant military losses”said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for the Russian presidency, during an interview Thursday evening with the British channel Sky News. “It is a huge tragedy for us”added Mr. Peskov, who did not give figures.
In six weeks of conflict, only two official assessments have been provided. The first, on March 3, officially announced 498 soldiers killed and 1,597 wounded. The second, on March 29, reported 1,351 dead and 3,825 wounded in the ranks of the Russian army. Western sources estimate, for their part, that the Russian losses are much heavier, from 7,000 to 15,000 men. Military historian Michel Goya told AFP this week that Russia seemed “to have lost the equivalent of about thirty combined arms battle groups (GTIA) out of 120 committed and a maximum potential of around 140”. These reinforced battalions, including about nine hundred soldiers each, are composed of a core of motorized infantry supported by armor and artillery.
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Gradually this “operation” whose real name the Russians must keep silent is beginning to become a reality in the country. Bodies are repatriated, returned to families and religious ceremonies are organized. Information about deceased servicemen sometimes appears in the media or on the websites of Russian regional administrations. Fragmentary data, some regions being less “opaque” than others, which nevertheless make it possible to confirm the “profile” of the soldiers engaged in Ukraine – and more generally of the Russian army.
The published figures show that “the soldiers killed are provincial, with an overrepresentation of poor regions (such as Buryatia, near Lake Baikal), but also regions with a high density of military units (this is also the case of Buryatia) and regions with high birth rate (Dagestan)»notes Anna Colin Lebedev, specialist in post-Soviet societies at the University of Paris-Nanterre. “This social fragility of the soldiers and their peripheral origins (Ukraine is very far away) will be useful to us in understanding what they were led to do in the field”estimated the university on his Twitter account.
The impact of military losses could be felt over time. The fifteen thousand “zinc coffins” returned from Afghanistan – then over a period of ten years, from 1979 to 1989 – had had strong social repercussions. The Russian army is completing its redeployment from northern and central Ukraine to Donbass.
In this context, the Kremlin indicated on Friday that the“operation” could end in a “foreseeable future”, without further details, its goal having been achieved, it is said. However, in eastern Ukraine the “mother of all battles” for “unify” the Donbas. In this regard, the official admission of “significant losses” undoubtedly aims to prepare Russian opinion for an even heavier toll.
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