The White House has released new figures estimating that Russia has suffered 100,000 casualties, including 20,000 killed, since December due to the heavy assault of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. The conflict has become a grinding war of attrition, with the fiercest battles taking place in the eastern Donetsk region, where Russia is struggling to encircle the city of Bakhmut in the face of dogged Ukrainian defense.
Troops from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group and other forces are fighting Ukrainian troops house-to-house to gain control of what has become known as the “road of life” – the last remaining road west still in Ukrainian hands, which is critical for supplies and fresh troops. Both sides have cited gains in recent days, but the fighting shows no signs of abating.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US estimate is based on newly declassified American intelligence. He did not detail how the intelligence community derived the number, but it is a significant increase from the estimate given by General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in November. At that time, Milley said that Russia had suffered well over 100,000 killed or wounded in the first eight months of the war. The new figures suggest that Russian losses have dramatically accelerated in recent months.
Kirby said nearly half of those killed since December are Wagner forces, many of them convicts who were released from prison to join Russia’s fight. He said the Wagner forces were “thrown into combat and without sufficient combat or combat training, combat leadership, or any sense of organizational command and control.”
The White House has repeatedly sought to highlight the cost – both human and weaponry – to Russia of Bakhmut, which it argues has limited strategic importance to the overall trajectory of the war. However, some analysts note that taking control of Bakhmut could be helpful to Russian efforts to advance on the larger cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in the Donetsk region.
Kirby said the Russian casualty count for “this little town of Bakhmut” was in line with some of the fiercest periods of fighting during World War II, including the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front, and the Guadalcanal campaign, the first major Allied offensive against Japan.
“It’s three times the number of killed in action that the United States faced on the Guadalcanal campaign in World War II, and that was over the course of five months,” Kirby said.
Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, the head of Ukrainian ground forces, said Russia continued to exert “maximum effort” to take Bakhmut but that it so far had failed.
“In some parts of the city, the enemy was counterattacked by our units and left some positions,” he said.
Kirby declined to say how many Ukrainian troops have been killed or wounded in the fighting. Milley said in November that Ukrainian casualties were probably also about 100,000.
The conflict between Ukraine and Russia began in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea. Fighting has continued in eastern Ukraine since then, with Russia supporting separatist rebels in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The US and other Western countries have imposed sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine, but Russia has denied any involvement in the conflict. The situation remains tense, and there are fears of a potential escalation of the conflict. Both sides have accused each other of violating ceasefires and international law, and tensions have only increased since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. The conflict has also displaced thousands of civilians and led to the deaths of both Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian separatists. Despite ongoing diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful resolution, the situation in eastern Ukraine remains unstable and uncertain.