The number of dead and wounded in the conflict are state secrets for Russia and Ukraine

The incontrovertible idea that Ukraine will win the war became the lifeblood of official US policy, expressed in countless columns, interviews, and speeches reaffirming the United States’ commitment to financial and military assistance “until needed.” ”.

In fact, it was also partly on this basis that then UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly urged against holding peace talks early in the war, because Ukraine – with proper Western support – could defeat US forces. Russians that finally did not seem so scary.

This attitude was reinforced by publicly leaking unconfirmed information about alleged significant damage inflicted on the Russian military. In addition to the loss of equipment, including half of its usable tanks and up to 8% of its active tactical fighter aircraft, according to estimates, the consensus among Western officials on Russian casualties seems to have settled on a staggering 200,000, with more dead than in all their other post-World War II conflicts combined.

But, according to the analyst Branko Marcetic in the New York magazine Jacobinthis idea of ​​an almost certain Ukrainian military victory over chastened Russian forces is asserted in the absence of a key measure of the military situation: verifiable battlefield losses.

From the start of the war until now, Ukraine, like Russia, treated the number of its casualties as a state secret, so closely guarded that not even US intelligence services and officials, who advise the country’s leaders, about military strategy and help in war planning, they know exactly how many Ukrainians have been killed and wounded in the past year. This is despite the fact that, as a Ukrainian official told the Wall Street Journal In a recent article about the tough battle for the city of Bakhmut, “War is not won by those who win territory, but by those who destroy the adversary’s armed forces.”

What there is on the subject lows are estimates. In November, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley publicly estimated that Ukraine had “probably” had more than 100,000 soldiers killed or wounded and 40,000 civilian deaths, echoing the Union Commission chairwoman’s own public admission. Union, Ursula von der Leyden, who later had to retract that statement due to the criticism received.

Last January, Eirik Kristoffersen, the head of the Norwegian armed forces, presented a similar estimate of more than 100,000 Ukrainian military casualties and approximately 30,000 civilian deaths, although he also highlighted the uncertainty surrounding these figures.

Whatever the exact number, it is certain that Ukraine suffered greatly. Last June, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that the country was losing “60 to 100 soldiers a day killed in action and around 500 wounded in action.” As the battle for Bakhmut became the focal point of the war, a January report in the newspaper The mirror revealed that German intelligence was “alarmed” by the number of Ukrainian lives being spent to hold the city, concluding that the Ukrainian forces were “losing a triple-digit number” of soldiers every day.

An American fighting alongside Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut recently told ABC that “life expectancy is around four hours on the front lines.” More than a dozen soldiers fighting there told the Kiev Independent that they felt that, like their Russian counterparts, they too were being sent to their deaths barely trained and with few resources, with the paper concluding that Ukrainian casualties there “seem to be very high as well.”

Marcetic points out that recent events in the Ukrainian mobilization suggest an equally dire picture. Since the start of the war, there have been reports of Ukrainians caught fleeing the country to avoid conscription, and public objections to increasingly aggressive military recruiters have been on the rise, with more than 26,000 Ukrainians signing a petition last year. Calling for an end to the practice of issuing military summons at checkpoints, on the street and at gas stations.

Another 25,000 citizens signed a petition opposing legislation passed in January that toughens penalties for desertion and disobedience, yet another sign of dissatisfaction with military recruitment.

Even people with various types of disabilities were qualified as suitable for the draft. None of this suggests the kind of inexhaustible pool of available fighters that the vast majority of press coverage tends to present to the American public.

This is not to say that the situation is better on the Russian side. Reports suggest that Russia is experiencing these same problems in its war effort, from massive battlefield losses and conscription avoidance, to artillery shortages and signs of desperation among military recruiters, who mercilessly dumped prisoners on Bakhmut’s meat grinder.

But with a population more than three times the size of Ukraine’s estimated pre-war 41 million, Russia is better able to absorb such military losses, even if Milley is right to call them a “catastrophe.” This is in addition to the fact that Ukraine has lost around a fifth of that number as refugees in other European countries since the invasion. The demographic reality is probably even more dire, as this pre-war figure counts the approximately 2 million inhabitants of annexed Crimea and millions more in Donbas, while by some estimates Ukraine’s population has shrunk by 40%. since its last census was conducted in 2001.

However, American media coverage invariably foregrounds and heavily publicizes Russian losses while largely downplaying similar and arguably more devastating ones in Ukraine. An October poll hints at the implications of such coverage in the fact that those Americans who were most confident Ukraine was winning were more likely to support the continued flow of military aid and even send US troops, and vice versa.

For Marcetic, the lack of public awareness of Ukrainian casualty levels raises a number of thorny questions about whether the frequent predictions of certain Ukrainian military victory are nothing more than unrealistic fantasies, whether the American public is being misled into endorse increased military engagement under false pretenses or helped create a political climate in the United States opposed to diplomatic solutions.

According to him Washington PostEven Ukrainian officials are now questioning the ability of their forces to launch a successful counter-offensive after the losses they suffered, with many of the most experienced fighters permanently removed from the battlefield.