A “lightning war” is no longer an issue for the Putin army. In the meantime, it has become apparent that the allegedly gigantic Russian army is a pseudo-giant. A military expert from the USA has now calculated Russia’s possible losses – and came to a shocking result that European experts also consider plausible.
At the beginning of the war on February 24, experts expected a “lightning war”. Given the numerical superiority of the Russian army, it seemed only a matter of days before Putin’s troops would have completely overrun Ukraine and taken Kyiv.
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On paper, the Russian dictator had a gigantic army at his disposal with over 900,000 men – four and a half times as many as Ukraine. The Russians had three times as many main battle tanks and guns in their arsenal compared to Ukraine, and tens of thousands more armored vehicles. In addition, the dreaded hypersonic missiles and an air force ten times superior.
But paper is patient.
Foreign policy expert Thomas Jäger from the University of Cologne on FOCUS Online: “As with any army, the Russian figures on troop strength and combat effectiveness are deceptive.” The rest are employed in administration, service or logistics or are conscripted.
The situation is similar with the material: Just like in the Bundeswehr, only a fraction of the Russian tanks, jets and ships are operational. Added to this is the rampant corruption in Russia, which also affects the suitability of the material. It is highly likely that the numbers in Russian statistics are exaggerated, many weapon systems are outdated, unusable or actually only exist on paper.
Example of troop strength: Not all of the approximately 200,000 combat-capable soldiers can go to the Russian-Ukrainian front. Many have to stay in other military bases along Russia’s seemingly endless borders. US military expert Michael Kofman expects a maximum of around 125,000 soldiers that Putin has thrown into the Ukraine war so far. Kofman is an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, a pro-government think tank in Washington.
Kofman estimates the original troop strength of the Russian attackers at the beginning of the war at a maximum of 90,000 men, supplemented by auxiliary troops with a maximum of 25,000 soldiers – i.e. a total of 115,000. In addition, up to 12,000 soldiers were added as reinforcements in the further course of the war. Kofman considers the figure of 190,000 men rumored by the Russian side or other estimates that speak of 150,000 to be exaggerated given the actually somewhat lower battalion strengths of the Russians.
So he assumes that Vladimir Putin has so far sent a maximum of around 127,000 soldiers into the war. And of those, about ten percent are dead. The various reports from Russia, Ukraine and foreign observers put an average figure of 12,000 Russian soldiers killed.
Based on statistics from past wars and current data, analyst Kofman also estimates the ratio of Russian soldiers killed to wounded at 1 to 3.5. Too many wounded soldiers — even those who are still partially combat-able — can become a problem for the army, says Kofman: “Some wounded can still fight, but units can become disabled based on the number of killed, wounded and other types of casualties.”
In addition to the 12,000 dead, there were also 42,000 wounded Russian soldiers. As a result, 54,000 men out of 127,000 are no longer or only partially operational – i.e. around 43 percent. Assuming a lower Russian troop strength, a good 50 percent of the approximately 110,000 soldiers that Putin sent to the front would now be dead or wounded.
Michel Wyss, an expert in warfare at the Military Academy of ETH Zurich, points out: “There is simply no exact information on Russian troop strength, dead and wounded, the wide range of estimates and speculations reflects that.” Wyss holds the numbers from Kofman , a renowned expert on the Russian military, but considered plausible.
The former General Inspector of the German Armed Forces, Harald Kujat, agrees: “On the whole, the figure of 12,000 dead Russian soldiers could be correct. I think ten percent is realistic,” Kujat told FOCUS Online: “The ratio of 1 to 3.5 between dead and wounded seems a bit too high to me. However, since the Russian army dared to engage in a costly urban warfare at the beginning of the war, but that could also be true in the end.”
Is Putin now running out of soldiers? How will the dictator make up for the losses? Who should now serve as cannon fodder for his desire for world power?
Wyss: “According to publicly available information, the Russian military leadership is trying to compensate for losses in its formations by offering short-term and, by Russian standards, very well-paid contracts for professional soldiers.” Military leadership is playing a trick: “In addition, attempts are being made to persuade reservists and conscripts to sign appropriate contracts to serve as professional soldiers in Ukraine,” explains Wyss: “These measures are aimed at mobilizing part or even general for as long as possible as possible.”
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Despite the deployment of younger soldiers, Harald Kujat believes that a long war is likely: “I don’t believe that Russia is already running out of soldiers. In war you always have a personnel problem and you always lose material – that is the cruel normality of a war. Decimated battalions are then pulled out, regenerated and refreshed with young soldiers. In the long run, that can be problematic for Russia, but I don’t see it now.”
The former inspector general points out: “It is clear that we overestimated the Russian armed forces at the beginning of the war. But now we should not make the mistake of underestimating them.”