The Washington Post, August 9, 2022
Russia has lost up to 80,000 troops in Ukraine. Or 75,000. Or is it 60,000?
On July 20, the CIA said Russia had suffered 60,000 casualties in Ukraine since widening its war there Feb. 24. On July 27, the Biden administration told lawmakers Moscow’s losses ran to 75,000 killed and wounded. On Monday, the Pentagon’s number crept higher, to up to 80,000.
Even 60,000 would be catastrophic. Over two decades of war in Afghanistan, the United States endured 2,448 dead and more than 20,000 wounded. At, 80,000, it would be more than half the 150,000 troops Russia was estimated to have massed on Ukraine’s border by Feb. 23.
But if you think it’s unlikely that Moscow lost 15,000 over the stretch of a week, you’re right. Instead, officials are working not from a fixed number but a scale, and some go with the higher end, while others are more confident at the lower end.
(“Russia classifies military deaths as state secrets even in times of peace and has not updated its official casualty figures frequently during the war. On March 25 it said 1,351 Russian soldiers had been killed,” Reuters reported July 20.)
WHY IT MATTERS
This isn’t a “gotcha.” The Daily 202 wanted to look at the casualty number because so much U.S. policy toward Ukraine aims to escalate the cost to Russia of sustaining its war there, and so much of U.S. analysis of the conflict asks the question “how much more can Moscow take?”
On Monday, those two dynamics were very much in evidence as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl briefed reporters about a fresh disbursement of $1 billion in military aid for Kyiv — the largest U.S. package to date.
Asked how long Russia could sustain that, Kahl replied: “A lot of it would depend, I think, on the political decisions that Vladimir Putin will make ultimately about whether he can continue to recruit and send additional forces to the front, whether he was at some point, you know, willing to engage in national mobilization or some other effort.”
ZELENSKY WANTS MORE
Escalating the costs for Russia was also central to The Washington Post’s interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who pressed the United States and its allies to ban all Russian citizens.
Russians should “live in their own world until they change their philosophy,” he said, my colleague Isabelle Khurshudyan reported Monday. “Whichever kind of Russian … make them go to Russia.”
That’s a bridge too far for President Biden’s administration, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be more candid.
“We would not want to implement a total ban on all Russians,” the official told The Daily 202.
It would also run against a theme Biden has woven into his rhetoric about the war, namely that America’s quarrel is with Putin and his government, not the Russian people, the official said.
But that has been something of a mixed message. The unprecedented economic sanctions the United States and its partners have leveled on Russia since February are surely hitting the Russian people, while Putin rages against them but hasn’t relented in Ukraine.