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The changing face of dead Russian soldiers Journalists at the BBC and Mediazona have recorded the names of more than 25,000 Russian combatants killed in Ukraine. The typical KIA soldier isn’t who he used to be.
Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, journalists at the BBC and Mediazona, working with a team of volunteers, have used open-source data to track the number of Russian soldiers killed in the war. By mid-June 2023, they had counted the names of more than 25,000 Russian combatants known to have died in Ukraine. (For reference, Russia’s Defense Ministry last claimed, nine months ago in September 2022, that only 5,937 Russian soldiers have died, whereas the Ukrainian military claims to have killed more than 200,000 invading troops. Western analysts put Russia’s losses in the tens of thousands.)
This research by the BBC, Mediazona, and their volunteer team paints an evolving picture of the “typical Russian soldier” likeliest to lose his life in combat. In a new report, released in both Russian and English, journalists reached the following conclusions.
- In the first three months of the full-scale invasion, the “typical Russian combatant killed in action” was a 21-year-old contract soldier.
- By the spring and summer of 2023, that “typical Russian soldier” is now a 34-year-old former prison inmate of unknown rank.
Based on the BBC’s calculations, nearly 800 officers and roughly 2,300 contract soldiers between the ranks of private and sergeant were killed in the first three months of the invasion. Over three months in the spring and summer of 2023, however, deaths among professional servicemen have declined. The journalists don’t clarify exactly which months they measured for this latter period, but they recorded just 148 killed officers and about 400 deaths among privates and sergeants. Meanwhile, in this same time period, the BBC and Mediazona recorded the names of almost 1,300 prison inmates reported killed in Ukraine, in addition to 750 killed Wagner Group mercenaries and 780 killed draftees.
According to Jack Watling, a military expert at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, these changing trends indicate that Moscow has adapted its tactics in Ukraine and is now deliberately holding back its remaining professional army, using these troops to maintain current positions. Russia will only deploy its professional soldiers again in offensive operations “when conditions are right,” argues Watling.
Watling also observes that military commanders are increasingly using former inmates and draftees “as disposable troops” to carry out limited attacks designed either to wear down Ukrainian forces or to establish the coordinates needed for Russian artillery strikes. “They send them forward in the expectation that they will be killed,” Watling told the BBC.
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