So, have 9,861 Russians really been killed in Ukraine?

Yesterday, the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda published a report that stated “According to the Russian Defense Ministry, during the special operation in Ukraine, the Russian Armed Forces lost 9,861 people killed and 16,153 wounded.”

According to CNN, the article was published Monday at 12:09 AM Moscow time. At 9:56 PM Moscow time the story was updated and removed all references to the death count. 

So, this article was updated because 1) this figure embarrassed the Russian government, or 2) the data was incorrect, or update: 3) it could be hackers. 

I have two problems with this report:

  1. The wounded-to-killed ratio is way off.
  2. This is an unexplainably high loss rate.

First, lets look at the wounded to killed ratios, which I have done blog posts on (see: Wounded-To-Killed Ratios | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)) and have a chapter on in my book War by Numbers. The wounded-to-killed ratio is 1.64-to-1. Normally you would expect to see a figure like 3-to-1 or higher.

For example, the other Russian figure released: 498 killed and 1,597 wounded, has a wounded-to-killed ratio of 3.21-to-1. The Donetsk People’s Republic reported as of 17 March 349 killed and 1,930 wounded for a wounded-to-killed ratio of 5.53-to-1. And now suddenly, there is a wounded-to-killed ratio of 1.64-to-1. No war in American history has had a wounded-to-killed ratio that low.

So, either this data is under-reporting the wounded by at least a factor of two, or it is over-reporting the killed by a factor of two.

How does one over-report the killed? Well, this happened with the U.S. data on the Korea War, where the actual number killed in combat was 33,686, along with 2,830 non-battle deaths. But, there were 17,730 other deaths in the U.S. armed forces during the course of war due to natural causes and accidents. Some people lumped these figures together, producing a figure of 54,260 U.S. deaths for the Korea War. This higher figure was even published by the Pentagon (see:  How Many Americans Died in Korea?). You will still see that figure banded about on some websites.

Or, someone could have simply typed down the wrong number. Most people, news organizations and this blog do make typos. Regardless, the killed number is suspicious because it does not mesh well with the wounded figure. If, for example, there were three wounded for every killed, then this would mean the Russian casualties were about 40,000, which is very high. This leads us to our second point.

If the Russians lost 40,000 people out of a force of 150,000 this is unusually high losses. Over 25% of the force. Not only is this historically unusually high, but it is kind of hard to imagine. At 25% losses, the Russians would have certainly been stripped of almost all infantry from almost all units, plus a whole lot more. Yet I gather Russia still have units functioning in Ukraine.

Furthermore, it is estimated by the U.S. that Ukrainian losses are 2,000 to 4,000 killed. So, does this mean that Ukrainian Army is achieving a 5-to-1 kill ratio (or merely a 2.5-to-1 kill ratio)? That is a little hard to believe considering the advantages in firepower that the Russian Army has.

And then there is the question of actually how the Ukrainian Army managed to cause 40,000 casualties. The Ukrainians don’t have the firepower the Russians do, and at least during World War II 60% or more of casualties were caused by artillery. So, in that environment how do the Ukrainians suffer 2,000 to 4,000 dead and the Russians suffer 10,000? Were the Russians doing human waves attacks? We do not see evidence of that.

So, while I am hesitant to dismiss this report, I am also hesitant to accept it. One must hold out the possibility that this report is simply wrong.

 

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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15 Comments

  1. While the figures could be off/faulty etc, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Russian vehicles, when struck by Javelin/NLAW/PzFt3 burn quickly – it’s possible that ambushes lead to higher rates of fatalities for crews & dismounts.

  2. Chris, yesterday on the Komsomolskaya Pravda website there was a message about a hacker attack and fake messages posted there, and that the editors delete these messages.
    Lev

  3. Chris, yesterday on the Komsomolskaya Pravda website there was a message about a hacker attack and fake messages posted there, and that the editors delete these messages

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