May 25, 2022

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Russian Casualties Expose a Potential Flaw in Putin’s Strategy

WASHINGTON — When Russia seized Crimea in 2014, President Vladimir V. Putin was so worried about Russian casualty figures coming to light that authorities accosted journalists who attempted to deal with funerals of some of the 400 troops killed throughout that one-thirty day period campaign.

But Moscow may well be shedding that a lot of soldiers each day in Mr. Putin’s hottest invasion of Ukraine, American and European officials explained. The mounting toll for Russian troops exposes a possible weak spot for the Russian president at a time when he is nonetheless professing, publicly, that he is engaged only in a restricted navy procedure in Ukraine’s separatist east.

No 1 can say with certainty just how quite a few Russian troops have died due to the fact past Thursday, when they commenced what is turning into a extended march to Kyiv, the money. Some Russian models have place down their arms and refused to battle, the Pentagon mentioned Tuesday. Main Ukrainian cities have withstood the onslaught thus far.

American officials had envisioned the northeastern city of Kharkiv to fall in a working day, for case in point, but Ukrainian troops there have fought back again and regained handle even with furious rocket hearth. The bodies of Russian soldiers have been still left in locations bordering Kharkiv. Films and photographs on social media demonstrate charred continues to be of tanks and armored cars, their crews useless or wounded.

The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, acknowledged on Sunday for the initially time that “there are dead and wounded” Russian troops but presented no quantities. He insisted Ukrainian losses had been “many times” larger. Ukraine has stated its forces have killed far more than 5,300 Russian troops.

Neither side’s claims have been independently verified, and Biden administration officers have refused to talk about casualty figures publicly. But 1 American formal put the Russian losses as of Monday at 2,000, an estimate with which two European officials concurred.

Senior Pentagon officers told lawmakers in shut briefings on Monday that Russian and Ukrainian navy deaths appeared to be the similar, at all around 1,500 on each and every facet in the to start with five times, congressional officials stated. But they cautioned that the figures — based on satellite imagery, communication intercepts, social media and on-the-ground media reviews — have been estimates.

For a comparison, almost 2,500 American troops were being killed in Afghanistan more than 20 many years of war.

For Mr. Putin, the climbing dying toll could harm any remaining domestic assist for his Ukrainian endeavors. Russian reminiscences are lengthy — and mothers of soldiers, in certain, American officials say, could quickly hark back again to the 15,000 troops killed when the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan, or the 1000’s killed in Chechnya.

Russia has deployed field hospitals around the front lines, say armed service analysts, who have also monitored ambulances driving back again and forth from Russian models to hospitals in neighboring Belarus, Moscow’s ally.

“Given the quite a few experiences of about 4,000 Russians killed in action, it is very clear that one thing extraordinary is happening,” mentioned Adm. James G. Stavridis, who was NATO’s supreme allied commander ahead of his retirement. “If Russian losses are this significant, Vladimir Putin is likely to have some challenging detailing to do on his household entrance.”

Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the Dwelling Intelligence Committee, included, “There are likely to be a large amount of Russians going residence in human body baggage and a great deal of Russian family members grieving the for a longer period this goes on.”

In distinct, Pentagon officers and armed service analysts explained it was surprising that Russian soldiers had still left driving the bodies of their comrades.

“It’s been surprising to see that they’re leaving their fallen brethren driving on the battlefield,” stated Evelyn Farkas, the major Pentagon official for Russia and Ukraine in the course of the Obama administration. “Eventually the mothers will be like, ‘Where’s Yuri? Where’s Maksim?’”

Previously, the Ukrainian authorities has begun answering that concern. On Sunday, authorities released a web-site that they said was meant to assist Russian family members monitor down information and facts about soldiers who might have been killed or captured. The site, which states it was developed by Ukraine’s Ministry of Inner Affairs, claims it is delivering video clips of captured Russian soldiers, some of them injured. The pics and films alter through the day.

“If your kin or friends are in Ukraine and participate in the war against our people — below you can get data about their destiny,” the internet site claims.

The identify of the website, www.200rf.com, is a grim reference to Cargo 200, a navy code phrase that was applied by the Soviet Union to refer to the bodies of soldiers put in zinc-lined coffins for transport away from the battlefield it is a euphemism for troops killed in war.

The web-site is section of a marketing campaign released by Ukraine and the West to counter what American officials characterize as Russian disinformation, which includes Russia’s insistence in advance of the invasion that the troops bordering Ukraine were only there for military services physical exercises. Data and the battle for general public impression close to the globe have occur to participate in an outsize aspect in a war that has come to seem to be like a David vs. Goliath contest.

On Monday, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Sergiy Kyslytsya, examine out prior to the Normal Assembly what he explained were the final textual content messages from a Russian soldier to his mother. They were being attained, he explained, by Ukrainian forces after the soldier was killed. “We had been instructed that they would welcome us and they are slipping below our armored motor vehicles, throwing by themselves beneath the wheels and not letting us to go,” he wrote, according to Mr. Kyslytsya. “They simply call us fascists. Mama, this is so tricky.”

The decision to read through those texts, Russia professionals and Pentagon officials said, was a not-so-veiled reminder to Mr. Putin of the job Russian mothers have experienced in bringing attention to navy losses that the authorities experimented with to hold magic formula. In actuality, a team now identified as the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia played a pivotal aspect in opening up the military services to community scrutiny and in influencing perceptions of armed service company, Julie Elkner, a Russia historian, wrote in The Journal of Energy Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies.

On Tuesday, a senior Pentagon official said full Russian units have laid down their arms without the need of a struggle just after confronting shockingly stiff Ukrainian defense. In some instances, Russian troops have punched holes in their vehicles’ fuel tanks, presumably to stay clear of beat, the official reported.

The Pentagon formal, who spoke on the issue of anonymity to examine the operational developments, declined to say how the armed forces had created these assessments — presumably from a mosaic of intelligence which includes statements from captured Russian troopers and communications intercepts — or how common these setbacks may well be throughout the sprawling battlefield.

Visuals of body luggage or coffins, or soldiers killed and still left on the battlefield, a Biden administration official stated, would prove the most harmful to Mr. Putin at household.

Ukrainian officials are applying the stories and visuals on social media of Russian casualties to consider to undercut the morale of the invading Russian forces.

On Monday, Ukraine’s protection minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, provided Russian soldiers dollars and amnesty if they surrendered.

“Russian soldier! You were brought to our land to kill and die,” he mentioned. “Do not comply with criminal orders. We assure you a complete amnesty and 5 million rubles if you lay down your arms. For those people who proceed to behave like an occupier, there will be no mercy.”

Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Catie Edmondson contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett contributed exploration.