December 7, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: High Russian losses along the entire front in Ukraine

Institute for the Study of War

Russian forces may be suffering losses along the entire front in Ukraine at a rate close to the rate at which Russia is currently generating new forces. Ukrainian Ground Forces Command Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Volodymyr Fityo stated on December 7 that Russian forces lost almost 11,000 personnel (presumably killed or rendered hors de combat by injury) in the Kupyansk, Lyman, and Bakhmut directions in November 2023. The operational tempo in the Kupyansk, Lyman, and Bakhmut directions is currently lower than in the Avdiivka direction. These reported losses suggest that the Russian casualty rate in the Avdiivka area may be even higher given the higher operational tempo there. Ukrainian officials previously reported that Russian forces lost 5,000 personnel killed and wounded near Avdiivka and Marinka (west of Donetsk City) between October 10 and 26, when Russian forces launched two waves of heavily mechanized assaults to capture Avdiivka. Russian forces are currently conducting mass infantry-led assaults to capture Avdiivka in an apparent effort to conserve armored vehicles despite the risk of even greater manpower losses. Ukrainian officials have notably indicated that Russian defensive efforts are resulting in significant casualties as well, with Ukrainian forces reportedly killing over 1,200 Russian personnel and wounding over 2,200 on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast between October 17 and November 17. Ukrainian forces continue counteroffensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast and are likely inflicting similar losses on defending Russian forces in this sector of the front. ISW cannot confirm Ukrainian-provided Russian casualty figures, and reliable figures for Russian casualties in Ukraine are not available. If the Ukrainian-provided figures are generally accurate they suggest that Russian operations in Ukraine are highly attritional overall and that high Russian losses are not just the result of the costliest Russian offensive operations near Avdiivka.

Russian and Ukrainian officials have reported that Russian crypto-mobilization efforts produce roughly 20,000 to 40,000 personnel a month, a rate that could be lower than Russia’s current casualty rate in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials reported in spring and summer 2023 that Russia recruits roughly 20,000 personnel through crypto-mobilization efforts per month. Ukrainian officials have reported that the Russian force grouping along the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast front has roughly not changed since summer 2023, suggesting that the commitment of new personnel to the area is offsetting Russian losses but not increasing the strength of that grouping. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev previously claimed that the Russian military recruited 42,000 personnel between November 9 and December 1. Ukrainian figures for Russian casualties along the front suggest that Russian monthly casualties could exceed the 20,000 monthly recruitment figure and may be even close to Medvedev’s much higher figure. Russian operations in Ukraine recently prompted the Russian military command to rush newly created and understrength formations to Ukraine to reinforce sectors of the front, impeding longer-term efforts to form operational and strategic reserves and restructure the Russian ground forces. Both recruiting and casualty figures likely fluctuate over the course of the year, and all available figures are likely exaggerated. The reported numbers match observed battlefield conditions, however, as well as other Ukrainian reports that the Russian military has only been able to sustain its current manning level in Ukraine despite its reportedly high numbers of new recruits. High Russian casualties will likely prevent Russian forces from fully replenishing and reconstituting existing units in Ukraine and forming new operational and strategic reserves if Russian force generation efforts continue at current rates while the Russian military continues operations. Russia does appear able to continue absorbing such losses and making them good with new recruits, however, as long as President Vladimir Putin is willing and able to absorb the domestic consequences.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian forces may be suffering losses along the entire front in Ukraine at a rate close to the rate at which Russia is currently generating new forces.
  • Russia does appear able to continue absorbing such losses and making them good with new recruits, however, as long as President Vladimir Putin is willing and able to absorb the domestic consequences.
  • The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced a new security assistance package and joint weapons production pledge to Ukraine against the backdrop of the International Forum for Defense Industries (DFNC1) in Washington, D.C. on December 6-7.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed developing Russian-Iranian economic relations with Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi in Moscow on December 7.
  • Attacks on public figures in Russia have prompted officials to propose increased security measures for Russian political and public figures and some ultranationalists to call for the resurrection of Soviet security organizations.
  • The Russian Federation Council adopted a resolution confirming that the upcoming Russian presidential elections will occur on March 17, 2024, amid continued Kremlin efforts to legitimize the elections.
  • Russian security organs conducted mass arrests targeting high-profile gangs in Moscow and St. Petersburg, including members and co-conspirators within the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and other internal security organs.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west and southwest of Donetsk City, and in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area and marginally advanced near Avdiivka. 
  • Russian authorities continue to rebuff appeals from the relatives of mobilized Russian military personnel.
  • Ukrainian partisans and residents in occupied territories continue to provide Ukrainian officials with targeting information.
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