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Numbers Game

The Center for Strategic and International Studies just published a short paper on Ukrainian innovation in a war of attrition that had a startling number. “According to CSIS estimates, there have been approximately 60,000 to 70,000 Russian combat fatalities in Ukraine between February 2022 and February 2023”, the paper claims.

If true, the information is phenomenal. We are talking about the fatality to be estimated at 70,000. Not casualty. Fatality. Seventy thousand Russians are already dead. Buried. Again, to emphasize, this is not the casualty number. But fatality.

That, to put it mildly, is unthinkably high.

To give a comparison for scale, a Second World War–era German division was estimated to have a strength of around 25,000 men. This estimate is therefore the equivalent of three of those divisions. The current British army’s total strength is around roughly 80,000 regular soldiers.

The Russians had an invasion force at the start of the invasion that stood around 190,000, which was a moronically small force for the occupation and pacification of a country of 37 million people; military doctrine holds that invasion casualties in peer to peer conflict will be about three times that of the defense. Once again, this war demonstrates the historical reality of what happens when a nation blunders into a quagmire based on faulty ideological and theological assumptions, aided by an information echo chamber. (Now where have we seen that before?)

But even if we keep all that in mind, 70,000 lying under the dirt—the scale seems unreal.

Is it possible? Well, theoretically yes. This is a state-versus-state war, not police action against camel-herders with Kalashnikovs hidden under their tunics. The casualty rate for an invading force in a full spectrum conflict is always absurdly high. The Russians initially sent Rosgvardia—their version of the National Guard—to suppress fire and pacify enemy territory without any armor support because they thought Ukrainians will “welcome them as liberators,” a dangerous assumption on any given day. The Russian top tier air force is still bizarrely absent from conflict; the Russians never used their navy for marine landings.

And no matter how much we like to pretend, Russians are not just fighting Ukrainians. They are also battling the NATO arsenal, allied intelligence, and target coordination. The Russian warship Moskva didn’t just sink itself.

So yes, all in all, it is possible.

However, I checked the methodology and found no evidence of cross checking and corroborating official claims. “The fifth limitation is that both Ukraine and Russia are incentivized to misrepresent the situation on the battlefield. The information domain has become a key battlespace during the war at both the strategic and operational levels”, the paper states, adding that the “information was derived from similar sources as the unit locations, including publications and information from governments, including those of Ukraine, Russia, and the United Kingdom.” Ah. I hesitate to point out that uncritically trusting any national intelligence leaks and sources in a contested geopolitical scenario has not worked out entirely well for us in the recent past.

Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter. The entirely expected policy suggestion was one of greater Western involvement:

As the war of attrition continues, however, it is unlikely that military innovation will be sufficient to outweigh the matériel needs of the Ukrainian military. The West, including the United States, should prepare for a protracted war and long-term support.

So, one can make the rest of the calculated guesses and can only urge caution, given the stakes of being chain-ganged into a nuclear war because of complacency, propaganda, and false calculations.

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The American Conservative

The American Conservative is a bimonthly print and daily digital magazine of measured, principled conservatism. We believe in ideas over ideology and principles over party.

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