It has been 114 days since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. On Friday, the Russian military pressed on with its ground assaults on Severodonetsk, which is still holding on despite the destruction of the bridges that led to it.
In search of a breakthrough
While the fighting in and around Severodonetsk continues, the Russian military is searching for a breakthrough in the Donbas from other axes of advance too.
In Severodonetsk’s northwest, the Russian forces launched attacks from the direction of Izium and Lyman but with no success. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians seem like they are preparing a counteroffensive in the region to secure their flanks.
According to Ukrainian General Staff Main Operations Deputy Chief Oleksiy Gromov, the Russian military has shifted its tactical approach in the Donbas and is no longer employing full battalion tactical groups to the fight but rather ad hoc platoon- and company-size units.
A task force comprised of a mix of armor, mechanized infantry, artillery, combat engineers, electronic warfare, and air defenses, the battalion tactical group is the main tactical ground unit of the Russian military.
Every day, the Ukrainian military is providing an update on their claimed Russian casualties. These numbers are official figures and haven’t been separately verified.
However, Western intelligence assessments and independent reporting corroborate, to a certain extent, the Ukrainian casualty claims. For example, the Oryx open-source intelligence research page has visually verified the destruction or capture of almost 800 Russian tanks; this assessment has been confirmed by the British Ministry of Defense.
The same independent verification exists for most of the other Ukrainian claims. Only recently the Pentagon acknowledged that the Russian military has lost thousands of combat vehicles of all types, including over 1,000 tanks, and dozens of fighter jets and helicopters.
Furthermore, more recent reports that are citing Western intelligence officials indicate that the Russian military has suffered up to 20,000 fatalities in the war so far.
It is very hard to verify the actual numbers unless one is on the ground. However, after adjusting for the fog of war and other factors the Western official numbers are fairly close to the Ukrainian claims.
As of Friday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense is claiming the following Russian casualties:
- 33,150 Russian troops killed (approximately three times that number wounded and captured)
- 3,563 armored personnel carriers destroyed
- 2,496 vehicles and fuel tanks
- 1,456 tanks
- 734 artillery pieces
- 593 tactical unmanned aerial systems
- 215 fighter, attack, and transport jets
- 233 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS)
- 180 attack and transport helicopters
- 129 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses
- 96 anti-aircraft batteries
- 55 special equipment platforms, such as bridging equipment
- 13 boats and cutters
- four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems
Over the past weeks, the rate of Russian casualties has slowed down significantly despite continuous pressure and offensive operations in the Donbas. This suggests two things: First, the Russian commanders are taking a more cautious approach to their offensive operations, fully utilizing combined arms warfare to achieve their goals; and second, the Ukrainian forces are running out of combat power or ammunition — and this is expected after over three months of war against the Russian military. Recent reports from the ground suggest that both of these factors are true, and that the fatigue of warfare is catching up on both sides.
For most of the last month, the Russian military suffered the greatest casualties around the Slovyansk, Kryvyi Rih, and Zaporizhzhia areas, reflecting the heavy fighting that was going on there. As the days went on, most of the heavy fighting shifted toward the direction of Bakhmut, southeast of Slovyansk, around Severodonetsk, a key Ukrainian town, and Lyman.
Then the location of the heaviest casualties shifted again westwards toward the area of Zaporizhzhia —where one of Europe’s largest nuclear plants is located — as a result of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in and around the area.
On Friday, Ukrainian forces inflicted the heaviest casualties in the vicinity of Bakhmut, where the Russian forces are trying to advance and cut off Severodonetsk from the rear.
The stated goal of the Russian military for the renewed offensive in the east is to establish full control over the pro-Russian breakaway territories of Donetsk and Luhansk and create and maintain a land corridor between these territories and the occupied Crimea.