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The Russian military is trying to achieve a political victory in Ukraine before 2023

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It has been 280 days since the Russian invasion began. On Thursday, the fighting around Bakhmut continues in earnest as the Russian military is trying to achieve a major political victory before the year is out.

The Ukrainian defenses in Bakhmut continue to hold

The Russian forces have advanced on the north and south of the Ukrainian city, but the Ukrainian defenses continue to hold. The cost for the Russian minor advances has been exceptionally high. Right now, the Russian military is averaging more than 500 troops killed in action every day, according to the official Ukrainian figures.

“Russian efforts around Bakhmut indicate that Russian forces have fundamentally failed to learn from previous high-casualty campaigns concentrated on objectives of limited operational or strategic significance,” the Institute for the Study of War assessed in its latest operational update on the war.

The Russian leadership is fixated on political victories to the detriment of sound military operations.

Capturing Bakhmut in the summer when the Russian forces were advancing in the Donbas made sense as the fall of the city could have set the stage for a mass envelopment campaign. But since the collapse of the Russian forces on the northern part of the Donbas and around Kharkiv, there is no hope for a mass envelopment of Ukrainian forces in the area. So losing thousands of troops every week for Bakhmut doesn’t make sense militarily.

The situation around Bakhmut. (ISW)

Russian casualties

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 more than 1,500 Russian tanks (which amounts to more tanks than the combined armor capabilities of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom) and more than 5,300 military vehicles of all types; this assessment has been confirmed by the British Ministry of Defense.

The same independent verification exists for most of the other Ukrainian claims. 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 more than 100,000 casualties (killed and wounded) in the war so far.

In the summer, Sir Tony Radakin, the British Chief of the Defence Staff, had told the BBC that the West understands that more than 50,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in the conflict thus far. If we were to take the Ukrainian figures as accurate, the number mentioned by Sir Radakin is on the low side of the spectrum.

Related: The CIA is looking for Russians who are ‘disgusted’ with the Ukraine war to recruit as spies

destroyed Russian T-90 tank in Ukraine
A destroyed Russian T-90 tank in Ukraine during the summer. The T-90s are some of Russia’s most advanced tanks. (ArmyInform.com.ua)

In November, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley shared the U.S. military’s assessment that the Russian military has lost more than 100,000 troops so far in the war.

Yet, 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 Thursday, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense is claiming the following Russian casualties:

  • 89,440 Russian troops killed (approximately three times that number wounded and captured)
  • 5,877 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles destroyed
  • 4,441 vehicles and fuel tanks
  • 2,915 tanks
  • 1,904 artillery pieces
  • 1,562 tactical unmanned aerial systems
  • 280 fighter, attack, and transport jets
  • 395 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS)
  • 261 attack and transport helicopters
  • 531 cruise missiles shot down by the Ukrainian air defenses
  • 210 anti-aircraft batteries
  • 163 special equipment platforms, such as bridging equipment
  • 16 boats and cutters
  • four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems

On Thursday, Ukrainian forces continued to inflict the heaviest in the direction of Bakhmut, Pavlivka, and Avdiivka, which are all located in the south of the Donbas.

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.

Feature Image: Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu with current Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov in 2015. (Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation)

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Stavros Atlamazoglou

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and national security. He is a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from the Johns Hopkins University, an MA from the Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and is pursuing a J.D. at Boston College Law School.