Attrition: The Truth Shall Get You Punished

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August 11, 2023: Russia has lost a lot of soldiers in Ukraine and is reluctant to release data on how many of its soldiers have died in Ukraine. In September 2022 Russia reported they had lost 5,937 soldiers. Since then, there have been no official announcements of losses. This was unpopular with the families of soldiers killed in Ukraine. This led to Russian families organizing a mothers and wives council, to identify and tabulate the Russian soldiers killed. The government would not provide such information but did send some of the bodies back home. This sort of thing had support from local governments, but the national government considered such information a state secret and tried to suppress local efforts to identify the dead. Since late 2022 the Russian army has been on the defensive or retreating in Ukraine. Keeping track of dead Russian soldiers and notifying families was not a high priority. When the representatives of the mothers and wives’ council went to Moscow in late 2022 to personally pressure the Ministry of Defense for cooperation in identifying the dead and letting families know the status of their missing loved ones, the government refused and forced the group to disband or face prosecution as foreign agents. The state-controlled media would not report any of this and Internet-based groups that reported on the war were warned to stay away from the issue of Russian losses or face prosecution.

Despite the government hostility to the casualties’ issue, groups inside and outside Russia continued to compile data on Russians killed in Ukraine. By June 10th 2023, Russian reporters compiled a list of 27,423 Russian dead. A month later the number grew to 47,000. Officially, the government considered Russian soldiers who died in Ukraine as heros. Unofficially, the government threatened those who sought to identify the dead, be they families or independent organizations.

The government seeks to mobilize another 100,000 additional Russian soldiers, and all this reporting of Russian dead did not help those mobilization plans. Most Russians believed the wives and mothers groups but were unwilling to go public with that support because of government opposition and threats. Historically, Russia did not provide much, if any information to families of soldiers killed in war. Russian soldiers were not issued identification discs that could be worn around the neck and removed if the soldier was killed to identify the dead. If a Russian soldier went off to war and didn’t return it was assumed they had died heroically defending the motherland. More recently the government provided financial support for wives and children of dead soldiers but was reluctant to reveal total losses. In Russia, the truth about losses in Ukraine has become another casualty of the war.

 


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