More than 20,000 Russian soldiers have been killed and more than 80,000 injured in just five months of fighting in Ukraine, US intelligence officials have said.
Most of the troops were killed in brutal trench warfare for the small eastern city of Bakhmut, which Russia has repeatedly claimed it was on the brink of capturing, White House national security council spokesperson John Kirby said on Monday, May 1.
“Russia’s attempt at an offensive in the Donbas, largely through Bakhmut, has failed … Russia has been unable to seize any really strategically significant territory,” Kirby said. The losses are a big increase in Russian casualties even from the bloody first days of the war, and overshadow some of the bloodiest allied battles of the second world war, Kirby added.
“It’s three times the number of killed in action that the United States faced on the Guadalcanal campaign in World War II,” the AP quoted Kirby saying.
Kirby did not detail how the US calculated the deaths, but said about half were fighting under the Wagner mercenary group, rather than with the Russian military. They were being sent into battle without proper training or leadership, he added.
Ukrainian forces are still holding out in a corner of Bakhmut. Col Gen Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of ground forces, said on Monday “the situation is quite difficult”, but Ukrainian forces are still counterattacking against Russians.
Russia and Ukraine are fighting for control of a road west out of Bakhmut city. It serves as the last vital supply line for Ukrainian troops fighting on the ground there.
If Bakhmut falls to Russia, it might give Russia a route towards bigger towns to the west, including Kramatorsk. But after months of heavy losses, Moscow’s bitter push for the shelled-out ruins of this provincial town feels more symbolic than strategic.
“This attempted effort, particularly in Bakhmut, has come at a terribly, terribly high cost. Russia has exhausted its military stockpiles and its armed forces,” Kirby said.
After Russian troops retreated from Kyiv, and were pushed out of southern Kherson city and away from eastern Kharkiv, Bakhmut became a focus of the Russian military effort.
In November US officials estimated Russian casualties for the first eight months of the war were at a similar level to that reached between December and April, with more than 100,000 dead and injured.