Soaring Death Toll Gives Grim Insight Into Russian Tactics

The Russian military has been following Wagner’s playbook and deliberately using poorly trained troops to draw and exhaust Ukrainian fire, senior US military and defense officials have said.

Kusti Salm, Estonia’s deputy defense minister, at a briefing with reporters in Washington last week, said Russia’s casualties were high in part because of its use of front-line convicts at Bakhmut.

“In this particular area, the Russians have employed around 40,000 to 50,000 convicts or prisoners,” Salm said. “They are facing regular soldiers, people with families, people with regular training, people of value to the Ukrainian army.”

“Then the exchange rate is unfair,” he added. “It is not one on one because for Russia the prisoners are expendable. From an operational perspective, this is a very unfair deal for the Ukrainians and a smart tactical move by the Russian side.”

Moscow has thrown people it considers expendable into battle for decades, if not centuries. During World War II, Joseph Stalin sent over a million prisoners to the front lines. Boris Sokolov, a Russian historian, describes in an article titled “Gulag Reservations” in the Russian opposition magazine that an additional million “special settlers”—deportees and others viewed by the Soviet government as second-class citizens—were also forced to fight during World War II. World War.

“In essence, it doesn’t matter how big the Russian losses are, as their overall manpower is much larger than Ukraine’s,” Salm, the Estonian official, said in a follow-up email. “In Russia the life of a soldier is worth nothing. A dead soldier, on the other hand, is a hero, regardless of how he died. All soldiers lost can be replaced and the number of casualties will not change public opinion against the war.”

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting.