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Russia’s war dead top 50,000 as Moscow presses aggressive tactics in Ukraine

Russia’s military dead in the Ukraine conflict have surpassed 50,000, according to new data compiled by the BBC, independent media group Mediazona, and various volunteer organisations tracking the conflict since February 2022. The surge in deaths highlights the intense human cost as Moscow persists in a high-casualty strategy known as the “meat grinder.”

The death toll, which primarily accounts for the second year of the war, is nearly 25% higher than the previous year, demonstrating the lethal impact of Russia’s persistent push for territorial gains. These findings suggest that more than 27,300 Russian soldiers have been killed since Moscow escalated its military efforts, despite official Russian figures remaining markedly lower.

The term “meat grinder” describes Moscow’s strategy of deploying waves of soldiers to overwhelm Ukrainian defenses, a tactic that also reveals the positions of Ukrainian forces to Russian artillery. This approach has led to a staggering number of fatalities, with the count now eight times higher than the total publicly acknowledged by the Kremlin in September 2022.

Further analysis indicates that the actual number of Russian military deaths could be significantly higher if casualties from militia groups in the Russian-occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were included.

In response to the mounting casualties, new military graves have appeared across 70 cemeteries in Russia, a testament to the war’s brutal toll. Aerial imagery and on-site photographs suggest substantial expansions in cemetery areas, particularly noted at sites like Bogorodskoye cemetery in Ryazan.

The BBC’s investigation also highlights the evolving composition of Russia’s frontline forces. Initially reliant on professional troops, Russia has increasingly turned to less experienced fighters, including volunteers, civilians, and prisoners, to sustain its military operations. These groups, lacking in traditional military training, are often thrust into direct combat roles, resulting in high fatality rates.

Particularly noteworthy is the role of the Wagner Group, a private military company known for its ruthless tactics and use of prison recruits. Under Wagner’s command, prisoners were given brief military training before being deployed to frontline positions, where they often faced severe casualties. The group’s influence waned after a failed mutiny against the Russian military in June last year, leading to the death of its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in a plane crash two months later.

Despite the Kremlin’s silence on the rising death toll, the data paints a grim picture of the human cost of Russia’s ongoing military strategy in Ukraine. With no end in sight to the conflict, the toll on Russian forces continues to mount, raising concerns about the sustainability of such tactics and the broader implications for regional stability.

As Dr. Iain Overton of Action on Armed Violence says: “The staggering rise in Russian casualties not only highlights the sheer human cost but also underscores the tragic folly of this prolonged conflict, where strategic gains are eclipsed by immense and unnecessary losses. This war – that has destroyed so many Ukrainian lives and now is impacting the aggressors profoundly – must end.”