Senior Pentagon officials told lawmakers in closed briefings on Monday that Russian and Ukrainian military deaths appeared to be the same, at around 1,500 on each side in the first five days, congressional officials said. But they cautioned that the figures — based on satellite imagery, communication intercepts, social media and on-the-ground media reports — were estimates.
For a comparison, nearly 2,500 American troops were killed in Afghanistan over 20 years of war.
For Mr. Putin, the rising death toll could damage any remaining domestic support for his Ukrainian endeavors. Russian memories are long — and mothers of soldiers, in particular, American officials say, could easily hark back to the 15,000 troops killed when the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan, or the thousands killed in Chechnya.
Russia has deployed field hospitals near the front lines, say military analysts, who have also monitored ambulances driving back and forth from Russian units to hospitals in neighboring Belarus, Moscow’s ally.
“Given the many reports of over 4,000 Russians killed in action, it is clear that something dramatic is happening,” said Adm. James G. Stavridis, who was NATO’s supreme allied commander before his retirement. “If Russian losses are this significant, Vladimir Putin is going to have some difficult explaining to do on his home front.”
Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, added, “There are going to be a lot of Russians going home in body bags and a lot of Russian families grieving the longer this goes on.”
In particular, Pentagon officials and military analysts said it was surprising that Russian soldiers had left behind the bodies of their comrades.
“It’s been shocking to see that they’re leaving their fallen brethren behind on the battlefield,” said Evelyn Farkas, the top Pentagon official for Russia and Ukraine during the Obama administration. “Eventually the moms will be like, ‘Where’s Yuri? Where’s Maksim?’” [Continue reading…]