Russia's creeping advance is costing it 1,200 soldiers a day: Western intel

  • Russia's casualties reached an average of 1,200 per day this month, according to UK intelligence.

  • It's the highest since the start of the war, likely due to costly offensives across the front lines.

  • Russia is currently prioritizing attacks in and around Kharkiv in Ukraine's northeast.

Russia's intense attacks across the front line have been costly, with the number of casualties per day reaching a new peak this month, according to new intelligence.

The assessment attributes the elevated casualty rate to Russia's brutal ongoing offensive, noting that Russia's ability to replenish its units is stretched thin due to its consistent losses.

According to Friday's intel from the UK Ministry of Defense, the average number of Russian personnel casualties was over 1,200 a day in May, the highest number reported since the war began. The ministry also said the total number of killed or wounded Russian soldiers since the February 2022 invasion is likely at 500,000.

May's elevated casualty rate is likely due to a variety of factors, most notably Russia's ongoing offensive to try to capture more ground before Ukraine's frontline is rearmed by more ammunition sent by the US. It's likely also the result of Russia rushing relatively inexperienced and untrained soldiers into battle, often in bloody head-on assaults.

Per the ministry, "It is highly likely that most Russian forces receive only limited training, and they are unable to carry out complex offensive operations. As a result, Russia employs small-scale but costly wave attacks in an effort to weaken Ukrainian defenses."

Ukrainian gunners firing at Russian positions in the Kharkiv region.
Ukrainian gunners firing at Russian positions in the Kharkiv region.Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images

Such attacks are seen in areas around Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Just Thursday, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington DC-based think tank, wrote that Russian forces look to be transferring forces to areas north of Kharkiv, citing senior Ukrainian military officials.

While the transfer "indicates that the Russian military likely continues to prioritize efforts to draw and fix Ukrainian forces from critical sectors of the frontline in eastern Ukraine," ISW wrote, as well as suggests Russia's plan is to launch the second phase of their offensive in northern Kharkiv, Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi said that the Russian military doesn't have enough manpower in the area to launch a full-scale offensive that breaks Ukraine's defenses.

Russia's high losses have become one of the most striking narratives of the war, an attritional warfare strategy that depends on massive firepower and human wave attacks by inexperienced, ill-equipped troops with little care for casualties or morale.

Prior to UK intel on casualties in May, previous assessments from the ministry reported spikes in Russia's daily average loss rate, tracking from 400 in 2022, to 693 in 2023, and 913 in the first quarter of 2024.

For Russia, part of the appeal of these massive human wave attacks may be their ability to keep a consistent pressure on Ukrainian defenses, forcing Ukraine to deplete ammunition to prevent being overwhelmed. This brute force strategy plays to Russia's strengths: a much larger population and defense industry.

But Russia's high casualties also prevents it from training more capable units and keeping a majority of its troops in battle long enough to gain experience. Per the UK ministry's update on Friday, "the need to continuously replenish front line personnel will almost certainly continue to limit Russia's ability to generate higher capability units."

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