Small Wars Journal

The Depth and Breadth of Russia’s Losing

Mon, 01/16/2023 - 5:56am

The Depth and Breadth of Russia’s Losing

By Brian E. Frydenborg Twitter @bfry1981 January 16, 2023


Some fools have opined that the U.S. and Europe are “fighting Russia to the last Ukrainian.”  In reality, Ukraine is fighting Russia to the last Russian with U.S. and European help.  No matter how you look at it, things are going to just keep getting worse for Russia and it will continue to sustain massive casualties and equipment losses while gaining nothing Ukraine won’t be able to take back relatively quickly with improving forces and equipment.

Russia’s military remains ineffective against Ukraine’s actual military, and Russia’s overcompensation for this with its war-criminal missile and drone attacks against Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure are not very efficient or (cost-)effective for Russia, not at all, a true sign of Russia’s impotence rather than its power, as I discussed in my last Small Wars Journal article.  Remember, too, that these increasingly ineffective missile and drones strikes are one of the few cards Russia has left up its sleeve, with its best troops and equipment now mostly destroyed and its navy and air force mostly sidelined.  Masses of brand new and badly outfitted troops led by the same callous and careless fools who led better forces to disaster and destruction (or sometimes now led by their successors who are faring little if at all better) will not change these stark facts.  These troops will be supported by and will operate inferior equipment and will have little air or naval support because of Ukrainian anti-ship and anti-air defenses.  And Russia is expending its quantities of its missiles and drones against non-military targets in such a way they there will be little left to support Russian forces in Ukraine when fighting intensifies later.

Very tellingly, there have been no major Russian advances since March, the first full month of the war.  That kind of tells you everything you need to know: one month of major Russian advances, and over nine months of Ukraine pounding Russian positions or pounding Russian positions while pushing them far back.  The main reason why?  Because Russia CAN’T: it simply does not have the capability to carry out large offensives that succeed, let alone then hold any new significant amounts of territory successfully from counterattacks; throughout the war, Russia has not even been able to hold much of the territory it gained since February 24.  And even where Russia has held and is holding territory, there have been and are effective resistance and guerrilla movements.  Between partisans, Ukrainian intelligence, and Ukraine’s long-range precision weapons, there is nowhere safe in Ukraine for the Russian occupiers.

Ukraine war maps ISW

Click here to zoom in on Brian’s map collage and here for his discussion of it

All this just means Russia cannot win.  And will lose (as I have argued since early March and throughout the ensuing months).  Sure, it is theoretically possible Western support could be greatly diminished if, say, Trump ejects Joe Biden from the White House Grover Cleveland-style, but I doubt strongly that this will actually happen.  And for the most part, Europe has not wavered even in the face of a historic energy crisis, despite Putin’s efforts (and Biden’s leadership in holding Europe together cannot be understated here).  Far more likely is that Western support will keep coming (indeed, Biden just had Congress pass an amazing nearly $45 billion in aid for Ukraine, bringing the total U.S. aid given to Ukraine since February 24 to a historic $110 billion) and Ukraine will be able to eject Russia fully from its territory (unless Russians tire of this nonsense and losing and eject the loser Putin from the Kremlin first).  And it is entirely possible, I would argue even likely, that Ukraine can accomplish this before the end of 2023 (I have earlier laid out how a total Ukrainian victory would likely unfold, if you want to delve more into that topic…).

The Economist/KAL

Obviously, these are not even exchanges in terms of what each side is gaining and losing: Iranian drones with high rates of being faulty do not equal the latest new toy from the U.S. for Ukraine in the form of a Patriot missile air defense battery.  And while Ukraine’s losses are not insignificant even if they are not known publicly with specificity, Russia’s losses are mind-blowing and unprecedented for any major power over any comparable period of time in the history of modern warfare over the past half-century and then some: by Ukraine’s estimate (which I have noted should be treated as quite credible), over 115,000 killed so far (passing the 100,000-dead milestone as of December 22), with nearly 18,000—or close to one-sixth of all Russian war dead—dying in those furious first five weeks of the war through late February and all of March and much of the assault on the gates to Kyiv, and nearly 100,000—some five-sixths—of these dying in the nine-and-a-half months since the beginning of April.

The losses also include:

  • Over 3,100 tanks
  • Nearly 6,200 armored personnel-carriers
  • Over 2,000 artillery systems
  • Over 560 planes and helicopters
  • Collectively thousands of other vehicles, drones, ships, and other pieces of equipment


What was essentially the Russian military prior to February 24 has, in large part, been destroyed: for the near and even medium-term future, these are not recoverable losses in men and equipment, in experience and training: raw recruits cannot be thought of as replacements for elite soldiers and their units, nor decades-old tanks as replacements for Russia’s newest tanks.  Even if Ukraine’s estimates end up being off, the losses for Russia are still obviously incredible.  Add that to the fact that its cruise missile and artillery ammunition stockpiles are increasingly depleted, as I wrote recently for Small Wars Journal, and one wonders how Russia is going to be able to support any grand spring offensive when it can barely take the small town of Soledar (and only with horrific losses, and who knows if it will hold it?) and has been unable to take the nearby small city of Bakhmut, and, well, it’s clear the Russian military has problems that cannot be solved anytime soon.  Yet from the beginning of April through today, one constant is Russia’s losing.

Russian “Progress” in Bakhmut the past 4 months; click here to zoom in on Brian’s map collage and also see Brian’s explanation of the collage and his discussion of the Bakhmut/Soledar situation being Pyrrhic for Russia

Brian’s Ukraine analysis has been praised by: Mykhailo Podolyak, a top advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky; Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, U.S. Army (Ret.), former commanding general, U.S. Army Europe; Scott Shane, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist formerly of The New York Times Baltimore Sun (and featured in HBO’s The Wire, playing himself); Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), one of the only Republicans to stand up to Trump and member of the January 6th Committee; and Orwell Prize-winning journalist Jenni Russell, among others.


This article is an adapted and updated excerpt from a much longer article previously published on Brian’s news website Real Context News on December 26 under a different title: Russia-Ukraine War Settles into Predictable Alternating Phases, But Russia’s Losing Remains Constant; see all Brian’s Ukraine coverage here.

Also see Brian’s related eBook, A Song of Gas and Politics: How Ukraine Is at the Center of Trump-Russia, or, Ukrainegate: A “New” Phase in the Trump-Russia Saga Made from Recycled Materials, available for Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook (preview here).

About the Author(s)

Brian Frydenborg has spent two decades studying, writing about, or working in the fields of conflict analysis, counterterrorism, international affairs, public policy, politics, history, and humanitarian aid and international development.  His work has been featured in Newsweek, Jerusalem Post, Modern War Institute at West Point, London School of Economics and Political Science Middle East Centre, Jordan Times, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Real Clear Defense/History, among others.  You can follow him on Twitter @bfry1981 and on his website, Real Context News.