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Russia could have lost as many as 15,000 troops in Ukraine war, NATO official estimates

Russian sailors carry a coffin and a photograph of Capt. 1st Rank Andrei Paly during a ceremony in Sevastopol, Crimea, on March 23. Paly was killed in the battle for Mariupol. (EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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Roughly 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in four weeks of fighting in Ukraine, a senior NATO military official said Wednesday.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under NATO ground rules, said the estimate was based on several factors, including information from Ukrainian officials, what the Russian side has released and open sources.

For comparison, the entire 20-year U.S. war in Afghanistan resulted in 2,461 American fatalities, according to Pentagon figures. Russia lost about 15,000 troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, according to the Associated Press, making Moscow’s potential losses in Ukraine in just one month far more costly.

NATO estimates that, in total, 30,000 to 40,000 Russian troops have been killed, wounded or taken prisoner in Ukraine — an estimate based on the assumption that for every soldier killed, three are wounded, the official added.

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Death tolls have been hard for independent observers to verify during the conflict, with the fog of war making solid information difficult to obtain and the ferocity of the conflict impeding efforts to count the dead. Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said 1,300 members of the Ukrainian forces have been killed, but The Washington Post has been unable to verify that figure. Russia has not updated its official figure of 498 dead and 1,597 wounded since announcing it one week into the invasion.

A report that nearly 10,000 Russian soldiers had been killed and 16,153 wounded in Ukraine briefly appeared in Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda earlier this week, but it was later removed. The paper accused hackers of planting fake news on its website about what the Kremlin terms its “special military operation.”

President Biden and other NATO leaders met on March 24 in Brussels to hold emergency talks on the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/The Washington Post)

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, said Wednesday that he has not seen casualty estimates for the Russians that were “as high as NATO’s.” But he declined to disclose current U.S. estimates, saying the Pentagon has low confidence in them.

U.S. military officials have thus far been hesitant to discuss Russian casualty figures.

On March 8, Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told House lawmakers that the best estimate is 2,000 to 4,000 Russian fatalities. He noted, however, that he had low confidence in the figure.

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Britain’s Defense Ministry said Thursday that Russia has “almost certainly suffered thousands of casualties” during its invasion of Ukraine. It added that Russia could struggle to fill its military ranks and would likely turn to private mercenaries and conscript troops.

“Russia is likely now looking to mobilise its reservist and conscript manpower, as well as private military companies and foreign mercenaries, to replace these considerable losses,” the ministry said in an intelligence update Thursday.

The report was issued as Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepared to send another 6,000 missiles to Ukraine as part of an extended military aid package that he planned to formally announce Thursday at a NATO emergency meeting in Brussels, where President Biden and other heads of state have gathered.

The United Nations’ human rights office, meanwhile, has recorded 977 civilian deaths and 1,594 injured in Ukraine since the conflict began, it said Wednesday — figures that it concedes are incomplete and fall far short of the likely tolls.

Top Russian military leaders repeatedly decline calls from U.S., prompting fears of ‘sleepwalking into war’

Relations between Moscow and Washington have reached a low point. Repeated attempts by top U.S. defense and military leaders to speak with their Russian counterparts have been rejected by Moscow for the last month — leaving the world’s two largest nuclear powers in the dark about explanations for military movements and raising fears of a major miscalculation or battlefield accident.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have tried to set up phone calls with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, but the Russians “have so far declined to engage,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Wednesday.

John Hudson contributed to this report.