BBC: "Strategy for grinding meat" - the number of dead Russian soldiers in Ukraine exceeded 50.000

The BBC analysis does not include the deaths of militia members in Donetsk and Lugansk - in eastern Ukraine, which are occupied by Russia. If that were added, the death toll on the Russian side would be even higher

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Detail from the Ukrainian battlefield, Photo: Reuters
Detail from the Ukrainian battlefield, Photo: Reuters
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

The number of dead Russian military forces in Ukraine exceeded 50.000, writes the British BBC today.

In the second 12 months on the front line - as Moscow pushed its so-called "meat grinder strategy", the BBC said it found the body count was almost 25 per cent higher than in the first year.

Russia's BBC, independent media group Mediazon and volunteers count deaths from February 2022.

The new graves in the cemeteries helped give the names of many soldiers.

BBC teams also reviewed information from official reports, newspapers and social media.

More than 27.300 Russian soldiers were killed in the second year of the fight - according to the BBC, which, according to the media, is a reflection of how territorial gains came at a huge human cost.

Russia declined to comment.

The term "meat grinder" is used to describe the way Moscow is relentlessly sending troops to try to wear down Ukrainian forces and expose their locations to Russian artillery.

The total death toll – of over 50.000 – is eight times higher than the only official public acknowledgment of the death toll Moscow has ever given in September 2022. The actual Russian death toll is likely to be much higher.

The BBC analysis does not include the deaths of militia members in Donetsk and Lugansk - in eastern Ukraine, which are occupied by Russia. If that were added, the death toll on the Russian side would be even higher. Ukraine, meanwhile, rarely comments on the scale of its battlefield casualties. In February, President Volodymyr Zelensky said 31.000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed - but estimates, based on US intelligence, suggest higher losses.

"Meat Grinder" Tactics

The latest list of dead soldiers published by the BBC and Mediazone shows the enormous human cost of Russia's change in tactics on the front.

The BBC reports that the Russian military suffered a sharp jump in its death toll in January 2023, when it launched a large-scale offensive in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.

As the Russians fought for the town of Vuhledar, "ineffective human wave-style frontal attacks" were used, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISV).

"Challenging terrain, lack of combat power and failure to surprise Ukrainian forces," it said, led to small gains and heavy losses in the battle.

Another significant jump can be seen in the spring of 2023, during the Battle of Bahmut - when a group of Wagner mercenaries helped Russia capture the city.

Wagner's leader Yevgeny Prigozhin estimated his group's losses at the time at 22.000. Russia's seizure of the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiyivka last fall also led to another spike in soldier deaths.

Counting graves

Volunteers working with the BBC and Mediazone have been counting new military graves in 70 cemeteries across Russia since the start of the war.

Cemeteries have been significantly expanded, aerial photographs show.

For example, pictures of the Bogorod Cemetery in Ryazan - southeast of Moscow - show that a completely new section has appeared. Pictures and videos taken on the ground suggest that most of the new graves belong to soldiers and officers killed in Ukraine.

The BBC estimates that at least two of the five dead Russian fighters were people who had no connection to the military before the invasion.

At the beginning of the invasion in 2022, Russia could use its professional troops to carry out complicated military operations - explains Samuel Creney-Evans from the Royal United Services Institute (Russians).

But many of those experienced soldiers are now likely to be dead or wounded, a defense analyst says, and have been replaced by people with little training or military experience -- such as volunteers, civilians and prisoners.

These people can't do what professional soldiers can do, explains Cranney-Evans.

"That means they have to do things that are tactically much simpler – which generally looks like attacking Ukrainian positions with artillery support," he says.

Wagner v. Department of Defense

Prison recruits are crucial to the success of the "meat grinder" - and a BBC analysis shows they are now being killed faster on the front line.

Moscow has allowed Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to start recruiting in prisons from June 2022.

Prisoners-turned-combatants then fought as part of a private army on behalf of the Russian government.

Wagner had a fearsome reputation for ruthless fighting tactics and brutal internal discipline.

Soldiers could be shot on the spot for retreating without orders.

The group continued to recruit prisoners until February 2023, when its relations with official Moscow began to deteriorate.

Since then, the Russian Ministry of Defense has continued the same policy.

Prigozhin staged an aborted rebellion against the Russian armed forces in June last year - and tried to advance on Moscow before agreeing to turn back. He died in a plane crash in August.

The BBC writes that the latest analysis focused on the names of 9.000 Russian prisoners who they know were killed on the front line.

For more than 1.000 of them, we have confirmed the starting dates of their military contracts and when they were killed.

BB states that he found that under Wagner, these ex-prisoners survived an average of three months. However, as the graph above suggests, those subsequently recruited by the Ministry of Defense lived an average of only two months.

The Ministry created military units known as Stormtroopers, composed almost entirely of convicts.

Similar to Wagner's POW units, these detachments are reportedly often treated as an expendable force thrown into battle.

"Storm fighters, they are just meat," a regular soldier who fought alongside members of the Storm told Reuters last year.

Recently, the Storm fighters were key in the months-long battle for the capture of Avdijevka. The city fell to Russia eight weeks ago and represented Putin's biggest strategic and symbolic battlefield victory since Bakhmut.

Prisoners sent straight to the front line

Under Wagner, the new prison fighters received two weeks of military training before taking to the battlefield. In contrast, the BBC says it found some MoD recruits were killed on the front line in the first two weeks of their contract.

The BBC spoke to the families of dead prison recruits - and to soldiers who are still alive - who said the military training offered by the Ministry of Defense to prison recruits was inadequate.

A widow said her husband signed up for prison service on April 8 last year - and was fighting on the front line three days later.

"I was sure there would be a few weeks of training they were talking about. And nothing to fear until at least the end of April."

She said she had been waiting to hear from him - but found out he had been killed on April 21.

Another mother says she only learned her husband had been taken from prison to the battlefield when she tried to contact him about the death of their son, who was also fighting.

The woman, named by the BBC as Alfija, said her 25-year-old son Vadim - the father of the twins - had never held a weapon before he was mobilised.

She says that she could not tell her husband Alexander about the death of their son because he was "taken away" to fight. She only found out he left through a phone call from another inmate.

Alexander grew up in Ukraine and had family there - Alfija says - and he knew that it was a "lie" that Russia invaded Ukraine to fight fascism.

When the military recruits first came to the prison, "he sent them to hell," she says.

Some seven months after her son's death, Alfija was informed that Alexander had also been killed.

"Be prepared to die"

When they worked for Wagner, prisoners usually had a six-month contract. The fighters - if they had survived - would have been given freedom in the end. But since September last year, under the Ministry of Defence, prisoners have to fight until they die or the war ends - whichever comes first.

The BBC has heard recent stories of prisoners asking relatives to help them buy matching uniforms and boots. There were also reports of prisoners being sent into combat without proper equipment, medical supplies or even Kalashnikovs.

"Many soldiers had rifles that were not suitable for combat," writes Russian war supporter and blogger Vladimir Grubnik on his Telegram channel.

"What an infantryman is supposed to do on the front line without a first aid kit, a shovel to dig in a trench and a broken rifle is a great mystery," he said.

Grubnik - located in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine - claims that when commanders learned that some of the weapons were "completely broken", they said it was "impossible" to replace them.

"The rifle had already been assigned to the person, and there was nothing the cruel military bureaucracy could do."

Former prisoners also described the high price their comrades are paying.

"If you sign up now, be prepared to die, mate," Sergey says on an online forum for Storm fighters and their relatives, where information is shared.

He claims to be a former prisoner who has been fighting in the Storm unit since October.

Another forum member says he joined the 100-strong Stormtrooper five months ago and is now one of only 38 still alive.

"Every combat mission is like a rebirth."

Bonus video: