According to estimates by US intelligence services, more than 20,000 soldiers have been killed on the Russian side in fighting for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut since December. About half of them are soldiers from the Russian mercenary group Wagner, said the communications director of the National Security Council, John Kirby, in Washington on Monday. Most of them were Russian convicts sent to war without adequate combat or combat training.
The total number of Russian soldiers killed and injured since December as a result of the fighting around Bakhmut is estimated by the intelligence services to total more than 100,000, Kirby said. He did not provide information on the number of victims of the Ukrainian armed forces.
US Chief of Staff Mark Milley reported in November that more than 100,000 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded in the first eight months of the war. The same probably applies to the Ukrainian side, he said in New York at the time. These numbers cannot be independently verified.
After its invasion more than 14 months ago, Russia controls almost a fifth of Ukraine's territory, including the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which was annexed in 2014. The eastern town of Bakhmut has been attacked jointly by the Russian army and the Wagner troops for months. According to their own statements, the attackers now control around 85 percent of the city area.
Kirby said the strategic value of Russia recapturing Bakhmut was "small". Such a move will not change the course of the war in Russia's favour. "For Russia, these efforts, especially in Bakhmut, come at a very, very high price," Kirby said. Russia's stockpiles of weapons and troops are exhausted, but Ukraine's defenses in the areas around Bakhmut remain strong.