It has been almost 3 months since the launch of Ukraine's long anticipated counter-offensive which many “experts” claimed would be the fatal blow that would remove Russian forces from the country altogether. The initial action gained little; around 90 square miles of territory in June and a handful of villages, and at great cost. There are no accurate casualty reports for Ukraine, which is by design, but estimates suggest that the nation's military has doubled its number of dead since the counter offensive began.
Official numbers from the DoD claim that Ukraine has lost over 100,000 troops since the beginning of the conflict (almost double the amount of US dead during the entirety of the Vietnam War). Other estimates are far higher.
Foreign fighters back from the front lines report a mismanaged and chaotic Ukrainian military using ill conceived tactics. Some say that the units they were assigned to have lost 80% or more of their men in recent months. Ukraine military leadership has also been misusing their fleet of tanks and armored vehicles from NATO, sending them 'straight into mine fields' in some cases. As volunteers note, the Ukrainians were given training on how to operate the vehicles, but no training on how to use them effectively in a fight.
There is also a flurry of reports suggesting that friendly fire has been doing significant damage, so much so that “mercenaries” have taken to covering themselves in reflective blue or yellow tape so that they aren't mistaken for Russian troops.
This disorganization seems to be far removed from the precision shown by Ukraine in their 2022 offensive, which forced Russia to reposition a large number of forces and give up over 3000 square miles of territory. Numerous successful strikes on Russian armored columns were widely publicized, all with a suspicious level of expertise employed by Ukraine. Yet, by 2023 their momentum was stopped cold. They were tied up in Bakhmut where they lost thousands of soldiers. And now, Ukraine's hyped up counter action has been effectively dragged down to a crawl.
You wouldn't know it by reading sensationalized western media reports and propaganda, but Ukraine is losing, badly. So what happened? What changed since the end of 2022?
One potential explanation is the sheer number of foreign fighters joining with Ukraine last year that are now gone. While the data on volunteers is limited, multiple sources claim at least 20,000 mercenaries (many with prior combat experience) joined with Ukraine in 2022. Then, there are the covert operatives – At least one General out of the UK let slip that Royal Marine units were in fact deployed on high risk operations in Ukraine.
Sources also indicate that US special operations teams have been stationed out of the US embassy in Kyiv since the beginning of the war. Though officials claim that the soldiers do not go to the front lines and stay near the embassy (which begs the question – what's the point of having them there?). The presence of highly trained western covert ops troops in Ukraine would help explain the far more effective offensive in 2022.
Almost all foreign fighters are inducted into the “International Legion of Defense of Ukraine”, with units of foreign fighters formally falling under Ukraine’s regular armed forces and reporting to Ukrainian commanders. It is a method for circumventing international rules on mercenaries, though the Kremlin says that foreign troops will still not be given protection under prisoner of war status.
Heavy casualties, high odds of friendly fire and lack of protection under the Geneva Convention are likely causes for the abrupt decline in foreign mercenaries in Ukraine in 2023. Official numbers plunged from 20,000 soldiers in 2022 to as low as 1500 this year, even after Kyiv offered honorary citizenship to any foreigners willing to fight for them. As is the case in most wars, usually a handful of fighters do most of the heavy lifting with the rest engaging in support roles. But is Ukraine relying almost entirely on veteran fighters from Europe and the US to do their dirty work?
Recent losses and disorganization in tandem with the decline in overseas volunteers indicate that this may be the case.