A surprisingly blunt and revealing Friday report in The New York Times cites US officials who estimate that total war casualties in Ukraine among both sides are at nearly 500,000 dead and wounded.
"The number includes as many as 120,000 deaths and 170,000 to 180,000 injured troops," the Times wrote based on the unnamed officials. "The Russian numbers dwarf the Ukrainian figures, which the officials put at close to 70,000 killed and 100,000 to 120,000 wounded."
To put these grim and tragic figures in perspective, the United States military involvement in Vietnam over the course of a nearly two-decade period resulted in about 58,000 Americans killed.
Given Kiev doesn't release official casualty numbers, the US officials cited in the Times report are estimating, but it generally lines up with the immense numbers of Ukrainian losses the Kremlin has presented in evaluating the counteroffensive. But Western sources have consistently said that Russian losses are more staggering.
The NY Times has characterized the now largely stalemated conflict as a war of attrition, with Russia having the manpower and supply lines keep the upper-hand and to far outlast:
Ukraine has around 500,000 troops, including active-duty, reserve and paramilitary troops, according to analysts. By contrast, Russia has almost triple that number, with 1,330,000 active-duty, reserve and paramilitary troops — most of the latter from the Wagner Group.
As for Russia, the West has accused it of habitually undercounting its own casualty rates. Last January, US Chief of the Joint Staff Mark Milley asserted that Russian forces had suffered losses at "significantly well over 100,000".
Likely many of the recent casualties on each side were from the months-long battle for the city of Bakhmut. President Zelensky has come under recent criticism for pouring so many resources and manpower into what was a losing battle. That's when many reports emerged of large amounts of completely untrained and underequipped Ukrainians being shipped to the frontlines.
The military analysis source 19fortyfive.com has assessed that the defense of Bakhmut was an incredible risk and gamble which didn't pay off, and led to a very poor start to the now faltering counteroffensive:
However, Zelensky chose to press the fight anyway. For months, senior U.S. leaders warned the Ukrainian president the battle was unwinnable and to move to other defensive positions. Not only did he refuse to withdraw to a superior fighting position, he ordered his men not to give up so much as a single building, forcing them to fight to the death. Month after month, Zelensky sent brigade after brigade to reinforce Bakhmut in an effort to reverse the tide.
Not only was it painfully obvious that military fundamentals made clear there was little rational hope of stopping Wagner’s drive to capture Bakhmut, but many of those brigades Zelensky sent in futile aid to help Bakhmut were also urgently needed in the upcoming spring and summer offensive. Two days after Bakhmut’s fall, Zelensky was still defiant, claiming the city had not fallen. In 2022, Zelensky’s tenacity and unwillingness to compromise resulted in blunting Russia’s invasion and then inflicting two major operational defeats.
This is an interesting article which argues that Zelensky made serious mistakes in the fight over Bakhmut when the conventional wisdom at the time was that Russia was the side acting stupidly. https://t.co/M5Wq7NQfgb— Max Abrahms (@MaxAbrahms) August 17, 2023
While Ukrainian forces held out for longer than most predicted, it was a very costly loss, and at the same time it's anything but clear that it put a significant dent in Russian force strength.
19FortyFive concludes that it's certainly not Washington's fault (despite the persistent complaint to this end of Zelensky officials)... "No one can claim the United States didn’t give Ukraine every chance to find out if it could succeed on the battlefield, as we provided literally thousands of armored vehicles, millions of shells, missiles, and bombs, and training and intelligence support – along with scores of billions in other aid." And the publication emphasizes, "But that help did not produce a Ukrainian victory."