Estimating troop losses on both sides in the Russia-Ukraine war

In the wake of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, Benjamin J. Radford, Yaoyao Dai, Niklas Stoehr, Aaron Schein, Mya Fernandez, and Hanif Sajid have developed a model to better estimate the loss numbers obscured by the fog of war and the biases of some reporting sources

Estimating losses in Ukraine from biased data

In February 2022, a simmering conflict between Russia and Ukraine erupted into a full-scale war. Researchers who study wars often define 'war' by the number of deaths experienced in one year of conflict. In addition to its importance in research, assessments of a conflict's losses are integral to accountability and protection of human rights.

Assessments of a conflict's losses are integral to accountability and protection of human rights

However, precise loss numbers are notoriously difficult to obtain. To better estimate losses obscured by the fog of war, we collected and analysed 4,609 reports about the conflict in Ukraine. We find that Russia has suffered far greater losses than Ukraine, and that both countries likely overestimate the losses of their opponent.

Individual loss numbers are unreliable

Governments have incentives to manipulate numbers representing losses in a military conflict. Among other reasons, loss numbers may be manipulated to manage public opinion, to boost troops' morale, and to convey particular narratives to allies and opponents. Furthermore, loss numbers are likely to vary across sources simply due to differences in available information from the battlefield.

Loss numbers may be manipulated to manage public opinion, to boost troops' morale, and to convey particular narratives

In the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, losses reported by different sources vary by orders of magnitude. For example, on 21 September 2022, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu reported 5,937 Russian soldier fatalities. In the same week, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence (MoD) reported 55,510 Russian military fatalities. On July 20, 2022, the CIA Director reported around 15,000 Russian fatalities since the invasion.

In our recent paper, we use these and similar reports to better estimate the losses suffered by Russia and Ukraine over the first year of the war. We know the data will likely suffer biases depending on who is reporting losses and whose losses they’re reporting on. However, we see this as an opportunity.

In addition to estimating loss values, we estimate the biases associated with reporting sources. Biases are simply multipliers that scale the actual (unknown) loss numbers up or down. Shoigu’s report of 5,937 fatalities is approximately a tenth of the Ukrainian MoD’s number. Ukraine’s number is likely higher than the actual value. Knowing this, we use a statistical model to estimate these biases while we estimate the actual loss numbers. We begin with the assumption that no sources are biased and we let the data tell us if some sources consistently report above or below others.

Estimated biases

Estimated biases for Ukrainian and Russian sources, relative to the country that suffered the loss and the type of loss. Numbers greater than one indicate that sources from that country overestimate losses on average. Numbers less than one indicate underestimation.

Biases in Russian and Ukrainian sources

We find that Russian sources generally underestimate their own losses and overestimate Ukrainian losses. For every Russian soldier killed, Russian sources report only 0.3 losses. On the contrary, for every Ukrainian soldier killed, Russian sources report 4.3 Ukrainian soldiers killed.

Interestingly, Ukrainian overestimates double Russian soldier deaths. But they tend not to over- or underestimate their own troops’ deaths. Both sides underestimate their own casualties by roughly one half. The table below shows Russian and Ukrainian source biases for military casualties, deaths, and loss of tanks by both sides.

Loss countryLoss typenEstimate
Estimated losses for Ukraine and Russia, at 23 February 2023

Our estimates of losses

We find that Russian personnel losses have outpaced Ukrainian personnel losses, with expected loss numbers of 76,687 and 17,223 respectively, as of 23 February 2023. The ratio of casualties to death for Russia and Ukraine are 3:1 and 5:1, respectively. Higher casualty ratios are indicative of better survival rates because they mean fewer wounded soldiers are dying.

Higher casualty ratios are indicative of better survival rates because they mean fewer wounded soldiers are dying

Importantly, we find that Russian and Ukrainian equipment losses are often comparable by category. For example, the expected losses of tanks for Russia and Ukraine are 3,380 and 2,051, respectively.

Ramifications for Russia

Alexandr Burilkov points out that Putin is under pressure from the ultranationalist forces to continue and escalate the war. But the number of Russian personnel losses and comparable equipment losses is paradoxically high. This reflects a narrative of poorly equipped Russian soldiers and ineffective supply lines. Perhaps those in Putin’s inner circle who are pro-negotiation are better informed about actual losses and the under-equipment of their forces.

The second winter of the Russia-Ukraine war will soon be upon us. With high losses, underequipped forces, and ineffective supply lines, Putin may need to reconsider his choices and move towards a peace plan. Inaccurate reports of how the war is going may bolster popular support, but are an ineffective long-term war strategy.

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.

Contributing Authors

photograph of Benjamin J. Radford Benjamin J. Radford Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science & Public Administration, University of North Carolina at Charlotte More by this author
photograph of Yaoyao Dai Yaoyao Dai Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of North Carolina at Charlotte More by this author
photograph of Niklas Stoehr Niklas Stoehr PhD Candidate, Institute for Machine Learning, ETH Zürich More by this author
photograph of Aaron Schein Aaron Schein Assistant Professor, Department of Statistics and Data Science Institute, University of Chicago More by this author
photograph of Mya Fernandez Mya Fernandez Juris Doctor Candidate, University of North Carolina School of Law More by this author
photograph of Hanif Sajid Hanif Sajid PhD Candidate, Public Policy (Fulbright), University of North Carolina at Charlotte More by this author

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18 comments on “Estimating troop losses on both sides in the Russia-Ukraine war”

  1. Will NATO replenish its stock piles to support Ukraine?

    Will the Republicans veto support in the House of Representatives?

    Will Europe realise when its too late that its not just an invasion of Ukraine but a war between East and West?


  2. These numbers are a ludicrous fantasy, designed only to bolster Ukrainian resolve. Anybody can see the footage for themselves -- on any number of websites. The Ukrainian's have suffered catastrophic losses, and there's really no sense in lying about it anymore.

    1. This article is an insult to the intelligence of a monkey. It's obvious that it is propaganda intended to cheer on the neocon warmongers in Washington and the traitorous, anti-Ukrainian Zelensky regime.

      1. Yes Sergei, it is pure fantasy that Russias's crumbling military and drug-fuelled soldiers can be anything but successful.

        As for the Anti-Ukrainian Zelensky, yes indeed, he should surrender to Russia so that Putin can obliterate the Ukrainian identity and replace it with his own tyrannical vision.

        You people are laughable, your propaganda is terrible and you provide nothing more than a joke for westerners to laugh at.

      2. This are all lies made by the collective west. Ukrainian soldiers have already reached half a million either dead or wounded. This war isn't about Ukraine, it's all about exchausting Russia, dismantle it and get rid of Putin. They don't give a damn about Ukraine.

  3. Russia is the only party to be able to make peace. Withdraw unilaterally and leave all Ukrainian occupied territories. Now this will not happen and the demilitarization of Europe will continue. The West is not adding new systems which is frustrating to me - though their capabilities are going down. Russia is loosing more the it could produce thus their balance sheet is going down. Even if we assume 15% of the Russian army gone there is still 85% left. That is still way too much even 50% is too much. But that would bring us to an estimated end of this conflict by 2027 (if this process is not accelerated, I assume a deceleration). It also means that we have not reached the halfway point in this conflict.

  4. Well done. Congratulations to the authors of this article for lying to the people of the world. Looks like they got good money bags from deep state government officials.

    Imagine our future generations studying as students under these kind of professors and educators who lie to disseminate misinformation and aid in government propaganda.

    This is exactly why you have to study and do your own research in this world.

  5. You say that you’re cross referencing sources to see the ones deviating from the norm. However, outside of the Russian and Ukrainian sources, which countries provided the other sources? There is a surprising lack of methodology presented with as validation for your data.

    Your entire research falls apart if the “neutral”/control sources are biased to one side. The really wild thing is, outside of Russia and Ukraine, the only countries that provide intelligence figures on losses are all actively arming Ukraine.

    So, how come you needed an entire team of data scientists to put together this paper, yet none of you remembered to address the possibility that the neutral data is flawed?

  6. I will not comment on your figures. But my estimate, considering mostly Russia's close to 10 times larger fire power (cannons/ bombs) is, by 2023 year-end: 400 000 ukrainian deaths vs 60 000 russian deaths.

    1. I estimate 560 000-700 000 Ukrainian/American/NATO/Volunteer deaths and 130 000-210 000 Russian/Chinese/Volunteer deaths by the end of 2025.

      As we get closer to May, the intensity of the war will increase. The US Democratic Party and their donors will need to launder as much money as they can before they are wiped clean by December, a month after Trump will be elected president.

      If Trump fails to get elected, Russia will initiate Phase 4: Alliance with China. China has unrivaled industrial power and Russia holds the majority of the world's gold reserve. They will crush NATO in self defense, much in the same way that NATO has crushed the Middle East and Northern Africa in "self defense".

  7. This is some of the worst methodology I've ever seen in a asserted "research study".
    1. Get numbers from biased sources.
    2. Multiply them by numbers you pulled from your you know what.
    3. Announce you have the real numbers.
    Mediazone, for example, can only find evidence of 40,000 Russian dead at the end of 2023, and they have a team trawling every source they can since the start of the war.

  8. It's a simple fact that if Ukraine's casualty count is lower than Russian. Why can't Ukraine make any significant gains
    So it's pretty obvious Ukraine is losing far more than Russia
    In the long haul Ukraine is in fact destined to lose
    Russia can field 5 men to every Ukrainian 1
    Russia can out produce all western countries in terms of equipment because of western deindustrialization from caving in to environmentalism and climate change
    The west is too too jacked up to be effective

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