According to Western and Russian experts, Russian all-army units were not prepared for offensive actions. As a result, tasks normally performed by infantry had to be performed by special forces units, marines, and paratroopers. It was these elite units that suffered significant losses. Dozens of military pilots also lost their lives. According to experts, Russia will have a problem with replacing these losses.
As of September 1, the BBC managed to establish the deaths of 151 GRU special forces soldiers from open sources. Almost every fourth of them was an officer. According to published obituaries, the 22nd Guards Brigade of Special Forces suffered the greatest losses. At least 30 soldiers were killed, including four officers, company commanders (the brigade has only four special forces companies).
According to American analyst Michael Kofman, for every Russian soldier killed, there are an average of 3.5 wounded. At least temporarily, the 22nd brigade could lose 130 soldiers.
Other GRU special forces units suffered similar losses.
Poorly replaceable losses
According to experts, the losses of special forces officers may be the most difficult to replace. In the case of soldiers with the usual expertise, for example, a grenade launcher or mortar, a replacement can be trained in a few weeks, rarely in a month or two. But a slain special forces company commander can only be replaced by an equally capable officer. Lieutenant training takes at least four years. To command a company as a captain, he needs experience and another four years.
Large exercises did not help, Russia cannot handle complex operations
The war in Ukraine
In the Soviet Union, the GRU special forces were in charge of the most important covert operations. In Russia, special forces were given other tasks, as many army units proved to be unprepared for combat. In the first years of the Chechen war, the GRU special forces more than once served as an all-army reconnaissance. During the attack on Grozny, they were included in the attacking groups. During the war against Ukraine, according to the experts interviewed, special forces are being used again for tasks that are not inherent to elite scouts, and this leads to losses.
An analogous conclusion can be drawn from obituaries. For example, they report that GRU Major Andrei Kunakov was killed in Mariupol while “cleaning” the street. Usually the streets in the conquered villages are checked by secondary units. Sending elite scouts on such missions is strange, to say the least.
Instead of dispersing the protesters, war
In times of peace, units of the Russian National Guard usually specialize in dispersing demonstrations, arresting specific people or groups of militants in various parts of Russia. Regardless, the Guardsmen were sent to Ukraine from day one of the invasion. As of September 1, 245 Guardsmen are known to have died. A large part of them are members of special purpose units or special forces. Almost a quarter of them were officers. At least 16 of them had the right to wear the maroon beret, considered by the Guard to be a symbol of the elite of special forces.
According to open sources, the 25th special forces unit from Kazan suffered the biggest losses on September 1. Ten of its members, including two officers, were killed in Ukraine. According to the memorial in the unit’s compound, the unit suffered the same losses in half a year in Ukraine as in ten years in Chechnya.
The Russian military is facing a serious shortage of personnel in Ukraine
From open sources, 20 members of the FSB and FSO secret services are known to have been killed during the invasion. The majority are border guards subordinate to the FSB, but among those killed are also officers of the most secret units.
According to expert Andrei Soldatov, the Special Purpose Center of the FSB actively participates in the fighting, including operations in the occupied territories, such as Kherson. It is known about the killing of FSB lieutenant colonel Nikolai Gorbana. Kamchatka media announced the death of FSB special forces lieutenant colonel Sergei Privalov. In the summer, the grave of lieutenant colonel Vladimir Margiev was added to the “alley of heroes” of the Nikolo-Archangelsky cemetery near Moscow. He is pictured in a uniform with FSB emblems. According to tradition, members of the Alfa and Vympel detachments of the FSB special forces are buried in the alley. FSB lieutenant colonel Alexei Kryukov, killed in the first days of the war, is buried in Yekaterinburg. There is a wreath from the FSB administration on the grave, the Alfa logo is on the picture. In June, there was news of the death of Alfa captain Ilya Cuprik, who, according to another version, may have perished in Syria.
If indeed these officers died in Ukraine, it would be a serious blow to the special forces of the FSB. For comparison: Alfa last lost more than three members in six months in 1995 and 1996 during Chechen attacks in Buďonnovsk and in the village of Pervomajskaja.
Some of the paratroopers who marched on Red Square in Moscow last May lost their lives in Ukraine this year. Paratroopers account for exactly one fifth of all identified Russian soldiers killed in the war with Ukraine.
Ukrainian pilots are already firing American HARM missiles against radars
Russian infantry, with the exception of a few units, has not fought since the Russo-Georgian war of 2008. “All-army units were not prepared for offensive operations. A small part due to the lack of heavy weapons and a much larger part due to the banal inability to conduct close combat,” claims Russian reserve officer Alexander Araťunov. As a result, the brunt of the fighting in the first weeks of the war fell on the airborne troops.
According to open sources, the 331st Guards Regiment from the city of Kostroma, which is located about 370 kilometers northeast of Moscow, suffered the greatest losses. According to official data alone, more than 80 dead can be counted, including the regimental commander and 20 officers. The attempt to break through to Kiev in early March cost the regiment dozens of lives. Then the paratroopers fought for Izjum, in May they were transferred to the town of Popasna in Donbass. Realistically, the regiment could lose 150 soldiers. And if for every two dead there are seven wounded, then the regiment lacks 650-670 people. That’s more than half the state.
Marines are fighting on the southern front. According to open sources, the 810th Guards Brigade with its garrison in the annexed Crimea suffered the biggest losses. It lost at least 56 soldiers, including two brigade commanders: Alexei Sharov died in March, his successor Sergei Kens in July. It is said that the colonel “wasn’t enough to be taken to the hospital”. If this really happened, it indicates the serious problems of the Russian army with the rapid evacuation of the wounded.
Vacation in Crimea. The Russian took a picture next to the air defense system, the Ukrainians thanked him
The war in Ukraine
As of September 1, the BBC had reports of the deaths of 67 Russian airmen during the invasion of Ukraine, including weapons operators and flight mechanics. It’s a special category of loss because aircrews and helicopters are the elite of any military. Pilot training can take 15-17 years and cost $12-14 million.
Despite the fact that the Russian Air Force officially numbers hundreds of modern aircraft, it is not enough to undertake a large-scale offensive campaign, experts warn. It cannot be ruled out that this may be related to the loss of the best airmen in the first months of the war.
“It’s hard to say what Russian pilots actually do during most combat flights. We clearly see that Russian aircraft rarely enter deep into Ukrainian-controlled territory due to the still high efficiency of Ukrainian air defenses,” says British expert Justin Bronk.