After nearly 2 years of portraying the ongoing conflict in Ukraine as unfolding in Kiev and the collective West’s favor, a sudden deluge of admissions have begun saturating Western headlines noting that Ukraine is not only losing, but that there is little or nothing its Western backers can do to change this fact.
What had been a narrative of Ukraine’s steady gains and indomitable fighting spirit has now been replaced by the reality of Ukraine’s catastrophic losses (as well as net territorial losses) and a steady collapse of morale among troops. What had been narratives of Russian forces poorly trained and led, equipped with inadequate quantities of antiquated weapons and dwindling ammunition stockpiles, have now been replaced by admissions that Russia’s military industrial base is out-producing the US and Europe combined while fielding weapon systems either on par with their Western counterparts, or able to surpass Western capabilities entirely.
Ukraine’s Catastrophic Losses
Ukrainian losses, especially after 5 full months of failed offensive operations, are almost impossible to hide now.
The London Telegraph in its article, “Ukraine’s army is running out of men to recruit, and time to win,” published as far back as August of this year admitted:
The war in Ukraine is now one of attrition, fought on terms that increasingly favour Moscow. Kyiv has dealt admirably with shortages of Western equipment so far, but a shortage of manpower – which it is already having to confront – may prove fatal.
The article also claimed:
It’s a brutal but simple calculation: Kyiv is running out of men. US sources have calculated that its armed forces have lost as many as 70,000 killed in action, with another 100,000 injured. While Russian casualties are higher still, the ratio nevertheless favours Moscow, as Ukraine struggles to replace soldiers in the face of a seemingly endless supply of conscripts.
The article paints a bleak picture of continued Ukrainian military operations that are almost certainly unsustainable.
The claim of 70,000 killed in action among Ukrainian troops is a gross underestimate, while claims that “Russian casualties are higher still” are not only unsubstantiated, but contradicted elsewhere among Western sources.
Mediazona, a media platform maintained by US government-backed Russian opposition figures, has tracked Russian casualties from February 2022 onward by allegedly tracking public information regarding the death of Russian soldiers.
Its numbers cannot be entirely verified, but on the few occasions the Russian Ministry of Defense released Russian casualty numbers, they were relatively close to Mediazona’s claims versus the cartoonish claims made by Ukraine’s General Staff – claims that are often unquestionably repeated by Western governments and media organizations.
A more recent article published by Business Insider in late October titled, “Ukraine official says it can’t properly use its Western kit because it has so few soldiers left, report says,” confirms that Ukraine’s losses and resulting manpower crisis is only getting worse.
The article reports:
A Ukrainian official said Ukraine’s army is suffering a manpower shortage that is hampering its ability to use Western-donated weapons, Time magazine reported. Since the start of the war, several Ukrainian officials have blamed their difficulty repelling Russia’s invasion on the slow pace of deliveries by its allies.
However, in the Time report, an unnamed source identified as a close aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy highlighted a different problem. “We don’t have the men to use them,” the aide said in reference to the Western weapons. Although Ukraine doesn’t give public figures, Western estimates suggest it has suffered in excess of 100,000 casualties.
In addition to irreversible losses in manpower, Ukraine is also losing territory despite 5 months of intensive offensive operations and the fact that the Russian military leadership has repeatedly stated Russia’s goal is to eliminate Ukraine’s military, not take territory.
The New York Times in a September article titled, “Who’s Gaining Ground in Ukraine? This Year, No One,” would note:
Ukraine’s counteroffensive has struggled to push forward across the wide-open fields in the south. It is facing extensive minefields and hundreds of miles of fortifications — trenches, anti-tank ditches and concrete obstacles — that Russia built last winter to slow Ukrainian vehicles and force them into positions where they could be more easily targeted. When both sides’ gains are added up, Russia now controls nearly 200 square miles more territory in Ukraine compared with the start of the year.
Along with steep losses in manpower and a net loss in territory, Ukraine suffers from an equally damaging loss of equipment. Compounding materiel losses is the fact Western military industrial production is incapable of replacing these losses.
Military Industrial Production: West Running Out as Russia Ramps Up
Last year, Western politicians and the Western media promoted the idea that superior Western military equipment would easily sweep aside Russia’s dwindling numbers of supposedly antiquated weapon systems. One article published by the London Telegraph in early June of this year was even titled, “British-made tanks are about to sweep Putin’s conscripts aside.”
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Instead, Russian military equipment has proven itself capable if not superior to Western weapon systems and, together with Russia’s massive military industrial base, it has both outnumbered and outfought Ukrainians trained and equipped by the West.
This was admitted in the New York Times’ September article, Russia Overcomes Sanctions to Expand Missile Production, Officials Say,” which noted:
Russia is now producing more ammunition than the United States and Europe. Overall, Kusti Salm, a senior Estonian defense ministry official, estimated that Russia’s current ammunition production is seven times greater than that of the West.
The article admits that Russia has doubled tank production, increased missile production, and is producing at least as many as 2 million artillery shells a year – more than the US and Europe combined currently produce and more than the US and Europe combined if and when they meet increased production targets between 2025-2027.
A more recent article published by The Economist titled, “Russia is starting to make its superiority in electronic warfare count,” admits that Russia has developed an “impressive range of EW [electronic warfare] capabilities to counter NATO’s highly networked systems.” It explains how Russian EW capabilities have rendered precision-guided weapons provided by NATO to Ukraine ineffective, including GPS-guided Excalibur 155mm artillery shells, JDAM guided bombs, and HIMARS-launched GPS-guided rockets.
The article also discusses the impact Russian EW capabilities have on Ukrainian drones which are lost by the thousands week-to-week. And as Russian EW capabilities disrupt Ukraine’s ability to use guided weapons and drones on and over the battlefield, the article admits Russia is able to produce at least twice as many drones as Ukraine giving Russia yet another quantitative and qualitative advantage.
Despite much of the hype surrounding talk of equipping Ukraine with NATO-provided F-16 fighter aircraft, more sober Western analysts have gradually admitted that between Russia’s vast and growing aerospace forces and its superior integrated air defense systems, NATO-provided F-16s will fare no better than the Soviet-era aircraft Ukraine had and lost throughout the duration of the Special Military Operation.
After months, even years of “game-changers” sent to Ukraine only to prove incapable of matching let alone exceeding Russian military capabilities, the game is indeed revealed to have been changed – in favor of Russia and a military doctrine built on vast military industrial production, cheap-but-effective weapon systems, and most importantly, a doctrine built to fight and win against a peer or near-peer adversary.
This stands in stark contrast to a West who has shaped its military for decades to push over developing or failed states around the globe in military-mismatches, atrophying the technological, industrial, and strategic capabilities the US and its allies would have needed to put in place years ahead of time to “win” their proxy war against Russia in Ukraine.
The “solution” to Russia’s now admitted advantage in terms of quality and quantity on and over the battlefield is to “increase production” and “collect data” on Russian capabilities to then “develop counters to them.” However, these are processes that could take years to yield results, all while Russia continues expanding its capabilities to maintain this qualitative and quantitative edge.
And as this process continues to unfold, the US continues simultaneously seeking a similar conflict with China, which possesses an even larger industrial base than Russia.
One wonders how many lives could have been spared had these recent admissions across the Western media regarding Russia’s actual military capabilities been presented long before provoking conflict with Russia in the first place through Washington and Brussels’ long-standing policy of encroaching upon Russia’s borders. One wonders how many lives may yet be saved if the collective West learns from its current mistakes before repeating them all over again in a senseless conflict triggered by efforts to likewise encroach upon and provoke China.
Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.