A Blog by Jonathan Low


Feb 15, 2024

Why Russia, Losing 30 Percent of Troops, Cannot Break Ukraine Defenses

The word 'decimate' comes from the Latin root for the number 10. That was the percent of losses at which Roman legions found that they and their subunits ceased to be combat effective. 

A recent report reveals that current Russian strategy requires units to fight until they have suffered 30% attrition, at which point they are withdrawn and reorganized. The problem with this is that Russian attacks become decreasingly impactful, compounding the loss of lives and attendant effectiveness. It explains how across the entirety of the front, that Russia has been unable to achieve its goals against Ukraine, a numerically weaker opponent. JL 

Thibault Spirlet reports in Business Insider:

Russia can sustain huge losses in Ukraine for two more years but cant make breakthroughs with its current strategy. Russian units carry out tactical attacks until they have lost 30% of their personnel. Losing 30% of troops within one unit is "extremely high," with most becoming inoperable at lower rates. "The Russians are fighting their units past the point at which they become combat ineffective. This significantly impacts the unit's combat effectiveness." Russian forces (cannot) improve as long as Ukraine can repel attacks. To achieve successful offensive operations, Russia needs to deploy effective and well-equipped units at scale but the Kremlin has historically been unable or unwilling to do so.

Russia can sustain major losses in Ukraine for another two years, according to war analysts.

The Institute for the Study of War drew its assessment in an intelligence update on Thursday, based on a report by the Royal United Services Institute, or RUSI.

The RUSI report found that Russian forces will likely have the manpower and equipment required to keep up a consistent pace of attacks through the end of 2024.

The ISW went further, saying it could sustain attacks through 2025.Those assessments back up a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, published on Monday.

That report said that Russia is making enough new tanks, fighting vehicles, and other equipment, and has enough in storage, to sustain its huge losses in Ukraine for at least two to three more years.

"Despite losing hundreds of armoured vehicles and artillery pieces per month on average, Russia has been able to keep its active inventory numbers stable," it said.

Russia has suffered mounting losses in "meat assault" operations along the front lines. These attacks can kill 40 to 70 Russian infantrymen at a time, a Ukrainian commander told CNN last month.


But Russia is likely using Ukraine's freezing winter conditions to ramp up such operations, per the UK's Ministry of Defence.

According to the RUSI, Russia is suffering significant casualties in Ukraine, but recruiters are able to meet almost 85% of their quotas for contract recruits, meaning that the losses are largely sustainable.

Whether Russia can keep up military operations hinges on two key factors, per the ISW: Russia's ability to generate enough combat-capable units, and Ukraine's defenses.

Whether Russia's current recruitment rates will be enough to provide the necessary forces to carry out more intense offensive operations is unclear, the ISW said.


Ukraine has so far been able to repel and erode Russian forces, relying heavily on ongoing Western assistance, the RUSI said.

But without continued aid, it will increasingly struggle.

The quality of Russian forces, meanwhile, is unlikely to improve as long as Ukraine can repel attacks, it said. This has led to the conflict reaching a stalemate.

Russian soldiers usually carry out limited tactical attacks until they have lost as much as 30% of their personnel, at which point they rotate out, according to the RUSI.


Losing 30% of forces within one unit is "extremely high," with most becoming inoperable at lower rates than that, the ISW noted.

"The Russians are therefore likely fighting their units past the point at which they have become combat ineffective before rotating them out for reconstitution," it said.

This kind of tactic "significantly impacts the unit's combat effectiveness," the ISW said, and it also likely explains a pattern of Russian activities on the ground, it added.

Russian troops have engaged in localized assaults until they come to a halt, prompting a pause in combat until the command rotates and replenishes degraded forces.To achieve successful offensive operations, Russia will likely need to deploy combat-effective and well-equipped units and formations at scale, it said.

But, it added, the Kremlin has historically been unable or unwilling to do so.


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