A Blog by Jonathan Low


Mar 5, 2023

Why Russia's Bakhmut Loss Vs Ukraine Ratio Is So Extraordinary

The key to Russian casualties in Ukraine generally and at Bakhmut specifically is Russian leadership's willingness to bear losses unheard of since the trench warfare of WWI and in certain battles between Germany and Russia in WWII (Stalingrad and Kursk come to mind). 

The historic 3:1 ratio is based on the assumption that the attacking force does not want to endure excessive casualties. It is apparent that at Bakhmut in particular, that consideration does not apply. Hence, Ukraine's willingness to endure while inflicting as much harm as possible on the Russians. JL

Mark Sumner reports in Daily Kos:

Throughout the war, a 3:1 ratio of men and material lost seems right. “Front line losses” involving vehicles ratio is about 3.4:1. (But) estimates from troops fighting for months at Bakhmut report Russia “zerg” attacks in which infantry advanced until they were taken down, then replaced by another until it was eliminated, many times daily. The ratio of Russian losses to Ukrainian losses at Bakhmut is 7 to 1. That number shouldn’t be surprising. Superior equipment and training can alter this number, as can tactical advantages of terrain. Badly trained, poorly equipped prison troops were thrown at Ukrainian defenders who had established positions in hardened buildings. To win a battle like that, Russia needed to field a huge numerical advantage, but it’s logistical and command structure didn’t support it. So they failed.

The latest note from the Ukrainian general staff just appeared. They call the Russian attempt to encircle Bakhmut on Saturday “unsuccessful,” and say that Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks at Vasyukivka, Zaliznyanske, Dubovo-Vasylivka, and Orikhovo-Vasylivka north of the city. They also report Russian artillery fire in Bakhmut itself, and at  Klishchiivka, Ivanivske, and Chasiv Yar on the south.

Klishchiivka is a particularly interesting name on this list. Russia had earlier occupied this area fully and pushed Ukrainian forces back toward Ivanivske. However, Ukraine had reported more success on the south in the last few days. If Russian is back to bombing Klishchiivka, Ukraine may have moved the line to the south more than anyone had realized.


In comments on Friday there was an extended discussion about the rate of loss for Ukraine vs. Russia. Daily Kos frequently posts the numbers of estimated Russian losses as issued by the Ukrainian general staff. We rarely cover Ukrainian losses, and when that happens it’s generally when covering a statement from U.S. or U.K. military intelligence in which they give a vague figure for estimated losses to date.

There are places we can go for a clue about what’s happening. For example, Oryx publishes only verified numbers concerning equipment losses, and from those it’s possible to determine something about the nature of losses in Ukraine.


I’m using these categories since they seem more indicative of “front line losses” involving vehicles carrying servicemembers than others such as towed artillery, SPGs, etc. (Why the huge difference between IFVs and APCs? Because Russia has a lot of BMP-3s and treats them like all purpose transports … it also loses a lot of BMP-3s.)

The overall ratio that this gives is about 3.4:1. If this accurately reflects the relative rate of troop losses throughout the invasion, then it suggests that, if Russia has lost 152,000 soldiers—the latest estimate from the Ukrainian military—then Ukraine has lost about 57,000. If Russia has actually seen only around 50,000 losses (a number recently cited by U.K. military intelligence), then Ukraine might be expected to have suffered around 17,000 lost.

There are reasons to doubt this estimate. For example, if Ukraine were losing vehicles in areas being rapidly overrun by Russian forces, those vehicles may be less likely to make an appearance on social media and get tallied by Oryx. However, Russians also have smartphones and Russian Telegram is replete with images showing the destruction of Ukrainian equipment and captured or abandoned vehicles. Oryx gets all that. I don’t have any compelling reason to believe that, just because a Ukrainian vehicle was lost in territory now occupied by Russia, it is less likely to be cataloged. 

Overall, throughout the war, a three to one ratio of men and material lost seems about right.

However, there are certainly exceptions. No one could watch the multiple fruitless attempts to take the town of Vuhledar, leaving at least 130 tanks and other armored vehicles scattered across fields, without seeing a ratio that’s almost incalculably high. Vuhledar, to date, has been a shooting gallery for Ukrainian artillery, anti-tank weapons, and snipers. Put a number on it as high as you like, and it’s probably still not high enough.

But far more importantly, there are estimates from the troops and unit commanders who have been fighting for months at Bakhmut. For many of those months, Russia prosecuted action in the area by sending out “zerg” attacks in which infantry units played the role of sensors; advancing until they were taken down, then replaced by another that advanced until it was eliminated, rinse, repeat, many times daily. Some have declared that the ratio there is close to 10:1, but there’s another number that has come up repeatedly.

According to a commander of Ukrainian forces long stationed at Bakhmut, and reported in Ukrinform, the ratio of Russian losses to Ukrainian losses at Bakhmut is around 7 to 1.

That number shouldn’t be surprising. The long held general rule for a successful military advance is for the offensive side to hold a 3:1 advantage at the point of conflict. Go far above that, and it can help turn the operation into a rout. Fall much below it, and the advance is likely to fail.

Superior equipment and training can certainly alter this number significantly, as can the tactical advantages of terrain. Huge forces of untrained local citizens trying to retake their land have been reliably defeated by relatively tiny numbers of well-trained and better equipped forces holding a reinforced position (see just about any slaughter from the  centuries of British colonialism that clog most lists of “greatest military victories”). 

Until the fall of Soledar, Bakhmut was a situation where very badly trained, poorly equipped prison troops “recruited” by Wagner Group were being thrown at Ukrainian defenders who had established positions in hardened buildings. To win a battle like that, Russia needed to be able to field a huge numerical advantage, but it’s logistical and command structure didn’t support delivering such numbers. So they failed. A lot.

Situation around Bakhmut as of Friday. Open image in another tab for a larger view.

What was the secret sauce that allowed Russia to finally crack Soledar and then other areas around Bakhmut? More. It just brought more. More regular army troops in addition to the Wagnerites. More of the “mobiks,” many of whom have now had something that actually looks like training. More equipment. More artillery. More drones. More air strikes. 

The Russian force fighting against Ukraine at Bakhmut is essentially two armies, which don’t cooperate well and each of which has its own issues with bringing significant power to bear. In no sense is the Russian army at Bakhmut working as well as it could be. However, it’s working as well as it needs to be to force Ukraine to surrender ground around the city.

If there’s any one factor which has plagued militaries throughout history it’s simply that: More. What do you do when your opponent marshals more than that 3:1 advantage? What do you do when they have enough numbers in place to overcome any deficit they may face in training, equipment, or position? 

There’s another factor in this, as well. That 3:1 number is the standard for offensives that expect to succeed without taking undue casualties. What do you do when an enemy believes the short term advantage of winning a confrontation is great enough that almost any level of casualties is acceptable? That 3:1 requirement is not a thing if you’re willing to leave two-thirds of your force on the ground to win the battle at hand. Russia seems to be willing.

Earlier in the week, there had been reports that new units were being brought into Bakhmut. Now multiple sources are indicating that those units were not brought in to fight in the city, but are positioned along new trenches dug west of Bakhmut for the purpose of holding open the roads.

However, Ukraine is definitely not done fighting in Bakhmut as of Saturday morning.

According to The Kyiv Post, Ukraine appears to be conducting a “fighting withdrawal” from the city. They’re still extracting a cost from the Russian forces as they advance, but they’re also not making unproductive “last stands” to hold the rubble choked streets.

Put it all together and you get two seemingly contradictory things: At Bakhmut, Ukraine has killed 7 Russian soldiers for every 1 Ukrainian soldier lost, but they’re also on the edge of losing Bakhmut.

Russia has won a Pyrrhic victory. The question is whether, unlike Pyrrhus of Epirus, Vladimir Putin has enough in reserve that he can continue. Because there’s no evidence that the next town is going to be sold any cheaper.


There were contradictory indications in Bakhmut on Friday. Not only did Ukraine manage to bring General Oleksandr Syrskyi into the city to consult with local unit commanders, there was news late in the day that the “road of life” was not the only lifeline out of the city after all. Reports indicated that, despite a planned explosion that reportedly took out a bridge southwest of Ivaniske, the T0504 highway to Kostyantynivka was open and that Ukrainian vehicles were moving both ways — though some of those vehicles reportedly had to hotfoot it after Russian artillery started hitting segments of the road.



Russia's extraordinary loss ratio in the Bakhmut region against Ukraine can be attributed to several factors. First, the determined Ukrainian defense and local support have made territorial gains difficult for Russia. Second, international pressure and sanctions may have constrained Russia's military options. Third, the rugged terrain and urban warfare in Bakhmut have favored Ukrainian resistance. Lastly, Ukraine's improved military capabilities and alliances have shifted the balance, making this loss ratio highly unusual in modern conflict.
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