In separate news conferences on June 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko played up the narrative that Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive is failing.
While the counteroffensive is still shaping up and may prove deadlier for Ukrainian forces than previous defensive operations, earlier U.S. estimates put Russian combat casualties higher than those of Ukrainian forces.
Still, in an interview with high-profile Russian state propagandist Olga Skabeyeva on June 13 in Minsk, Lukashenko echoed Putin:
“[Since the counteroffensive began], something like 40,000 Ukrainians have perished and more than 100,000 have been irrevocably injured. In total, that’s almost 120-150,000.”
That is likely false.
Despite claims that the counteroffensive began earlier in June, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy only confirmed that "counteroffensive” actions were taking place on June 10. On June 15, a top Zelenskyy aide said the real counteroffensive had yet to begin, claiming Ukraine was only probing Russia’s defenses at this stage.
Lukashenko’s numbers far exceed other estimates, and even contradict figures put out by Russia’s Defense Ministry.
On June 14, Russia’s Defense Ministry said 7,500 Ukrainian troops had been killed or wounded since June 4. The ministry said that figure only counted soldiers who had been killed on the front, and not “military personnel” killed by “long-range precision weapons and aviation deep inside Ukrainian territory.”
Those figures have not been independently verified. Even Russia-aligned forces have accused Russia’s Defense Ministry of exaggerating Ukraine’s combat losses.
On June 5, Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed Ukrainian forces had suffered “significant losses” in Ukraine’s Donbas region, with more than 1,500 military personnel and 28 tanks having been eliminated.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Kremlin-aligned Wagner Group private military company, responded by saying the ministry’s figures came “from the realm of wild, sloppy fantasy.”
He joked that if one were to add up the Ukrainian casualty figures put out by Russia’s Defense Ministry, it would suggest Russia had “destroyed the entire planet Earth five times.”
On June 6, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that in three days of fighting, Russian forces had inflicted over 3,715 casualties on Ukrainian forces, destroying 52 tanks and other military equipment.
“Russia has exhausted its military stockpiles and its armed forces,” Kirby said. “Just since December, we estimate that Russia has suffered more than 100,000 casualties, including over 20,000 killed in action.”
Those figures included fighters from the Wagner Group, which the United States views as a Kremlin proxy force.
While Kirby declined to give Ukrainian casualty figures, an intelligence document leaked the previous month indicated more than twice as many Russian troops were being killed than Ukrainians soldiers.
That assessment, reportedly tallied by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, said Russia had suffered 189,500-223,000 total casualties, including 35,500-43,000 deaths and 154,000-180,000 wounded, Reuters reported.
The same assessment said Ukraine has suffered 124,500-131,000 total casualties, including 15,500-17,500 deaths and 109,000-113,500 wounded in action.
Reuters noted that those figures, disputed by both Ukraine and Russia, “are around 10 times bigger than any public casualty figures published by either Moscow or Kyiv.”
According to Lukashenko, Ukraine has suffered more than twice as many combat deaths and fewer wounded in less than two weeks of fighting than the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency counted in over a year of war.
No evidence of that has been presented.
Separately, the independent Russian media outlet Mediazona, working with the BBC’s Russian service and “a team of volunteers,” reported that Russia had suffered 24,470 casualties as of June 2, including 1,184 since May 19.
Mediazona said “the real death toll is much higher,” since it “can only review publicly available reports including social media posts by relatives, reports in local media, and statements by the local authorities.”
The Russian-Ukrainian casualties ratio may have changed since Ukraine’s counteroffensive began earlier this month.
On June 14, the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington, DC, said Ukraine is carrying out its counteroffensive in at least three directions in the southern and southeastern parts of Ukraine, and had, contrary to Putin’s claims, made gains.
Ukrainian forces claim that the Russian side continues to take more casualties and that Russian estimates of Ukrainian casualties are overblown.
“On the first day when they [Russian information platforms] announced that our brigade was broken, that we had 350 dead soldiers, that it was over, that our brigade no longer existed, in fact we had only five soldiers killed. This is a shining example about how shamelessly they lie,” said Valery Markus, a senior master sergeant in Ukraine’s 47th Infantry Brigade, in a video released on June 13.
Meantime, apart from alleging sky-high Ukrainian casualties, Lukashenko also claimed Belarus had received tactical nuclear weapons from Russia. Doing so would violate Belarus’ international obligations and constitution.
Lukashenko also said he would not hesitate to order that those tactical nuclear weapons be used if Belarus faced an act of aggression, The Associated Press reported.
Still, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg disputed Lukashenko’s nuclear claims, stating on June 15 that NATO had not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture “that requires any changes in our posture.”