May 24, 2023 - Press ISW
Discussions regarding reported Russian losses in Bakhmut have saturated the pro-war information space and are drowning out any remaining positive informational effect resulting from the city’s capture. Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed during an interview with Russian political strategist Konstantin Dolgov on May 23 that Wagner lost 10,000 convict recruits and 10,000 full-time professional Wagner fighters killed in action over the course of the Battle for Bakhmut. Prigozhin specifically noted that Wagner had recruited 50,000 prisoners, 20 percent of whom (10,000) died in fighting for Bakhmut. Russian milbloggers immediately seized on the reported losses, thereby shifting the overall Russian conversation away from discussions of the significance of the capture of Bakhmut and towards amplifying speculation surrounding the reported losses. The nationalist pro-war faction, exemplified by the views of former Russian officer Igor Girkin, commented on the massive scale of the reported losses and speculated that real losses may be much higher. Russian politician Viktor Alksnis simply remarked that the Soviet Army lost far fewer soldiers (15,051) in nine years in Afghanistan. Girkin stated that he believes that Wagner’s actual losses could be more than 1.5 times higher than Prigozhin’s claims and pointed out that of the 50,000 recruits Wagner received from prisons, 10,000 died in action and 26,000 reportedly received pardons and returned to Russia, leaving 14,000 prison recruits unaccounted for. Girkin suggested that a large portion of these 14,000 unaccounted-for prison recruits may have also been killed in action and claimed that Wagner has likely suffered more than 40,000 killed in action. Girkin suggested that Prigozhin “keep [his] mouth shut” and stop talking about “wild losses for a very insignificant result.” Another Russian milblogger, by contrast, praised Prigozhin for being open about the scale of losses and stated that the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) would have hidden such figures.