The War in Ukraine – Russian officer losses reach strategic impact

For a mobilization effort to create new units that can enter the war and successfully fight, not only are arms, equipment, and soldiers are needed, but a cadre of available experience tactical leaders that can train, forge cohesion, and lead the new units into combat. After over ten months of war in Ukraine, Russian ground forces lost a significant portion of their able tactical leaders – the ground-war company commanders. The company commanders lead the fight at the forward platoons, are close to contact with the enemy, and must be in the forefront to maintain the initiative. The Russian junior officers have been more exposed due to the low motivation of the Russian troops, forcing the officers to be at the edge of the front and lead by example in urban combat, with heightened risks. The Russian mobilization efforts’ strategic impact is doomed to fail as the Russian army runs out of experienced tactical leaders – the company commanders.


The function company commander is a crucial player in ground combat because it is the first role that synchronizes fire, movement, indirect fires, and combined arms. A company commander is also the highest level that knows each soldier in their unit. It takes several years to train, educate, and prepare a junior officer to become a company commander. A captain or senior lieutenant leads a Russian company, and by looking at data from death records and published information, a fair assessment is that half of all Russian company commanders that have fought in Ukraine are either killed, wounded, or captured.

The Russian mobilization efforts will likely have a marginal strategic effect as the mobilization only produces replacement soldiers to compensate for existing units’ losses. So even if Mr. Putin orders the mobilization of additional 100 000 men, it will not translate into a more considerable fighting force but only enable existing units to absorb more casualties.

The reliance on experienced tactical officers is a flawed Russian organizational design, which is exacerbated by the absence of a leadership layer of non-commissioned officers that could train, lead, and augment the tactical officers. Russian companies have fewer soldiers than their Western counterparts and rely on the direct leadership of the company commander, who executes command and control.


According to the volunteer-driven Twitter feed Russian Officers killed in Ukraine, which gathers information about slain Russian officers in the Ukrainian war from obituaries, death notices, and other publicized sources, as of the 29th of December 2022, there were 1,602 Russian officers killed in action. International news outlets have to focus on the ten slain generals in the widely accepted listing, which is natural as a division commander is considered a more significant loss for the Russian war effort than a company commander, just from a strict news perspective. But the systemic impact that will cripple the Russian army is the loss of junior officers.

Western sources have estimated the initial Russian invasion ground force to have been 140 000 soldiers. As a raw estimate of the number of Russian company commanders that entered Ukraine on the 24th of February, an average Russian company has a size of 60 soldiers as Russian companies are smaller than their Western counterparts. As a simple calculation, that would give approximately 2 300 Russian company commanders at the start of the war, and adding an estimated transferrable 500 captains and senior lieutenants in other roles would give a pool of 2 800 company commanding Russian captains and senior lieutenants.

The researchers of Russian Officers killed in Ukraine had, by the 8th of December, identified and verified 840 killed Russian captains and senior lieutenants. The ratio of killed to wounded in action (WIA) is traditionally 1:3; for each killed in action (KIA), there are three wounded in action in a highly intense war. The Russian logistic failures also affected the ability to care for the wounded by having far more deaths due to the inability to evacuate in time and provide care. So the ratio KIA / WIA is likely 1:1.5, which would be using only the number of verified killed Russian captains and senior lieutenants 1 260 WIA. If half of these WIA will not return to active duty due to the severity of the injuries, then 1 470 Russian captains and senior lieutenants are either killed or injured to the degree that they can not be tactical leaders in the continued war.

The estimation of killed Russian captains and senior lieutenants is a confirmed minimum estimate.

In Russia, a soldier or officer missed in action is not declared dead, even if fellow soldiers witnessed, for example, a catastrophic armored kill, until at least six months after the report. There is also likely unwillingness to publicize all deaths in death notices and obituaries for several reasons ranging from family requests to cover up the extent of losses in highly valued units such as special forces.


Experienced company commanders play a crucial role in the creation of new units as they set the training standard, act as subject matter expert of the fight to come, and drives the preparation before a new infantry or armor unit is ready to be sent to the front. The Russian army has already lost many experienced tactical leaders and will need the ones it still has to upkeep the existing army. Not enough competent tactical leadership is available to lead the companies already engaged in the fight and divert officers to newly formed conscripted units. So officers from other branches will have to fill the ranks of these newly mobilized units, which will only increase the losses and hardship for the Russian army as there is no rotation of their officers between branches. So once the Russian army no longer has ground war officers, the other branches will fill ranks in the infantry and armor units. Due to no rotation, these officers from signal corps, logistics, and administration will have close to zero experience leading a ground fighting unit, which will only increase the fatalities and mistakes in the Russian tactical performance.

The massive losses of captains and senior lieutenants in the Russian army created an obstacle to creating capable military units out of the hundreds of thousands of mobilized Russian conscripts, which is almost impossible to solve in the short term. The Russian mobilization, followed by a second mobilization, will not produce the strategic effect sought to enable a decisive Russian offensive, as the Russian army has an increasing deficit of capable tactical leaders.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D.

The Lost Will to Fight

More than six months of fighting have hit the Russian army where it hurts, sapping its will to continue Vladimir Putin’s adventure.

//The article was written before the Russian mobilization order 20 September 2022, but it is unlikely that the newly mobilized would have any higher motivation than the existing Russian force – at least after experienced the operational realities// 

Russia’s failed assault on Hostomel airfield at the outset of all-out war on February 24, when it tried to use air-assault troops to decapitate the Ukrainian government in nearby Kyiv, left a clear sense that military operations were not going the way it had planned.

The decapitation attack followed a Soviet tactical modus operandi established in Cold War planning. In all Russian newsreels, propaganda outlets, and show-off military maneuvers, airborne troops (VDV) were the ultimate elite as shock troops to get quick results on the group. The VDV got things done. Supposedly.

The attack on Hostomel-Antonov airfield, was a classic Soviet/Russian playbook operation to move into Kyiv rapidly, eliminate or capture the Ukrainian government, and catapult Ukraine into confusion, disarray, and chaos, meanwhile installing a Putin-loyalist regime to pave the way for the Ukrainian surrender. The initial assault would enable waves of IL-76 transport aircraft to bring in the rest of the airborne force and seize the Ukrainian capital.

Instead of a rapid, glorious victory for Russia’s paratroopers, however, they failed to secure the airfield because of the determination shown by a few platoons of honky-tonk, rag-tag Ukrainian third-tier territorial defense forces with a powerful will to fight. Instead of kicking doors in Zelensky’s presidential quarters, the Russian paratroopers were pinned down in open spaces and started to die in large numbers. At that point, a day or two into the war, it was evident that the Russian plan had derailed.

For the Russian paratroopers, Spetsnaz, tank crews, and naval infantry, who imagined themselves la crème de la crème, that initial failure became hundreds of days of mortal reality. Day after day, fellow soldiers kept dying in a losing war.

Even worse, the Putin-driven mythology of modern Russia describes Ukrainians as members of a non-existent nation, as sub-Russians who have taken a misconceived historical path and must be returned to the fold by their Slavic superiors. The only one outcome of this special military operation (Ukrainians did not deserve the backhanded compliment of a real war) was a decisive Ukrainian defeat.

More than 200 days have passed since the failed Hostomel airfield attack, 200-plus days when very little has worked as Russia imagined. Russian units have not been rotated, so that if you, a Russian soldier, entered the war on February 24, you are still fighting. Numerous of your comrades have been killed or wounded.

For 200 days, Russian soldiers have seen vehicles explode, Russian corpses along the roads, an imploding logistic chain, and uncertainty about when a drone will hit you or call down an artillery strike. These experiences have only escalated in recent weeks as precision HIMARS and MLRS strikes create great balls of fire on the horizon in the middle of the night, and where you, as a Russian soldier, know that dozens of your comrades just died.

Some Russian units have taken massive losses. The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces estimates, for example, that the Russian 810th Naval Infantry Brigade has lost 85% of its declared strength at the outset of the war. Even if the unit still exists, it is now maybe at half-strength, with only one in three soldiers from the original unit. Russian elite units are now rag-tag third-rate units, hauling obsolete equipment. Russia’s modern weaponry had been destroyed or captured in vast quantities, (including the loss of around 1,100 tanks), and in parts of the front, is barely able to defend itself.

Experienced and trained units become a mishmash of replacements and scrambled equipment. When the war dragged out, and the fight started to become urban, such as in Mariupol and Severodonetsk, Russia lacked infantry, and VDV, Spetsnaz, naval infantry, and even police units; OMON, a gendarmerie force, had to fill the role. These units were used as ersatz infantry, with the wrong equipment, vulnerable vehicles, and tactics that amplified the already high casualty rates — and suffered the inevitable consequence of death by incompetence.

This author applies his “Six-day War Rule”, based on the 1967 war between Israel (which was under-prepared and lacked enough hardware) and neighboring Arab countries, which states: “You can stink as a warfighter, but as long as your enemy is even worse, you still prevail.” The Ukrainians are not perfectly organized and do not always use the best tactics, but Russian military performance is much worse. The Ukrainians therefore prevail.

So Ukraine’s strategy of corrosion has exhausted Russian grit, spirit, and morale, and inflicted massive material losses. It might be even better as a strategy of erosion, as it removes the underpinnings of the Russian authoritarian regime — its authority.

News commentaries, opinion pieces, and editorials tend to focus on the bigger picture. These outlets discuss the clash between political systems, the force ratio, and differences in macroeconomics, and seek to understand the leader’s intent.

But the soldier’s view is much more personal —seeing a continuous stream of fellow soldiers die or suffer wounds for months on end; ordered to launch futile attacks the Ukrainians repel; suffering strikes from modern Western weapons with unprecedented effects when you least expect it; daily witnessing spirals of smoke from knocked out tanks, vehicles; barely any company commanders left alive along the front, while more senior officers worrying about HIMARS attacks hide in shelters far from the front; intermittent starvation due to a failed logistic chain; and on top of all this, a national leader in denial.

These developments compound one another. A significant number of Russian units have now lost the will to fight (as on the Kharkiv front), placing greater pressure on those with a continuing esprit de corps, and ultimately paving the way for Russian defeat.

It doesn’t matter whether Russia has lost 1,500 or 500 tanks; what matters is when Russian troops lose the will to fight. As units start to disintegrate, their casualties soar; Nazi Germany’s casualties on the Eastern front skyrocketed after the fall of 1943, when they lost the initiative and beaten units with intermittent supply and coordination straggled back towards the River Oder and Berlin. Ukraine’s current dual counteroffensive matters because it once again signals to Russian soldiers that their cause is lost, that there is no successful endgame, and that there is only pain and death in front of them.

Putin’s grip over Russia is sliding away in slow motion, a drip-drip of authority that increases with every tank turret blasted into the Ukrainian sky. For an authoritarian regime, this is a disaster, and brings nearer the day when the military loses its fear of ignoring or disobeying orders, ceases to fight, and instead trains its disillusioned eyes on the man in the Kremlin who made this mess.

Jan Kallberg

My article for 19fortyifive: “Free War: A Strategy For Ukraine To Resist Russia’s Brutal Invasion Of Ukraine?”


I wrote an article for the national security web-based venue 19fortyfive that addresses resistance operations seen in the light of the Swedish Fria Kriget (Eng.: Free War) concept.

The full text can be found here.
(Picture UK MOD)


Article: Too Late for Russia to Stop the Foreign Volunteer Army

My article “Too Late for Russia to Stop the Foreign Volunteer Army” was published by the Center for European Policy Analysis. A short quote below,

Any Ukrainian who sees French, British, American, Spanish, Brazilian, from wherever they come, volunteers joining their resistance will solidify the notion that the war is not between Ukraine and Russia; but between good and evil. Predictably enough, Putin, his commanders, and propagandists are troubled by the prospect of thousands of volunteers supporting the Ukrainian narrative, their cause, and strengthening the Ukrainian will to endure.