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Russia 'reinforcing failure and repeating mistakes,' leading to high death toll, UK intelligence says

Business Insider logo Business Insider 5/23/2022 (Catherine Neilan)
Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the Orthodox Easter mass in Moscow on April 24. Contributor/Getty Images © Provided by Business Insider Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the Orthodox Easter mass in Moscow on April 24. Contributor/Getty Images
  • Russia is "reinforcing failure and repeating mistakes" in Ukraine, UK officials said on Monday.
  • They estimate a high death toll that outstripped the nine-year Soviet-Afghan war in a few months.
  • They blamed "a lack of flexibility" from the top.

Russia is suffering a higher death toll because its military leaders "reinforce failure and repeat mistakes," UK intelligence said on Monday. 

Officials didn't name who was behind the strategy, but the statement followed reports that President Vladimir Putin has been meddling in low-level decisions.

Experts told Insider that a national leader trying to make tactical decisions was likely to lead to big mistakes and get people killed, an argument echoed by the UK update.

The UK officials estimated that in about three months, Russia had already lost more lives than in the Soviet Union's disastrous nine-year invasion of Afghanistan.

Video: Every Russian Oligarch Who Has Died Since Putin Invaded Ukraine: A Full List (Newsweek)


During the Cold War-era conflict, which began in December 1979, about 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed and about 35,000 were wounded.  

The Ministry of Defence said the high casualty rate in Ukraine was down to a "combination of poor low-level tactics, limited air cover, a lack of flexibility, and a command approach which is prepared to reinforce failure and repeat mistakes."

Recent reports have suggested that Putin is playing a significant role in determining troop movements in the Donbas region where Russia's invasion is now concentrated.

Forces there have suffered several setbacks in the last week following multiple failed attempts to cross a strategic river. 

There is a precedent for such intervention, said Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations. 

"Having top-level people get involved at the tactical level is not out of the ordinary in how the Russian military fights," Miles told Insider. "Whereas it is (and is pejoratively referred to as 'micromanaging') in the US context." 

The UK update warned that the scale of losses on Russia's side could harm Putin politically.

The update said: "The Russian public has, in the past, proven sensitive to casualties suffered during wars of choice. As casualties suffered in Ukraine continue to rise they will become more apparent, and public dissatisfaction with the war and a willingness to voice it may grow."

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