Putin’s war in Ukraine clearly has not gone the way he intended. Instead of taking Kyiv and toppling the government, Russia not finds itself in a protracted struggle some think could go on for years. And the Russian military is paying the price: Russia’s unprovoked war against neighboring Ukraine has resulted in significant Russian losses of both service members and combat assets, including numerous tanks and aircraft, according to a senior US defense official.
Almost 1,000 Russian tanks are believed to have been destroyed or rendered inoperable as Russia’s invasion struggles to achieve its objectives, the official said during a background briefing, according to reporters present. Rebuilding that force could take years.
Additional Russian military asset losses since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February include at least 50 helicopters, three dozen fighter-bomber aircraft, and 350 artillery pieces, the official said.
These figures are more conservative than some Ukrainian government estimates but still reflect the severe challenges the Russian military is facing in trying to seize territory from Ukraine.
Despite expectations that Russia would swiftly overrun Ukrainian forces and take the capital, Kyiv, in weeks, if not days, Russian missteps in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance have led to losses and setbacks beyond what’s expected for an advancing force. The effective use of anti-tank missiles by the Ukrainians coupled with Russia’s tendency to employ tanks without infantry or air support to defend them have contributed to the heavy toll being paid by Russia’s armored force.
The tank figure presented by the US official Thursday is up from the nearly 600 tanks believed by the UK to have been lost as of late April.
In many pictures from the war, damaged Russian tanks with their turrets blown off can be seen. Such scenes are said to be the byproduct of a fatal design flaw in the Russian tanks that triggers a “jack-in-the-box effect” when one is hit, CNN reported.
Because of the way ammunition is stored inside the Russian tanks, a successful hit from an anti-tank weapon, like the Javelins provided by the US and NLAWs from the UK, or a drone can easily ignite the ammo stores and set off an explosion, blasting the top off and killing all or some of the three-man crew inside.
In addition to Russian losses in combat, reports have indicated that some Russian forces have reportedly abandoned their tanks and other armored vehicles, while others have apparently sabotaged them.
“We do believe that the Russian military has suffered a … not insignificant amount of attrition,” the senior US defense official said Thursday, according to Voice of America, noting that Russia loses soldiers every day. That said, the official added that “they still have a significant amount… of their capability left to them.”
Ryan Pickrell is a senior military and defense reporter at Business Insider, where he covers defense-related issues from Washington, DC.