- A top Russian general admitted his elite paratroopers suffered thousands of casualties in Ukraine.
- But shortly after his disclosure went public, it was mysteriously removed from the internet.
- Acknowledgement of war losses is rare in Russia, and Moscow often tries to downplay its casualty figures.
A top Russian general admitted this week that his elite paratroopers suffered thousands of casualties while fighting in Ukraine, only for his disclosure to then be mysteriously removed from the internet.
It’s a rare admission from a senior figure in Moscow’s military leadership, which often goes to great lengths to avoid acknowledging or to conceal its battlefield failures, setbacks, and overall losses.
Col. Gen. Mikhail Teplinsky, commander of Russia’s VDV Airborne Forces, revealed on Wednesday that at least 8,500 of his troops have been wounded in Ukraine since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion more than 17 months ago. The number may actually be significantly higher. According to a report on Thursday from The Moscow Times, Teplinsky’s video remarks were initially published to Zvezda, a broadcaster run by the Russian defense ministry.
“More than 5,000 wounded paratroopers returned to the front after treatment, and more than 3,500 of our wounded refused to leave the front line,” Teplinsky said in an address to mark Paratroopers Day, a holiday that commemorates the anniversary of the Airborne Forces’ founding in 1930.
Teplinksy made no mention of airborne forces who were wounded and never returned to combat or who died of wounds sustained in combat, casualties the battered VDV has unquestionably seen over the course of the war.
His remarks were published early on Wednesday to Zvezda’s website and Telegram channel but were removed without explanation several hours later, The Moscow Times reported. Russian President Vladimir Putin hardly ever acknowledges his war losses, suggesting that Teplinsky’s disclosure may have been nixed at the request of the Kremlin’s military leadership to avoid painting Moscow’s combat operations in a negative light.
It’s unclear exactly how many casualties Russian forces have suffered during the Ukraine war. Western intelligence estimates from several months ago suggested that Russia may have endured as many as 220,000 causalities, including over 40,000 soldiers killed in action. At that time, the British defense ministry pegged this figure as high as 60,000 after just one year of fighting.
In early May, the White House said Russia had suffered over 100,000 casualties since December alone. Moscow, by contrast, has only acknowledged the deaths of around 6,000 soldiers to the general public.
Teplinsky did not reveal how many of his paratroopers had been killed in combat, but an independent analysis by the BBC Russian Service and Mediazona estimates show that at least 1,840 members of Russia’s airborne forces — including over 320 officers — have died in Ukraine as of late July. Insider was not able to immediately verify these figures.
Favorited by Russian ultranationalists, Teplinsky oversaw successful combat operations last year but was eventually dismissed from his leadership role. This prompted some insubordination from the Russian airborne commander, who even expressed his frustration with Moscow’s military brass directly to Putin. Despite this, Teplinsky was eventually brought back into a leadership position.
Teplinsky is known to have been affiliated with the Wagner Group, the mercenary organization that staged a short-lived and chaotic mutiny against Russia’s defense ministry in late June, and it was rumored last month that he had been arrested following high-level purges in the aftermath of the rebellion.
But it appears as though the VDV commander still enjoys Moscow’s support. According to a Wednesday assessment by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank, Teplinsky has said that the VDV will form two new regiments and reestablish its 104th Division by the end of the calendar year.
“Ongoing Russian force generation efforts will likely staff the new VDV formations with new, untrained personnel rather than recruit experienced personnel more typical of the VDV’s historical elite status,” the ISW assessment read.
The VDV was heavily involved in the initial phase of Russia’s invasion, which focused on capturing Kyiv. The elite paratroopers suffered heavy losses early on and continued to struggle in the months that followed.