The Ukraine war has decimated Russia’s elite special forces, known as Spetsnaz, with some of the prized units suffering up to a 95% casualty rate, according to leaked Pentagon documents.
US analysts have attributed the catastrophic personnel losses to Russian commanders’ over-reliance on these highly skilled commando units in front-line infantry formations at the start of the war.
Considering that it takes about four years to train a single member of Spetsnaz, US officials suggested that it will take Moscow up to a decade to replenish the critically depleted special forces units, as The Washington Post first reported, citing the leaked documents.
Spetsnaz units are typically used in clandestine missions, ranging from battlefield reconnaissance to sabotage operations, to counterinsurgency, to training guerilla fighters, as opposed to straightforward front-line combat.
But according to US assessments dating from late 2022 to earlier this year, Russian military brass had decided to throw the specially trained soldiers into battle in a bid to seize the momentum, because they apparently did not trust conventional infantry soldiers to accomplish their objectives.
The cache of classified materials that first showed up on the gaming platform Discord — allegedly leaked by Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira — included before-and-after satellite images showing the 22nd Separate Spetsnaz Brigade’s motor pool.
Russia’s prized special forces units were thrown into combat in the first months of the war in Ukraine, leaving many brigades decimated, leaked classified documents showed.Getty Images
The image taken in November 2021 — four months before the start of the war — shows a motor pool in southern Russia packed with tactical vehicles.
The image taken in November 2022 — months after the brigade’s return from its deployment to Ukraine — shows the same site but with fewer than half of the Tigr tactical vehicles the unit had a year prior.
That commando brigade was said to have sustained an estimated 90 to 95% attrition rate in the intervening months.
According to the leaked documents, the 346th Spetsnaz unit “lost nearly the entire brigade with only 125 personnel active out of 900 deployed.”
Another unit, the 25th Spetsnaz Regiment, apparently never made it back to Russia from Ukraine, possibly due to extreme casualty rate and equipment losses.
Losing a large number of well-trained commandos in the first months of the war allegedly hampered the Russian forces’ ability to use clandestine tactics behind enemy lines.
US experts have concluded that going forward, gutted Spetsnaz units will be less effective not only in Ukraine, but in others parts of the world as well.
Rob Lee, a Russia military expert and senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told The Washington Post that the decimation of the special forces early in the conflict has has changed the course of the war for Moscow because so many of the resources, including both skills and equipment, had been lost and could not be easily replaced.
Special forces were reportedly used in a botched attempt to capture Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv — and kidnap President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Some of the prized units suffered up to a 95% casualty rate, according to leaked Pentagon documents.Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
They were also said to have been deployed in Kharkiv in the east, where many of them were killed or taken prisoner.
Lee said that Spetsnaz fighters were also ineffectively used in the city of Mariupol and in the town of Vuhledar in the Donetsk region, which has seen some of the bloodiest battles of the war that have been likened to a “meat grinder.”