During the year that recently ended, the federal armed forces suffered an average of at least 200 to 300 deaths every month in Chechnya. That is the estimate given by Denis Trifonov, a military analyst for the British strategic-research center “Jane’s Group,” in a February 23 interview on Radio Liberty. Under questioning, Trifonov also revealed another estimate: He and his colleagues believe that the federal forces in Chechnya suffered some 9,000 to 11,000 combat deaths during the second war’s most intense phase, from its beginning in late summer 1999 to early 2002.
It is instructive to compare those two estimates. If the Jane’s Group analysts are right, the federal forces lost roughly 4,000 dead annually during the period from summer 1999 to early 2002. Over the twelve months of 2003, by contrast, they lost roughly 3,000 dead. (Let it be noted that Trifonov did not give these figures himself; they are derived by applying simple arithmetic to the numbers that he did give.) Thus it would appear that federal combat deaths are indeed fewer now than they were three or four years ago, but not nearly few enough to justify the Putin administration’s claim that the war is effectively over.
Trifonov emphasized that Moscow’s official estimates, to the extent that it even makes such estimates public, are gravely flawed. They almost never include deaths suffered by FSB personnel, or by the border guards–even though the latter have been involved in major firefights with rebel guerrillas trying either to enter the republic clandestinely or to leave. Another gap is that the federal interior ministry’s troops in Chechnya consist of police units from localities all over Russia, and their dead and wounded are usually returned to the regions where they were based. Trifonov said that, as far as he knows, consolidated statistics for these losses are not even compiled. Also, the federal combatants include “very many” Spetsnaz servicemen from Russia’s ministry of justice, but Trifonov has not once seen any data about their combat casualties.
Finally, said Trifonov, the official figures never include deaths of the Kadyrov administration’s gunmen; the federal interior ministry, even when it does give casualty figures, includes only those servicemen from units directly under its command.