A Comment on Casualty Counts in the Second Chechen War
The Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia (UCSMR) estimates that the real numbers of losses in the second war in Chechnya are at least twice as high as those presented by officials (the same was happening virtually throughout the first campaign in Chechnya).
The UCSMR’s counts are based on the following:
1. facts given by regional soldiers’ mothers organisations (contradicting statistics that military authorities introduce and actual numbers coming from “burial” regions);
2. information received from the Centre of Forensic Medicine in Rostov (contradicting officially admitted daily losses and the number of killed soldiers transported to the Centre for identification);
3. the flawed system of counting casualties
Commanders who give the number of fatalities among their subordinates can list only those having died in the field and with clearly established identity. Soldiers wounded and killed when being transported or those who died at the place of medical service are not counted in official figures; they are listed in separate medical statistics. The total number, officially presented by the military authorities, does not include this category of casualties.
What is more, due to various circumstances, missing in action, captured or killed soldiers, whose remains are not found, or the bodies of “soldiers forgotten” for various reasons in the field, are automatically included in the category of “consciously deserting their troops”. Consequently, these also cannot be found in official statistics.
4. it is important to be aware of the fact that the military commanders undoubtedly want the number of losses to be as low as possible, for their figures are presented to their superiors; as a matter of fact, military departments seek just the same, as each of them does its own statistics (the Defense Ministry, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, frontier-guards, railway-guards etc.).
As a result, while counting human resource losses in total, it is necessary to consider the following aspects:
1. Estimates primarily depend on an individually accepted methodology of actual counting. The UCSMR counts all sorts of casualties linked to the war in Chechnya.
2. There are no exact number of losses at any moment. Collecting precise figures is a long process. Experience shows that the estimates of public organisations and those of the soldiers’ mothers in particular are far closer to reality than the official versions of the military authorities. When the first war in Chechnya began, members of the UCSMR handed over their statistics to the General Staff. The list included more than 700 captured and missing in action soldiers, exceeding official military figures by a factor of ten.
3. The disputes over losses as well as the official declarations of casualties by the military authorities suggest that the statements of soldiers’ mothers organisations have had a significant impact on public opinion. At the moment, military departments are making eager efforts to prove that they take extreme care of their soldiers and attempt to limit the number of casualties. In addition, the present system of counting and competition among individual military structures as well as secrecy about the total number of soldiers “undergoing” the military campaign in the federal army in the northern Caucasus and Chechnya in particular (i.e. those who serve in Chechnya permanently as well as those sent on their missions for a fixed time and replaced by other troops), raise the possibility of significant casualty underestimating on the “Russian side”. An important fact, making loss estimates difficult, is an information embargo on the total numbers of the distribution of federal forces in the northern Caucasus, particularly in Chechnya.
The situation gets even worse when it comes to counting casualties on the Chechen side. As a rule, military authorities overstate the number of killed guerrillas and underestimate casualties among civilians at the same time. Nobody really knows the true number of killed, with each side giving false information in conformity with their political and propagandist aims. The UCSMR made attempts to offer Aslan Maskhadov their own technique of counting losses at the time of the first Chechen war. However, this proved impossible to realize.
An EXAMPLE (a hypothetical one) showing the possibility of federal casualty underestimation:
A group of ten soldiers was ambushed:
1 - killed, the body was found and transported
1 - captured in the fight, unaccounted for after the fight, killed while in
1 - killed, no remains found
1 - seriously injured, evacuated by helicopter, died immediately after transport
1 - suffering shell-shock, transported to a field hospital, released from army then died of unforeseen shell-shock consequences at home
1 - deserted the field, having taken shelter in woods, died of starvation and cold
1 - drafted in a bad condition, evacuated from the field to a hospital, died of an illness
2 - survived
As a result, the commander gives his superiors the following figures:
1 - killed
3 - injured (including the shell-shocked)
In fact, the real losses total eight soldiers in this case.
The UCSMR estimates that from August 2, 1999 to December 1, 2000 the total number of killed soldiers in the northern Caucasus reached six thousand and the wounded from 12 to 15 thousand.
Translated by Prague Watchdog (www.watchdog.cz)
The Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia (UCSMR), until 1999 called the Commitee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia (CSMR), is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization protecting the rights of recruits, conscripts and their families. During the first Chechen war (1994-96) the CSMR was one of the major activists against the Russian campaign that contributed significantly to the change in the public opinion in Russia, and, eventually, to the end of the war (...more).
The UCSMR may be contacted as follows:
Luchnikov pereulok 4
Entrance 3, Room 5
Phone: (095) 9282506
Fax: (095) 2068958