The staggering toll of the Ukraine invasion on Russian forces appears to have been accidentally revealed by a pro-Kremlin tabloid.
It came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told European TV it would not be possible to negotiate an end to the war in his country without in-person talks with Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin.
Komsomolskaya Pravda reported on Monday that almost 10,000 Russian troops had been killed in the war in Ukraine. The numbers were quickly deleted from its website, with Komsomolskaya Pravda later releasing a statement claiming it was hacked.
Before the figures were removed, the tabloid cited the Russian Ministry of Defence as its source. The report said that 9861 Russian troops had died and 16,153 had been injured since Mr Putin launched the unprovoked invasion in late February.
These numbers are far higher than what had been reported by the Russian government, and it was unclear if they were accurate.
Previously, Russian authorities have acknowledged only 498 troop deaths. A recent US intelligence estimate placed the Russian death toll in Ukraine at roughly 7000.
For perspective, 2461 US soldiers were killed in America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan. Mr Putin’s war in Ukraine is roughly a month old.
The reported death toll was hastily deleted from the site, but some journalists took screenshots of the staggering numbers. The original version of the article was also archived.
It was not immediately clear whether these numbers were genuine or how they ended up being published on a Kremlin-friendly tabloid.
The Kremlin and its allies have gone to extraordinary lengths to censor and punish criticism of the war and keep Russians in the dark about the situation on the ground in Ukraine. There have been reports of Russia secretly transporting dead and wounded troops out of Ukraine and into Belarus to try to keep the true death toll hidden.
Nonetheless, the Russian military appears to have been met with stiffer resistance than expected in Ukraine. US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told American TV on Sunday that Russia’s military assault had “essentially stalled.” He described Mr Putin’s strategy in Ukraine as “moving his forces into a wood chipper.”
“The Ukrainians have continued to attrit his forces, and they’ve been very effective using the equipment that we provided them, and armour weapons and aircraft weapons. And again, significant resolve on the part of the Ukrainian people,” he said.
Also on Tuesday, Mr Zelensky told European public television networks that a meeting with Mr Putin could discuss the future of occupied Ukrainian territory, but more time would be required to resolve the issue.
He also repeated his acknowledgement from earlier this month that Ukraine could not now secure NATO membership.
“I believe that until such time as we have a meeting with the president of the Russian Federation … you cannot truly understand what they are prepared to do in order to stop the war and what they are prepared to do if we are not ready for this or that compromise,” Mr Zelensky said.
He has ought a meeting with Mr Putin for nearly a year, but the Russian leader has refused and instead demanded the Ukrainian president resolve his country’s “civil war” with separatist territories linked to Moscow.
Since Russian troops poured into Ukraine last month, Mr Zelensky has issued increasingly urgent calls for talks to end the fighting.
Last week he pleaded for a meeting quickly so Russia could “limit the losses caused by its mistakes”.
Russia’s assault on Ukraine has killed thousands and driven almost a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes.
Germany predicted the refugee number could reach as high as 10 million in coming weeks.
“I am ready at a meeting with the president of Russia to raise the issue of occupied territories, but I am certain that a solution will not come at this meeting,” Mr Zelensky said.
He said several conditions would need to be met before such matters could be dealt with.
“If people are trying to stop a war, there is a ceasefire and troops are withdrawn,” he said.
“The presidents meet, reach an agreement on withdrawing troops and there are security guarantees of one sort or another.
“Compromises must be found, one way or another, of guaranteeing our security.”
Mr Zelensky said Ukraine was well aware it could not be admitted into NATO now.
NATO member states, Mr Zelensky said, “Understand that they do not want to fight with Russia and therefore cannot take us in … we have to reconcile ourselves to that and say ‘OK, other guarantees’.”
Ukrainians would need to vote on any compromise agreement reached, Zelensky said.
“The people will have to speak up and respond to this or that form of compromise. And what they (the compromises) will be is the subject of our talks and understanding between Ukraine and Russia,” he said in an interview published by Ukrainian public broadcasting company Suspilne.
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