On 30th November, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated in a video posted on her Twitter account, “it is estimated that more than 100,000 Ukrainian military officers have been killed so far”. Minutes later, the tweet was deleted and a new video was posted with the preceding statement removed.
This has led many sceptics to claim that von der Leyen accidentally let slip the true number of Ukrainian military deaths – “more than 100,000” – before scrambling to delete the evidence, possibly at the behest of the Ukrainian government.
We’re assuming here that when she said “military officers”, she really meant “soldiers”, since most soldiers are not officers, and the number of officers in the Armed Forces of Ukraine isn’t even close to 100,000.
In this case, though, I’m sceptical that the sceptics are right.
About half an hour after the original tweet was posted, a spokeswoman for the EU Commission thanked those “those who pointed out the inaccuracy regarding the figures”, and clarified that “the estimation used, from external sources, should have referred to casualties, i.e. both killed and injured”.
So “more than 100,000” actually referred to the total number of casualties, not the total number of deaths. And since the typical ratio of wounded to dead is 3:1, this would equate to about 25,000 deaths.
Of course, we shouldn’t necessarily believe everything the EU Commission says. Are there any other reasons to doubt that “more than 100,000” Ukrainian soldiers have been killed? Yes.
On 21st September, the Russian Defense Minister claimed that 61,207 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed. This figure is almost certainly an exaggeration, given that the Russians have an incentive to overstate their enemy’s losses (just as the Ukrainians have an incentive to overstate their enemy’s losses).
But if we accept it for the sake of argument, and assume that Ukrainian soldiers were killed at the same rate during October and November, the total number of military deaths for the period up to 30th November would be ‘only’ 81,707. So even if we take an exaggerated figure as our starting point, we still get an estimate that’s almost 20% lower than the one von der Leyen gave.
Rather than von der Leyen having mistakenly blabbed a closely guarded secret, what seems more likely is that she (or her speechwriter) just got confused between deaths and casualties – with the 100,000 number having been copy-pasted from the recent statement by U.S. General Milley.
We still don’t know how many Ukrainian soldiers have died in Ukraine, but the true figure’s almost certainly less than 82,000, though probably greater than 25,000.