FACT CHECK: Did The Leaked Pentagon Documents Show Ukraine Suffered 71,000 Dead?

Elias Atienza | Senior Reporter

A post shared on Facebook claims the leaked Pentagon documents showed that Ukraine suffered 71,000 dead, compared to Russia suffering 17,000 dead.

Verdict: False

The claim is based on an altered document. The original document shows that the United States allegedly estimated Ukraine has suffered around 15,500 to 17,000 deaths, not 71,000.

Fact Check:

The Pentagon and other U.S agencies are investigating how a trove of classified documents leaked, according to CNN. The classified documents allegedly show the extent of U.S spying and intelligence on allied partners and adversaries, the outlet reported.

The Facebook post claims that Ukraine has suffered 71,000 deaths to Russia’s 17,000 deaths. The claim was widely shared on social media, including Twitter, with one tweet receiving over 900,000 views.

The claim, however, is based on an altered document. Check Your Fact obtained an image of the original document that circulated showing Russian and Ukrainian losses. (While several screenshots of the images remain online, many of the documents have disappeared from social media platforms such as Twitter and Discord, according to BBC.) The original document shows between 35,500 and 43,000 Russian troops have been killed, while Ukraine has suffered between 16,000 and 17,500 dead.

A different document, also obtained by Check Your Fact, is titled “Russia/Ukraine: Assessed Combat Sustainability And Attrition.” This document shows that the Defense Intelligence Agency estimated that Ukraine has suffered between 15,500 and 17,500 deaths, while Russia has suffered between 35,000 and 43,000 deaths. Ukraine has suffered between 109,000 and 113,000 wounded, while Russia has suffered between 154,000 and 180,000 wounded.

“We have low confidence in Russian (RUS) and Ukrainian (UKR) attrition rates and inventories because of information gaps, OPSEC and IO efforts, and potential bias in UKR information sharing,” the document reads. “Casualty assessments, which fluctuate depending on the source, are informed by RUS, Vagner, and UKR officials.”

Check Your Fact has not been able to independently determine the authenticity of the documents. U.S. officials told CNN that some of the documents in the overall leak are authentic.

Yaroslav Trofimov, Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, said on Twitter that the “Russian propaganda channels” reposted images with “a little photoshop.”

When secret U.S. slides leaked out yesterday, Russian propaganda channels quickly reposted them — but after a little photoshop. Suddenly, 43.5k  fatalities turned to 17.5k, while 17.5k  KIA became 71.5k. Russian vehicle losses shrank from 6,004 to 600. Spot the differences,” he tweeted. 

The document was altered before being passed around in pro-Russian Telegram channels, according to Bellingcat. Media outlets, such as CNN, WSJ and BBC, reported that the document was altered.

“Bad actors are already using the leaked documents to spread disinformation, analysts say. The document with casualty numbers, for example, was altered in recent weeks to more than halve the number of Russian deaths, before being spread on pro-Russian Telegram channels,” CNN reported. (RELATED: Does This Video Show NATO Helicopters Being Show Down In Ukraine?)

A U.S. official told Check Your Fact in March 2023 that Ukrainian casualties remain within the 100,000 casualty number estimated by Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in November 2022. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy  said in December 2022 that up to 13,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed, according to Al Jazeera.

The Associated Press reported that the officials are “trying to determine their validity, but have found that at least some of the papers ‘have been doctored.”

“He and others would not go into detail, but at least one of the documents shows estimates of Russian troops deaths in the Ukraine war that are significantly lower than numbers publicly stated by U.S. officials. Under a section titled “Total Assessed Losses,” one document lists 16,000-17,500 Russian casualties and up to 71,000 Ukrainian casualties,” The Associated Press report states.

The report, however, fails to mention that the original document shows higher Russian losses and lower Ukrainian losses nor does it mention the additional document showing the same casualty numbers. (RELATED: Have 100,000 Ukrainian Soldiers Died In The Russian-Ukrainian War?)

A Pentagon spokesperson said they had no further comment and directed Check Your Fact to a press briefing from Apr. 10. The Pentagon commented in the briefing that it was still investigating the matter in regards to the source of the leak and what was entailed.

Check Your Fact has also reached out to the Associated Press and will update this article if responses are provided.

Elias Atienza

Senior Reporter
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