FACT CHECK: Did Russia Suffer 100,000 Casualties Fighting For Bakhmut?

Elias Atienza | Senior Reporter

Media outlets, such as Newsweek and CBS News, reported that the White House estimated that Russia suffered 100,000 casualties since December fighting for the city of Bakhmut.

Verdict: Misleading

Kirby was referring to all of Ukraine, not just Bakhmut. A National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson confirmed to Check Your Fact that the 100,000 number applies to all of Ukraine.

Fact Check:

Ukraine and Russia have been fighting over Bakhmut for months, with Russia controlling the majority of the city, according to The New York Times. Both sides have reportedly claimed territory, the outlet reported.

Media outlets reported that Kirby stated that Russia had suffered 100,000 casualties, including 20,000 dead, fighting for Bakhmut. This claim was also repeated on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

However, Kirby was referring to all of Ukraine, not just Bakhmut. Outlets such as The New York Times and The Associated Press reported that Kirby’s 100,000 number applied to Russian casualties across all of Ukraine.

NSC deputy spokesperson Sean Savett confirmed to Check Your Fact in an email that there were 100,000 Russian casualties across all of Ukraine since December.

“[I]t’s 100,000 Russian casualties since Russia launched its so-called winter offensive in December, which includes but is not limited to their casualties fighting over Bakhmut,” Savett said. Savett also said that the “the way the NY Times reported it is correct” and then pointed a quote from Kirby’s press briefing.

“And third, for Russia, this attempted offensive has come at a terribly high cost. Russia has exhausted its military stockpiles and its armed forces. Since December, we estimate that Russia has suffered more than 100,000 casualties, including over 20,000 killed in action, nearly half of whom were Wagner soldiers, the majority of whom were Russian convicts thrown into combat in Bakhmut without sufficient combat or training,” Kirby said, according to Seavett.

In that quote, it is apparent that Kirby is referring to all of Ukraine, not just Bakhmut. The confusion might lie in that Kirby later said that the casualty count for “the little town of Bakhmut” was comparable to the Battle of the Bulge. (RELATED: Does This Video Show NATO Helicopters Being ShoT Down In Ukraine?)

“It’s three times the number of killed in action that the United States faced on the Guadalcanal campaign in World War II and that was over the course of five months,” Kirby said, according to The Associated Press.

Shashank Joshi, the defense editor for The Economist. stated on Twitter that “Kirby caused a lot of confusion with his remarks” but that the spokesperson was referring to all of Ukraine.

“John Kirby caused a lot of confusion with his remarks today. To clarify: he did not say Russia had suffered 20k killed in Bakhmut since Dec, as was originally reported. He said  that was figure across all fronts, but half was Wagner & most of Wagner was convicts in Bakhmut,” Joshi tweeted. 

CBS News updated the article with a new headline that accurately noted the U.S. estimates and attached an editor’s note. It also added the editor’s note in a comment on its Facebook post sharing the article and updated the text of the post. (RELATED: Did The Leaked Pentagon Documents Show Ukraine Suffered 71,000 Dead?)

EDITOR’S NOTEA U.S. official clarified Kirby’s remarks to CBS News on Tuesday, saying the 100,000 total casualties referred to those sustained by Russia across Ukraine since December, and the 20,000 deaths referred to on Monday were part of that total. This article has also been corrected to reflect Kirby’s current role as spokesman for the NSC, not the Defense Department as previously stated,” the editor’s note reads.

Newsweek also issued an update to note the NSC statement from Seavett.

“We reported accurately the figures and statement at the time. However, you are correct that NSC deputy spokesman Sean Savett later issued a clarification. We have updated the story to reflect this, including the headline, and have included a note at the end highlighting that we have done so,” Newsweek Global Publishing Editor Christoper Roberts told Check Your Fact in an email.

In addition to Bakhmut, Ukrainian and Russian forces have been fighting in Luhansk, such as near Kreminna, other parts of the Donetsk oblast such as Avdiivka and Marinka, according to The Institute for War (ISW). Ukrainian forces also conduct raids along the left bank of the Dnipro River and trade artillery and drone strikes in the Zaporizhia oblast, ISW reported.


Elias Atienza

Senior Reporter
Follow Elias on Twitter Have a fact check suggestion? Send ideas to [email protected].