The Kremlin has hidden the death toll but Nato said welfare statistics showed a 30% increase in disabled men

Bruno Waterfield

April 4, 2024

The Times


More than half a million Russian men of fighting age were registered as disabled in the first year of the Ukraine war, according to official figures that hint at the heavy toll of the invasion.  The Kremlin has hidden details of the death count, but the country’s welfare statistics suggest the vast number of war wounded.  A Nato intelligence briefing, citing official Moscow figures and shared in Brussels as the alliance celebrated its 75th anniversary on Thursday, showed a 30 per cent increase in men designated as disabled in the year after the full-scale invasion in February 2022. “Just according to Russian pension statistics alone, from 2022 to 2023 the number of men aged 31 to 59 with disabilities increased by 30 per cent, or by 507,000,” said a senior Nato official.

In May 2022 President Putin approved a law enabling people aged over 40 to enlist in the armed forces, and in July last year the maximum age at which men can be mobilised to fight in Ukraine was raised by up to ten years. Under a law approved by parliament, men who have completed their compulsory service can be drafted back into the army until the age of 55, and reservists with the highest ranks can be called back into service up to 70.

Nato’s intelligence briefing claimed that aerial assaults by Ukraine had degraded Russia’s oil-refining capabilities by at least 10 per cent, and that despite ammunition shortages the Ukrainian military’s creativity was making life difficult for Putin. It has stepped up attacks by drones to strike refinery and energy targets deep inside Russia. “They’re imposing a financial cost on Russia, and they’re impacting the domestic fuel market. We’ve seen a significant increase in gasoline imports from Belarus in March,” the official said. “In terms of damage, the strikes have probably disrupted more than 10 per cent of Russia’s refinery capacity, maybe more than 15 per cent.”

The campaign is hitting Putin’s ability to build up foreign currency revenues but has alarmed the United States because of fears the drone strikes risk driving up global oil prices, or prompting retaliation for Ukraine daring to hit targets in Russian territory. “Russia has even imposed a six-month ban on gasoline exports to stabilise domestic prices,” said the Nato official. “Russian officials have said they’ll probably even be forced to increase crude oil exports, since they can’t refine as much as they usually do.”

It is hard for Russia to replace refinery equipment due to western sanctions, and the drone raids have impressed Nato with their range and effectiveness. “The furthest facilities that have been attacked are now in excess of 1,000 kilometres. That really does underscore their reach,” said the official. “Fewer and fewer of these types of Russian energy-critical infrastructure are safe from potential strikes [which are having] greater and greater impact.”

Despite the positive notes, Nato intelligence on the situation in Ukraine is pessimistic, with officials warning that a Russian breakthrough is increasingly likely as Republicans loyal to Donald Trump continue to block $60 billion in US aid that should have been paid in December.

“I wake up every morning worried. And every morning, I’m a little more worried than I was before,” the official said. “The situation remains unstable, with Ukrainian shortages of personnel and munitions likely limiting their ability to hold positions. The thing that I worry about is, it’s not just that we know that, it’s that Russia knows that too. So Russia is using drones and missiles in ways that are really explicitly designed to deplete Ukrainian air defence systems. And as they deplete those air defence systems, that gives Russia more opportunities.”


Bruno Waterfield is based in Brussels. As one of the longest-serving newspaper correspondents in the city, he has covered the European Union as it has lurched from crisis to crisis, then Brexit and beyond. He covers general news in Belgium and the Netherlands as well, from euthanasia in Flanders to magnet fishermen in Amsterdam, and more. A devotee of Belgian beer and food, his favourite pastimes in Brussels usually involve drinking dark Trappist beers in “brown bars” paired with convivial arguments about European politics, history or literature.