A fifth of Russia’s war dead are ‘officers sent to command Putin’s troops in Ukraine’

More high-ranking Russian soldiers have been killed in the conflict, Ukraine’s military has said, following reports that about 20 per cent of the Kremlin’s war dead are officers.

The Ukrainian army said that Colonel Alexander Bespalov, who led the 59th Guards Tank Regiment, and Lieutenant Colonel Vyacheslav Savinov, who worked in artillery reconnaissance, had died.

Colonel Bespalov’s funeral took place in the central Russian city of Ozersk on Friday, with his death first announced via a local messaging board post, which was later deleted.

The late Colonel Alexander Bespalov

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Their deaths come as the BBC Russian Service concluded that officers account for one in five Russian losses on the battlefields of Ukraine.

In a sample of 1,083 dead Russian soldiers, there were 31 majors and 155 troops ranked between second lieutenant and captain, the broadcaster reported.

Experts believe the proportion of officer deaths could be slightly inflated due to the faster return of their bodies to Russia than those of rank-and-file soldiers.

Speaking on Friday, Oleksiy Arestovych, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, said the Kremlin had refused to accept the corpses of 3,000 of its regular soldiers early in the war.

“They said, ‘We don’t believe in such quantities. We don’t have this number. We’re not ready to accept them,” he told The Washington Post.

Moscow has been largely quiet about the number of casualties it has suffered since it invaded Ukraine on 24 February. In only its second update, Vladimir Putin’s regime said 1,351 Russian troops had died as of 25 March.

This map shows the extent of the Russian invasion of Ukraine

(Press Association Pictures)

However, Kyiv believes almost 20,000 Russian troops have been killed so far in less than seven weeks of fighting, more than the 15,000 Soviet soldiers who lost their lives in the Soviet-Afghan war, fought between 1979 and 1989.

Although Russia has not released a new death toll for some time, Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesperson, said last week that his country had seen “significant losses of troops”, describing it as “a huge tragedy for us”.

On Monday, Western officials confirmed that Russian forces had sustained “extremely high casualties”, adding that they are becoming “increasingly difficult to lead”. The remarks were made as the Kremlin plans to heighten its attack against the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

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