Why Russia has suffered the loss of an 'extraordinary' number of generals

Ukraine claimed 12 Russian generals have been killed since the invasion began.

May 8, 2022, 11:41 AM

During its war in Ukraine, Russia's top military leadership has proven to be particularly vulnerable, experts say.

Ukraine's Ministry of Defense has claimed that 12 Russian generals have been killed since the invasion began in late February.

Russian officials have not confirmed that number. U.S. officials -- who last week pushed back on a New York Times report that said the U.S. provided Ukraine intelligence that helped it target and kill Russian generals and other senior officers -- also have not confirmed the number of Russian generals killed.

Though, as reported by Ukraine, that kind of loss is "quite extraordinary," ABC News contributor and retired Col. Steve Ganyard said.

"Maybe you'd have to go back to World War II to have that sort of proportion of senior officers being killed on the front lines," Ganyard said.

PHOTO: A Ukrainian soldier poses next to a destroyed Russian tank in Malaya Rohan village, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 5, 2022.
A Ukrainian soldier poses next to a destroyed Russian tank in Malaya Rohan village, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, near Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 5, 2022.
Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Lack of confidence in troops

Such a high number of casualties at that level suggests several things -- one being a lack of confidence among Russian military leaders in their troops, according to Ganyard.

"It suggests that the generals need to be at the front lines to ensure that their troops are conducting the battle plan in the way that they want," he said. "But that also suggests a lack of confidence in their troops if they need to be that far forward with that many senior folks."

That demonstrates Russia's seriousness about its campaign but is also "an indication of how weak the Russian military has turned out to be in that they need that much senior leadership that far forward," Ganyard said.

Russian generals also may be especially vulnerable due to the structure of Russia's military, experts say.

Unlike the U.S. military, Russia does not empower its non-commissioned and junior officers with the authority to make decisions on their own, said Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East and an ABC News contributor.

"They do not delegate authority. So, they are out giving orders directly to their forces," Mulroy said. "The lack of delegation is another reason the Russian military is performing so poorly."

Poor morale among Russian troops may also be giving Ukraine an advantage in the war, despite Ukrainians being outnumbered by enemy troops and military equipment, Ganyard said.

"As soon as communication breaks down … the young folks in the Russian military don't know what to do and they know that they're just being told to do something, particularly when it's a fight where their heart isn't in it," he said. "That is an advantage that Ukraine has proven to be decisive on the battlefield thus far."

Vulnerable command and control capabilities

Russian troops have also been shown to be vulnerable to electronic eavesdropping while on the ground in Ukraine, Ganyard said.

"One of the many failures of the Russian military in this war is that it has shown how little they have invested in command and control capabilities," he said. "The Russians aren't even using encryption, so it means that anybody -- if they find the frequency -- are able to listen in."

There are "very credible reports" of Russian troops even confiscating phones from Ukrainian citizens and using those for command and control operations, Ganyard said.

"So obviously, the Ukrainians can tap into their own phone lines if they can figure out who's doing it," he said.

PHOTO: Ulyana Pishchur, 72, sits on bench near a destroyed Russian tank outside the village council building, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine in Sloboda, Chernihiv region, Ukraine, on May 3, 2022.
Ulyana Pishchur, 72, sits on bench near a destroyed Russian tank outside the village council building, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine in Sloboda, Chernihiv region, Ukraine, on May 3, 2022.
Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

Russian soldiers have also been tracked in real-time through geolocation of social media posts, Ganyard said.

"The modern age has introduced lots of benefits, but in the case of the military, it actually becomes dangerous because most of the apps that people are running are not encrypted and they're passing real-time data of where people are," he said.

Tracking Russian troops could lead Ukrainian forces to command posts -- and likely top military leadership.

"If you shell and you take out a command post, you're probably going to take out quite a bit of senior leadership," Ganyard said.

Amid the claims of Russia's military leadership losses, it is unclear what the Ukrainian military has similarly suffered.

"The Ukrainians have been very good at controlling the narrative on social media and on media in general," Ganyard said. "We're getting anecdotal reporting back-channel that the Ukrainians are paying a price, too."

And with a smaller military, the Ukrainians "can pay a price less than the Russians can," he added.

"The Ukrainians are hurting," Ganyard said. "This is not something where the Ukrainians are not taking any losses, while the Russians are."

ABC News' Matt Seyler contributed to this report.

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