The Russian war in Ukraine has at various points been framed in Russia and in Western media outlets in ethnic terms. Given that Russia is itself a multi-ethnic state, this led me to wonder what percentage of Russian military forces are ethnically Russian, and what percentage are other (non–ethnically Russian) citizens of the Russian Federation? Are there statistics available on the various forces' ethnic composition?

This article suggests that Russia's "peripheral subjects... are Putin's cannon fodder." Historically, many empires relied on subjugated ethnic groups to continue their imperialist expansion; is the same thing happening today?

  • I doubt you'll find reliable statistics overall, but you may find this relevant: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Brian Z
    Commented May 21, 2022 at 0:01
  • 2
    I am not sure this can be answered with any degree of precision. Russian internal ID papers don't contain ethnic information. Although it's possible that approximate statistical information could be available about ethnically-dominant population centers.
    – wrod
    Commented May 21, 2022 at 0:56
  • Somewhat unclear Q to be honest. Are you including the forces of the Russia-only-recognized republics here, LPR/DNR? Most of the cannon fodder in this war, on Russia's side, is from there, as they are sending conscripts to the front (Russian law of not doing that doesn't apply to LPR/DNR). There was a video on RFERL of some of these LRP/DNR soldiers complaining of being hastily conscripted and sent to the front with inadequate kit and training. I can't re-find it right now, too much stuff on the war has been posted... Commented May 22, 2022 at 10:56

1 Answer 1


I don't have answer to the direct question, and doubt that it exists, so I will provide some context:

  • We don't have any reliable information about the number, or composition, of Russian war losses, so (quoting the referenced article) by May 18, Buryatia had lost 117 soldiers (the actual number is likely higher), whereas the city of Moscow, with a population around 15 times Buryatia’s, lost only three is probably an irrelevant statement - both numbers probably have little grounding in reality.

  • The bulk of fighters in Ukraine are the professional ("contract") Russian soldiers and not conscripts. It is expected that most of them come from less afluent regions: Moscow dwellers usually have more interesting opportunities going on in their lives than joining the army and serving as a private. I think this is also the case in other large countries. But those would still overwhelmingly be Russian regions, since:

  • Russian Federation is less multi-ethnic than it tries to frame itself - 4 in 5 citizens consider themself ethnic Russian. In many ways, Russia has inherited the "empire of affirmative action" attitude from Soviet Union. It's highly unlikely that Russia could depend solely on ethnic minorities to do the actual fighting (not to discount the military efforts and sacrifices of those).

  • Speaking of Dagestan, for some years the population of that republic were not subject to conscription because Russian army could not figure out how to make the conscripts behave. This in turn would prevent the people of Dagestan from becoming contract soldiers and entering other militarized careers. Again, this is not to discount the people who came from Dagestan to fight in the war.

  • Kadyrov's Chechen "tik-tok batallion" is often misinterpreted - AFAIK they are the second line fighters, with lighter weapons, who rake the areas which are already taken by the first line, heavy weapon regular army: making sure there are no insurgents left, confiscating weapons, etc, etc. This is not to discount the risk they take by being in the war zone.

  • Russian army's divisions have a specific place of dislocation and it is likely that most of soldiers are local. For example, Pskov paratroopers are well known, and I assume there's something about Buryatia tank squadrons. This may explain why the losses may not be spread out evenly all over Russia but at times concentrate in specific regions, if their divisions are doing the heavy lifting.

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