It's frequently asserted that the impact of the Soviet-Afghanistan War disproportionately fell on Soviet Republics outside Russia, as non-Russians were overrepresented in the Red Army. The resultant internal tensions are sometimes identified as a contributing factor to the collapse of the USSR, e.g. Rafael Reuveny and Aseem Prakash, "The Afghanistan war and the breakdown of the Soviet Union", Review of International Studies (1999), 25, 693–708. These authors also note that popular discontent in the Baltic and Ukraine had, by the early to mid 1980s, led the European Soviet Republics to request the Soviet Defense Ministry that their draftees should serve at home rather than Afghanistan.

So it seems natural to ask how casualties were spread between the Republics. In fact even total Soviet casualty figures seem hard to pin down reliably. Footnote 22 of Reuveny and Prakash (1999) says on Soviet casualties:

Noorte Haal, January 24, 1989, the newspaper of the Estonian Komsomol estimated 50,000 dead and 150,000 injured. See also V. Konovalov, ‘Legacy of the Afghan War: Some Statistics’, Radio Liberty Report on the USSR 1, (#14, 1989), p. 3. Konovalov notes that Soviet official statistics report 15,000 dead, 37,000 wounded, and 313 missing. The number of Soviet casualties is debated. R. B. Rais, War Without Winners: Afghanistan Uncertain Transition After the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 116, lists 30,000 dead in January 1986. D. Tripathi, ‘Afghanistan: the last episode?’, The World Today, 48 (1992), pp. 10–12 lists 30,000 casualties. A. Heinamaa, L. Maija and Y. Yurchenko, The Soldier’s Story: Soviet Veterans Remember the Afghan War (Berkeley, CA: University of California, IAS, 1994), pp. ix, mention 100,000 dead. Sarin and Dvoretsky, p. 146 report 13,833 dead, 330 missing, and 49,985 wounded. T. Rogers, The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan: Analysis and Chronology (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), p. 55, lists 15,000 dead. W. L. Grau (ed.), The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan (London: Frank Cass, 1998), pp. xiv, lists 15,000 dead and 469,685 sick and wounded.

A short article by Grau and Jalali in the magazine of Veterans of Foreign Wars ("The Soviet-Afghan War; Breaking the Hammer and Sickle," VFW Magazine, January 2002) gives some very specific official figures, without citing a source:

About 620,000 Soviets served in Afghanistan, with officers doing a two-year tour and enlisted men putting in 18 months. Official Soviet casualties total 14,453 dead: 9,511 killed in action; 2,386 died of wounds; and 2,556 lost from disease and accidents. Some 53,753 were wounded. An incredible 415,932 men were hospitalized for a serious disease during their tour of duty. Soviet combat equipment losses included 118 aircraft, 333 helicopters, 147 tanks, 1,314 armored personnel carriers, 433 artillery pieces and 11,369 cargo and fuel tanker trucks. In the aftermath, 10,751 Soviets were invalided because of the war. Afghan veterans groups help them out, with about 29% of the war’s veterans belonging to such an organization. Afghan veterans groups are particularly active in politics and in working with Russia’s youth.

And another short piece by Grau (in Infantry Magazine, Summer 2019, Volume 108, No 2, page 50) specifies the causes of some of these casualties:

Of the 620,000 Soviet personnel who served in Afghanistan, at least 14,453 were killed or died from wounds, accidents, or disease. This is 2.33 percent of those who served. Another 53,753 (or 8.67 percent) were wounded or injured.[4] In the early part of the war, there were twice as many Soviet soldiers wounded by bullets than by shrapnel, but by the end of the war there were 2.5 times more Soviet soldiers wounded by shrapnel than by bullets. The proportion of multiple and combination wounds increased four times over the course of the war, while the number of serious and critical wounds increased two times. Land mines were the primary reason for this increase in serious and critical wounds. The number of wounded from land mines increased by 25-30 percent over the course of the war.[5] Improved Soviet medical evacuation during the war allowed more of the critically wounded to survive.[6] Throughout the course of the war, land mines caused 30-40 percent of the trauma cases treated by Soviet medical personnel.[7]

Citations [5]-[7] are to Russian military medicine journals, while [4] is particularly interesting as it seems to be the original source of the "official" Soviet figures which are often cited online, including on Wikipedia, to Grau himself:

[4] G. F. Krivosheev, Grif sekretnosti snyat [The secret seal has been removed] (Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1993), 401-405. These are official figures, but recent material suggests that the actual casualty rates are higher — some suggesting twice the reported figures. See "The Russian General Staff" (Lester W. Grau and Michael Gress translators and editors), The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002).

These are the most detailed breakdowns I can find online of Soviet casualties, with the proviso that, as Grau notes, we should be cautious of official Soviet figures anyway. But none put numbers on the the geographical distribution of Soviet casualties, despite claims by the likes of Reuveny and Prakash that the disproportionate toll outside Russia had historical significance. Wikipedia does give casualty figures for a few Soviet Republics, but none of the cited sources deals with the overall distribution:

Ukraine: About 25 percent of Soviet servicemen in Afghanistan were Ukrainian, numbering 160,000 of which more than 3,000 died and dozens more went missing.[351] Uzbekistan: ... Some 64,500 young men from the Uzbek SSR were drafted in the war. At least 1,522 were killed and more than 2,500 left disabled.[352] ... Belarus: ... 28,832 Belarusian natives were involved in the campaign and 732 died. Most casualties were under 20 years old.[345] Moldova: Around 12,500 residents of the Moldavian SSR served during the war. Of those, 301 Moldovans died in the war.[354]

I'll add a few bits I found myself, often with lower quality sources. The historian Ion Xenofontov claims in fact 304 Moldovans died but 3 were omitted from war memorials. (He also makes the interesting claim that officers were disproportionately Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians so the geographical breakdown of casualties may well differ substantially by rank.) A 2006 war memorial in Vilnius lists 96 Lithuanian deaths out of about 5000 who served but a veterans' group claims that over 100 Lithuanians died. An Estonian article claims 1,652 Estonian conscripts served and 36 died. A Latvian article claims 3,640 Latvian soldiers served, with 177 wounded and 63 (or, depending on source, 51) dead

Some of these quoted figures are so specific it makes me hopeful that more comprehensive official statistics are available somewhere. Note for the purposes of this question I'm not interested in whether e.g. casualties from the Russian SFSR were disproportionately drawn from non-Slavic ethnic minorities within Russia (an interesting issue in its own right, unlikely to be recorded in official statistics, though machine learning has been used to classify names of recorded casualties in the Russo-Ukrainian War) but rather on Soviet Republic of origin, since historians and IR researchers have claimed the resulting inter-republic tensions played a role in the USSR's breakdown. Unfortunately I have found it difficult to search for the specifically Russian casualties, a key component to assessing claims of disproportionality, due to the frequent conflation of "Russian" and "Soviet"!

  • 3
    Surprised that someone voted to close as opinion based given that origin in a particular republic would have been a matter of documentation rather than vibes
    – SPavel
    Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 2:15
  • @SPavel Yes this is intended as a "boringly" statistical question, which I hope is on-topic here. I have tried to make clear why evidence for or against disproportionality would be of genuine historical interest - it's not like I'm asking for 1985 Soviet tractor production figures due to my personal love of tractors, this is something with real relevance. It would be nice to think that some of the historians and analysts who claimed Russia suffered proportionately lower casualties than some of the other Soviet Republics had, and cited, evidence for their claims.
    – SovAfgWar
    Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 2:52
  • Compare the loss rates with those of recent Russian wars and special military operations.
    – Jos
    Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 2:57
  • @Jos Interestingly coverage of Russian losses in the Russo-Ukrainian War ("SMO") often compares Soviet losses in Afghanistan. Even if casualties were proportionate, Russia was 51% of Soviet population in 1989 so such a comparison understates the relative impact on Russia of the SMO vs the "Limited Contingent of Soviet Forces in Afghanistan" (euphemisms aren't new). If Russia was proportionately less affected by the Afghanistan War, the SMO is even more (relatively) impactful
    – SovAfgWar
    Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 3:13
  • 1
    @T.E.D. The easiest information to gather would have been the национальность, ethnicity, as it was noted in the internal passport every Soviet citicen had to carry, and which also contained the record of military service.
    – ccprog
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 11:58


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