A Newport, UK company says it has found evidence of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine, using a tool they developed to analyse social media.
Echosec, backed by Celtic Manor billionaire Terry Matthews, recently expanded from Canada to Alacrity House on the Kingsway and is a programme to analyse sites like Facebook and Twitter by looking at where messages are sent from.
Analysts focused on the Donetsk region in northeast Ukraine at the end of January to see if they could identify any soldiers of Russian origin using social media there.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of backing separatists militarily, but the Kremlin denies this.
Ben Milsom, UK business development manager, said: “We can say with a high degree of confidence that they have been there. The Russians deny it, but we have evidence of it so that could be very useful.”
The software works by analysing geotags, information about where the message was sent which is embedded in the data.
Canadian researcher Jason Jubinville said in a blog post: “Due to the nature of the data, no firm conclusions can be draw about the pictured soldier; however, he appears to have crossed the Russian border into Ukraine to join the fighting, only recently.”
The soldier in question identified himself as Amigo Desperado, probably an alias, Mr Jubinville said.
He then tracked him to a different social media site, VK, which is a Facebook-like website popular in Russia, and found out he was in Russian territory in early December from a picture which shows him with the Russian flag, a tank, and a group of men.
A photograph taken eight days later was tagged as being within the Ukrainian border and location tags to another photo were directly from the Donetsk region.
“Using Echosec we tracked this individual from his Russian home to the centre of the conflict within Ukraine”, Mr Dubinville said. “Further information about his identity, his motivations, and his associations can be derived from other social media accounts similar to VK.”
The information about Ukraine was just one example of the revelations from the software, Mr Milsom said: “We find things like that all the time. Yesterday I was finding images of ISIS members in Iraq and Syria.”
Echosec was developed from the Alacrity Foundation’s graduate entrepreneur “bootcamp” programme.
Article and Text by Jen Mills, South Wales Argus