Russia moving “significant parts” of its far eastern military units towards Ukraine: digital sleuths

Russian Army's BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers transferred by a military train from the Russian Far East to the west. Bashkiria, Russia, 2022. Screenshot: RFE/RL

International, Russia, War in Donbas

Radio Liberty together with the Conflict Intelligence Team of digital sleuths have analyzed comments under the videos of Russian military equipment on move by rail towards Ukrainian borders.

They also talked to some commenters privately, some of those appeared to be the Russian soldiers or their loved ones. Corroborated by previously known facts, the data acquired in this way showed that Russia transfers large parts of military units for a several-month-long stay near the Ukrainian border in Belarus or Western Russia. Troops include units necessary in large-scale operations, some of which fought against Ukraine in 2014-2015.

The deployment of Russian troops primarily by rail from Russia’s Siberia and the Far East to Ukraine’s border will hit a half-year mark soon. The latest development in the ongoing deployment was the beginning of transferring Russian troops to Belarus.

Officially, those are going to partake in the Union Resolve 2022 joint drills with the Belarusian military on 10-20 February. Unofficially, the experts believe that those may be used as one prong of a pincer attack on Kyiv.

In their joint investigation, Radio Liberty Russia (RL) and the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) reveal the destinations of soldiers and officers arriving from eastern Russia on a “business trip,” and analyze what they and their relatives have to say about their deployment.

The researchers corroborated the data obtained from social media comments and private messages from the commenters by previously discovered open-source data on the deployment of Russian military units.

RL and CIT found that the westbound troops from the Far East include the units of military police, paratroopers, special forces, without which a full-scale military operation can’t be carried out. Moreover, the deployed units had also participated in the active stage of the Russian-Ukrainian war in 2014-2015, Radio Liberty says.

The obtained figures of departed personnel in some bases suggest that at least some units of Russia’s Eastern Military District transfer “a significant part of their personnel, and not just vehicles, towards Ukraine,” according to CIT.

Some commenters mentioned the announced duration of their (or their loved ones’) stay near Ukraine, ranging from two to nine months. This suggests that the “transferred elements of those units could stay in Belarus and/or western Russia for a relatively long period.”

Read the reports on this investigation on Radio Liberty and on CIT’s website.

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