Kyiv, July 13, 2015. Over the course of the ATO, the death toll has risen to over 6,000 Russian and Ukrainian citizens, 10,000 people have been reported wounded and over 1 million Ukrainians have become internally displaced persons. Such was highlighted in the Atlantic Council’s new report, “Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin’s War in Ukraine.” “All of these figures are the direct result of the efforts of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to secure control over Ukraine,” Special Assistant to the President of the Atlantic Council Maximilian Chuperski pointed out at a press briefing at Ukraine Сrisis Media Center. Experts estimate that as of March 2015, there were 12,000 Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine; about 50,000 were concentrated on military staging grounds near the Ukrainian border.
According to Maximilian Chuperski, as early as March 2014 – a few weeks after the annexation of the Crimea – Russian military officers, intelligence agents, and PR consultants artificially organized a “separatist movement” in an attempt to counter the new Ukrainian government. Thus, when President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko in June 2014 organized a successful Ukrainian military counteroffensive, the Kremlin in response sent modern equipment and military personnel to eastern Ukraine. “Among these forces, we were able to prove the presence of Special Forces from the Chechen battalion ‘Vostok’,” stated Maximilian Chuperski. Meanwhile, Russia continues to deny the presence of its troops in Eastern Ukraine, and presents the current crisis in Ukraine as a civil war.
“First, we analyzed the geolocation data of photos posted by Russian citizens on social networks,” added Chuperski. The data clearly showed that in 2014, 46 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, Russia established the Kuzminskiy firing ground, although the site had not existed in 2013. “We were able to find data that confirmed that this area became the home base for hundreds of units of military equipment, including tanks from the 5th tank brigade from the Russian city of Ulan-Ude. These troops were based in Siberia, and, between October – November 2014, were relocated to the Kuzminskiy firing ground,” said Bellingcat founder Elliot Higgins.
Bato Dambayev was among the relocated military forces. “Bato is a Russian soldier from the 37th motorized rifle brigade. It was he who gave an extensive interview to the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta with a detailed description of his participation in the battle of Debaltseve,” said Elliot Higgins. Therefore, the experts decided to check the information provided by the Russian soldier according to the geolocation data of the photos that Dambayev posted on social networks. “Bato Dombayev really fought in Ukraine. Among other things, his photos confirm his presence near the checkpoint in the town of Vuhlehirsk in Ukraine,” explained Higgins.
Based on their analysis, the Atlantic Council experts developed recommendations for Western governments. “First of all, much more attention and intelligence resources should be devoted to identifying the location of Russian troops on Ukrainian territory. Using the latest digital methods of military conflict investigation, as well as providing extensive coverage of events in the East of Ukraine in the media would be paramount,” said Maximilian Chuperski. Only with these decisive actions will we actually resist Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine,” emphasized the expert.