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New Atlantic Council Report Outlines Russian Military Involvement in Ukraine Conflict


The Atlantic Council released a new report documenting Russia’s direct involvement in the conflict in the Ukraine based on what it calls publicly available information and open-sourced investigative techniques.

Damon Wilson, one of the co-authors of “Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin’s War in Ukraine,” said Thursday at a panel discussion in Washington that the report shows “we don’t have a Ukraine problem. We have a Putin problem.”

He characterized the techniques the council in its report used as “a democratization of intelligence gathering.”

Maksymilian Czuperski, another co-author, said the group was able to leverage what people share on social media, applying geo tags and geo locations to trace everything from weapons movement to an individual soldier’s 3,000-mile trek.

The researchers studied posts on YouTube, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, various Google applications and publicly available satellite imagery.

In one example, the authors followed a howitzer as it transited from Rostov to Mariupol to support Russian separatists. The tagging and geo-location analysis can “literally match it like a fingerprint.”

Likewise, Alina Polyakova, another co-author, detailed a single soldier’s movement of 3,000 miles to a training camp and from there into Ukraine. Using Google Earth, she showed how over two years the Russians turned an open area near the border with Ukraine into a training camp for soldiers about to deploy across the border.

Russian troops “played key defining roles” in each stage of the Ukrainian conflict, from the seizure of Crimea to blunting a Kiev counteroffensive with long-range artillery fire, Wilson said.

Eliot Higgins, based in Great Britain, said in a video played at the event that they linked up images taken by Russian citizens of artillery pieces firing with Google Earth images of vehicle marks and the angles of their position on the ground – “crater analysis,” in the report’s words – to determine where their targets were.

The successes of the separatists, based on this analysis, “weren’t random acts but were supported by forces in Russia” and close by Russian equipment given to the separatists.

Even now, “Russian re-supply continues unabated,” Wilson added. As it did in the past, Russia is using the lull in the fighting to plan the next stage. He added separatists have more tanks than France, Italy and a number of other NATO countries combined.

John Herbst, a former United States ambassador to Ukraine, said Putin is keeping the war hidden from the Russian people. He “cannot admit the aggression he is committing against his Slavic brothers.” Putin is also playing on Western weakness, Herbst added.

For the short term, or at least until the European Union decides on possible future sanctions, Herbst said he doubts that Russia will make another major move in Eastern Ukraine but will remain content to “seize smaller sections of land.”

At the same time the council released its report, it worked with the Free Russia Foundation in publishing an English translation of Boris Nemstov’s “Putin. War.” Nemstov, a major opposition figure in Russia, was assassinated near the Kremlin in Moscow in late February.

Ilya Yeshin, who helped complete the book, said Wednesday that Putin is aggressive and “has only two values: power and money.” He “wants to rule like Stalin and live like … a billionaire.”

As for the Russian people, Yeshin compared them to a person suffering from phantom pain in a severed limb. “They feel each country [of the former Soviet Union] was taken away from them,” a sentiment that Putin plays upon in his propaganda.

“I was surprised by how much was out there,” Wilson said about the report. The sheer amount of data tended to “muddy the waters” of what was really happening in Ukraine. But after sifting through the large volume of information and corroborating different people’s accounts to determine patterns, a clearer picture emerges.

“That was quite a bit of a learning curve for me,” he said.

  • On the Balcony

    While I applaud the Russian opposition who are working to expose Putin, the simple fact is that the majority of Russians do not recognize Ukraine as a separate country and fully support Putin’s actions. They will not change their mind unless Putin is clearly defeated.

  • Don Bacon

    NATO’s ally Atlantic Council is anti-Russian so it’s not a big surprise at a time when Europe is slipping away from the US grasp, on Russia, and Iran, also on military spending etc. that we have this hit piece on Russia, personalizing it as is always done, to focus on the dastardly Putin, vastly simplifying the mess the US started in Ukraine as “Putin’s War.”

    • NavySubNuke

      Isn’t the internet great? Previous to message boards like this people like you who lack any grasp of reality and are willing to ignore any and all evidence that contradicts whatever reality you create for yourself had to wear signs and stand on corners spouting your nonsense. Now thanks to the internet we all get to see idiotic statements like this and laugh at you instead of just the people who happened to pass by whatever corner you were screaming on. Ah, progress truly is a wonderful thing.
      I am still curious about what color the sky is in your version though – please tell me it isn’t just boring old blue!

      • Bill

        Isn’t “he” just a computer program in some Soviet era building in Moskow?

  • NavySubNuke

    It is hard to imagine this report really convincing anyone. Those how are willing to open their eyes to reality already know the truth. Others, like Don Bacon won’t be convinced no matter what evidence is brought up because they already “know” what the truth is in their version of reality.
    Still, it makes for interesting reading.

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  • MC

    “Nemstov, a major opposition figure in Russia, was assassinated near the Kremlin in Moscow in late February.”

    Typo. You misspelled “by” as “near.” Keys are right next to each other, it’s understandable.

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  • James Bowen

    None of this is surprising, yet at the same time one can hardly blame Putin and Russia for acting to make sure Ukraine does not act to disalign itself from Russia. From the Russian point of view, it is absolutely vital that Ukraine remained within their fold (not to mention the fact that the two nations are culturally and historically inseparable). We would not react well if an anti-American mob overthrew the Canadian government and tried to make an alliance with China.

    We also need to ask ourselves what is more important, having an anti-Russian government in Ukraine, or having good relations with Russia in the face of a rising China?

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