Forces on Russian Soil Fire Into Ukraine

DG-23JUL14-Arty-Strikes-in-UKR-lg

The Obama administration stepped up pressure on Russia with another release of commercial satellite imagery in an attempt to stop the fighting and increase international pressure. However, considering how Putin squandered his opportunity to ratchet things down with the MH17 disaster, it’s doubtful these efforts will be met with any success.

Battle Damage Assessement

Battle Damage Assessement

As evidence, DigitalGlobe imagery released by the U.S. State Department shows some troubling developments over the last week on the border between Ukraine and Russia. A PDF document sent to the press titled “Evidence of Russian Shelling in Ukraine” suggests that Russian military forces are directly helping the separatists by firing at the Ukrainian military from Russian soil.

This is explicitly depicted in imagery from 23 July (above) which shows self propelled artillery setup in unprepared firing positions aimed at a nearby Ukrainian military unit. Accompanying this image was also a battle damage assessment showing the subsequent impact craters viewed right.

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The Battle Damage Assessement was conducted comparing imagery between 20 and 23 July of the Ukrainian position. A quick geolocation of both units’ respective positions using Google Earth shows a distance of approximately 8.5 miles (about 14 km) well within the range of Russia’s self propelled artillery. Despite the low fidelity of the imagery, those viewed above may be the 2S1 or 2S3. It’s doubtful these are Russia’s more potent 2S19, as suggested by the size and shadow of the vehicles. Besides, Ukraine has 2S1s and 2S3s in abundance which could provide Russia cover for any accusations regarding outside material assistance. Though, that argument may be difficult to defend as Russia would have to explain why it allowed a separatist unit on its side of the border.

DG-21JUL14-MRL-Strikes-clThough perhaps more interestingly, we also see the remnants of various firing positions located inside the Ukraine border. Blast marks or ground scaring depicted in imagery from 21 July is consistent with that from a multiple rocket launcher. Comments from US officials on Thursday (24JUL14) suggest these may be from the BM-30 Smerch, a potent Multiple Rocket Launcher (MLR) consisting of 12 tubes for 300mm rockets. Additional damage assessments and the respective strike distances were provided in imagery inserts viewed above.

DG-26JUL14-MRL-strikes-clThursday’s comments from senior officials suggested that Russia had the intent of giving the BM-30 to the pro-Russian separatists. Despite ground scaring inside the Ukraine border, it is not certain at this time if the transfer occurred. In fact, imagery from 25 July also provided in the released document shows additional MLR ground scarring back on the side of the Russian border. Although inconclusive, this may suggest that the MLR unit had returned. Unfortunately, it is difficult to assess without additional imagery.

In the meantime, Ukraine claimed yesterday that it was ready to retake Donetsk, the heart of the Russian-backed separatists movement. With approximately 15,000 Russian troops amassed on the border ready to supply the rebels, it may be a tough fight ahead.

This entry was posted in Chris Biggers, English, Intelligence, Russia, Ukraine.

8 Responses to Forces on Russian Soil Fire Into Ukraine

  1. L Neukom says:

    The quality of this site is really very negatively impacted by copy and paste a propaganda piece like this – at least edit or comment on it like the below site, to put the whole exercise into context. I know that readers of this site bring more critical thinking to the table than just take it at face value, but this is about the credibility of ‘offiziere.com’.

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-07-27/us-releases-satellite-images-allegedly-proving-russian-shelling-east-ukraine

    • We stated the source of the material in the text. It’s the PDF document by the U.S. State Department sent to the press titled “Evidence of Russian Shelling in Ukraine”. Understandably many other sites used the same material (besides the picture from Google Earth). By the way, zerohedge.com links to The Time as source. As long as I don’t have an own satellite, it is very difficult to acquire other satellite images ;-). But the text on zerohedge.com and offiziere.ch (offiziere.com doesn’t exist) is completely different and I think, the text here gives more additional background information.

      What can you do now? Bring your critical thinking to the table, as you write, and argue with links to sources, why you think the information on the images isn’t accurate.

  2. Dear Sirs,

    Since weeks before this came out, we have been hearing and seeing from ‘the other side of the border’ that Kiev-UA have lobbed their shells and missiles onto Russian soil. Why did you not report on that?
    Personally, I consider both type of messages mostly as elements in a media war. But it grieves me to see that Offiziere.ch now so openly confesses its practical allegiance to but one party in a conflict that involves so many parties.
    Apart from cross-border fire: the long stream of images of damage and victims of almost constant Kiev-UA fire on E-UA villages has gone unreported here (unless of course I missed something?). Together with the above, this points to an unhealthy siding with the Kiev-Washington Axis.
    I must confessL: seeing how you have taken to uncritically repeating what US State sends out into the world has nudged my respect for Offiziere.ch down a few steps.
    May I hope that we will see some more balance, soon? As media, we have a great responsibility to not kindle the flames of war in these parts by too easily siding with anti-RF news or that is already all over. The very plenitude of such “news” should make authors and editors most careful when writing and publishing on a situation that is far from clear.

    Yours kindly,
    VHJM (Vincent) van Neerven ss.tt.

    editor-in-chief & senior counselor
    VNC.communication.counsel 
    Amsterdam

    • Hello Vincent,
      thanks for your critical comment. Of course, I accept your opinion and – yes – you are right, this short article isn’t balanced. Honestly, to be balanced was never the goal of this article. It is what it is: the discussion of satellite images, which were released by the U.S. Department of State.

      But allow me to give you a critique back. Why didn’t you explain in more details and with some links the points, which you think would balance the article. Instead of “why did you not report on that” why didn’t YOU write more about this point in your comment (but please, with reliable sources). If you like to write an article for offiziere.ch, which will explain the standpoint of Russia (or something in this direction), be my guest (you can contact me on Facebook).

      By the way, we published some text and material in the past, which were not only balanced but more in favor of Russia’s standpoints. For example: Nick Ottens, “Russia’s Crimea Invasion Follows Decades of Perceived Humiliation“, 05.03.2014; Jason H. Chuma, “Fast Response Not Necessarily the Best in Crimea“, 08.03.2014; “Sea Control 27 – International Law, Crimea, and China“, 01.04.2014. As always, we don’t tell the people, what they should believe. For us, it is very important to provide some links in the articles, so that the reader has the possibility to build his own mind. If he disagrees with us, that’s just fine.

      Last but not least, you write in your comment: “As media, we have a great responsibility […]”. You are absolutely right, but I think you considerably overestimate the role of this blog. It is a non-commercial blog. It is the spare time project of the owner. He doesn’t earn a single penny with it and his *real* job comprise easily 60 hours a week. As I said above, if you *really* like to help offiziere.ch to keep a high quality, contribute with your articles.

      Respectfully,
      Admin

  3. According to Russia’s Defense Ministry, the authenticity of the satellite images is impossible to prove and the images are “faked”.

    These materials were posted to Twitter not by accident, as their authenticity is impossible to prove – due to the absence of the attribution to the exact area, and an extremely low resolution. Let alone using them as ‘photographic evidence’. […] It’s no secret to anyone that fakes like this are made by a group of US counselors staying in the Kiev building of the Security Council, led by General Randy Kee. — Igor Konashenkov, official representative of the Russia Defense Ministry cited on “‘Fake’: Russian Defence Min rebuffs US sat image claims“, Russia Today, 28.07.2014.

  4. Chris says:

    Thank you admin for bringing the comments to my attention.

    As a former imagery analyst, I find the analysis of the imagery signatures convincing. Admittedly, it is circumstantial at best but if you doubt the analysis then I happily challenge you to buy the imagery (here’s the image ID taken from DigitalGlobe’s public browser: 1020010031A13E00) and see if you can find any other units in range that could explain the results. Or alternatively, if you feel like DigitalGlobe’s imagery is doctored, like many on twitter including the Russian government have asserted, please find another source of satellite imagery that you would judge acceptable. Or for that matter, any other independently verifiable source. And to help you out here’s the location of the Ukraine position as geolocated in Google Earth: 46.914309 N 39.088108 E. Good Luck and Godspeed!

    A quick comment in regard to the doubts posited by Zerohedge, a similar analysis to that of Paul Craig Roberts making the rounds on the milblogs. It’s simple folks, the US released publicly available commercial imagery for one reason: It’s unclassified, it can be given to anyone. The US generally does not show imagery acquired through national technical means. It’s classified for a reason, usually due to an indication of capabilities.

    That said, I would find it incredibly useful if someone could discuss the analysis without resorting to ad hominem attacks. Bear in mind, no one is saying this is exactly what happened, but the imagery “suggests” this chain of events. But feel free to forget that for a moment. If you have the time, go out there and find some BM-21s that we know the rebels have and show me some independently verifiable evidence. For example, show me how they pincered the Ukrainian unit from the south, thereby explaining the ground scaring. But if you do, also explain the ground scaring on Russia’s side of the border oriented in the direction of the Ukraine unit.

    But honestly, do we really think Russia’s not helping these guys? Are we that naive about power politics? Certainly there’s a media war going on, but do we really think the US is going to doctor these commercial satellite images to convince the public of a minor event in a much broader conflict? Are we convinced this is the major turning point, going above and beyond the impact of MH17? Or maybe we think the whole Ukraine conflict started due to Ukraine’s shale gas fields, that’s certainly a popular choice these days.

    As the admin reiterated, this piece is not balanced and it’s not meant to be. But seriously if you want to present an alternative point of view, the onus is on you to explain and make your position convincing.

    • L Neukom says:

      Why is the onus on me ‘to make a convincing position’ to rebut your comment – that would imply what you inferred were in any way or form true or a fact. It is all conjecture, up and until there is a certified satellite video showing a missile vapor trail from Russian soil into the Ukraine.
      The problem is the US state department has zero, zilch, nada credibility for anybody who stopped drinking their cool aid – how much more does it take after the WMD fiasco, the Syrian poison gas attack and their involvement in the Maiden overthrow of a duly elected government, Ed Snowden, etc, etc, to put on their thinking hat?
      However, I am not suggesting Russian propaganda is any different from the US, just hoping that a place like Offiziere.ch (see, this time I got it right!) brings both positions to the table, and comments critically to the ongoing infowar. The reason I commented in the first place was because I am impressed to read on here on subjects that many would rather not debate in public, if not outright censor were it possible.

      Don’t take my unqualified comments at face value, take a respected conservative commentator instead and read:

      http://buchanan.org/blog/putin-worse-stalin-6741

      In other words – I do take issue with the insinuation of the Ukrainian conflict is without commercial interests by either side, which would imply some humanitarian benevolent support for the otherwise suppressed Ukrainian political establishment.

  5. Pingback: Mehr Mut zum Risiko – Für eine resolutere Ukraine-Strategie | Offiziere.ch

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