the home of online investigations

Geolocation Once Again Disproves Russia’s Targeting Claims in Syria

November 11, 2015

By Nathan Patin

In just three days, Russian aircraft have carried out 137 sorties, targeting 448 “terrorist objects” throughout Syria, according to a Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) press briefing held by spokesperson Igor Konashenkov on 9 November 2015. Three airstrikes previously posted on the MoD’s YouTube page were singled out by Konashenkov for closer examination. Given the Russian MoD’s well-documented propensity for fabricating information, it’s a worthwhile endeavor to verify the Russian MoD’s version of events.

The first video purports to show an airstrike on an “ammunition depot” in the governorate of Raqqa. According to Konashenkov, the depot contained “anti-tank systems, grenade launchers, and small arms,” and heavy vehicles were seen being loaded with weapons, which were “delivered to terrorist groups of the region.” Highlighting that the bombed depot was indeed located in Raqqa, the MoD presentation transitions to the video by having it zoom out from the approximate location where the strike allegedly took place:

2015-11-10 16_27_35

In this instance, the MoD implies that the strike occurred near al-Tabqa in the west of Raqqa Governorate. However, as has been the case dozens of times before, Russia incorrectly described the video’s location in both the press conference and the video itself. The airstrike was geolocated 115 kilometers (km) away near al-Bab, which is in the governorate of Aleppo:

video 1
It’s unclear why the Russian MoD would claim that it was targeting “terrorists” in Raqqa when al-Bab is controlled by the Islamic State (IS) and has been since early 2014.

The second video is described as showing an airstrike against an IS training camp in Idlib Governorate. The difficulty here is that there hasn’t been an IS presence in Idlib since January 2014, when they were expelled by a coalition of rebel groups. Nonetheless, a Su-34 fighter jet “performed a pinpoint strike against the ammunition and weapon depot,” according to Konashenkov. The attack was geolocated in Idlib Governorate as claimed by the Russian MoD:

Video 2

Curiously, however, the video in the MoD press conference zooms out from an area south of Ma’saran (or “Масеран” on the map in the Russian MoD presentation), roughly 20 km away from the actual site of the attack:

ge2

Finally, the third video that Konashenkov discusses also claims to show an attack on IS in Idlib, this time against a “strong point” containing a both a communication and command center and an ammunition depot. Geolocation of the strike places the airstrike not in Idlib but in Aleppo Governorate, near Sabiqiyah, where IS has no presence:

Video 3

It’s possible that the airstrike was carried out in order to aid Assad’s forces fighting rebels in the area. The location of the video on the map in the Russian MoD presentation is also incorrect, presenting the attack as having taken place southwest of Ariha in Idlib Governorate, when, in fact, the attack took place in another governorate entirely, just less than 70 km away.

ge3

Russia’s persistent inaccuracy regarding the identities of the groups it’s targeting and the locations where it’s targeting them is all the more odd given that the Russian MoD has stated that it only carries out airstrikes when “the data on the engaged objects has been checked through several channels.” Konashenkov claims that targeting and verification information comes from the Syrian government, the Baghdad information center, and “representatives of the Syrian opposition,” though the latter source is particularly dubious. Taking the MoD spokesman at his word means that, even after triple-checking its targets before it destroys them, Russian airstrikes have still managed to exact an immense toll on civilians.

Nathan Patin

Nathan Patin is an independent researcher based in the Washington, DC area focusing on OSINT, jihadism, terrorism, and the Middle East.

Join the Bellingcat Mailing List:

Enter your email address to receive a weekly digest of Bellingcat posts, links to open source research articles, and more.

Support Bellingcat

You can support the work of Bellingcat by donating through the below link:

102 Comments

  1. John Zenwirt

    Putin’s methods carry on;

    “Russia may be using its ‘Hybrid Warfare’ tactics from Ukraine in Syria.”

    “CIT published screenshots from a social-media account belonging to Ayas Saryg-Ool, a soldier it said served in Russia’s 74th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, and from an account belonging to Vladimir Boldyrev, who it suggested was a Russian marine from the 810th Separate Marine Brigade.”

    “It showed both of them had recently posted pictures with geolocation tags in Hama Province.”

    CIT: “…there is the ‘unofficial part’, which the authorities vehemently deny, but which is obvious: the participation (of Russian forces) in ground operations, the deployment of various heavy weapons. It’s this type of “hybrid warfare,” where there is the official, open part, and the hidden, unofficial part,” Leviev said.”

    http://tinyurl.com/nojfavv

    Reply
  2. boggled

    hhmm, since Syrian terrorists have no aircraft that could be a threat to Russian aircraft or troops, I wonder why Russia is importing S-400’s (one of the more advanced and expensive systems Russia has) into Syria.

    http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2015/12-november-alleged-s400-complex-radar-was-spotted-at-the

    Boy today has been a busy day – T90, S400, white phosphorus munitions, chlorine artillery attacks by Daesh, Barrel bombs, a staged Kremlin PR operation at Tartous, homicide bombings in Lebanon, RF ground troops moving with many vehicles in different ground operations, cluster bombs, TOW missiles.

    Fare thee well

    Reply
    • Feanor

      It’s not an actual S-400. It’s a radar, part of the airspace control system they’ve set up. While it’s possibly the S-400 is there, so far the evidence is lacking. Russia does claim that they have deployed Pantsyr-1S, Buk-M2E, S-200s and S-125s. All of those are things the Syrians already operate, which makes it entirely possible that they’ve deployed nothing at all, and are simply using what the Syrians already have. Either way a layercake of Russian-manned Pantsyr and Buk-M2s, with good airspace control radars, and EW assets (Krasuha-4) is quite sufficient to deter a casual incident, and nothing Russia can deploy there would really stop a massed western effort. Assuming the West was willing to strike Russian assets of course.

      Reply
      • boggled

        Are you so sure those tubes hiding missiles are not part of a S400 system?
        They do not look to me to be part of another similar vehicular anti aircraft system.
        Not a S300, and not SA10 or SA12.
        I am not an expert, but it looks closest to the S400 system.

        I see the radar and the EW antenna, but the AA vehicle behind them looks to be a S400 to me.

        Fare thee well

        Reply
  3. Sean Lamb

    Today’s events in Paris will be great tragedies for the victims and their families, but a cold-eyed rational analysis does suggest it provides some distinct geopolitical advantages that we would be foolish not to embrace.

    First, we no longer have the embarrassment that Russia was the only one to suffer a terrorist atrocity in response to their intervention in Syria. This left the uncomfortable impression that some of the groups we are supporting in Syria were not quite the Jeffersonian democrats we like to pretend. Having a terrorist outrage of our own to match with the Russians we can safely say it was ISIS, ISIS it was all ISIS. (ISIS – for the uninitiated – stands for Islamists terrorists who have the temerity to extend their activities to Iraq and any other blowback that result from our destablizations)

    Second, it will become political much more palatable to block off the flood of refugees into Europe that our polices inevitably provoked.

    Third, it should make it much easier for Britain to join the party in Syria and become a “player” as Michael Fallon so desperately wants. I actually felt sorry for him when in response to the Russian jet bombing he said: ““I am asking MPs particularly to reflect on the fact that the streets of Britain at the moment are being kept safe by American, Australian and French aircraft striking at the heart of ISIL in north-east Syria from where ISIL is organised and directed,””. A more illogical attempt to exploit a terrorist attack has surely never been previously uttered. Having a bona fide terrorist atrocity of our own, the case for intervention will be greatly facilitated.

    A little bit of fancy rhetorical footwork and we will be able to blame the whole thing on Assad. Trust me, it will go like this:
    When Assad (Assad personally, not the Syrian army) began to fire on the peaceful demonstrators we had bulked up with Libyan arms, this created the conditions for ISIS to develop. This then lead to the Paris atrocity, ergo the Paris attacks the responsibility of Assad.

    So you see the Paris attacks, while undoubtedly tragic, still have great utilitarian value. And since that tragedy has already occurred, we shouldn’t be shy about seizing the advantages they offer. I am sure by fellow Bellingcats would agree with me.

    Reply
    • Mad Dog

      Come again Sean, are you in daydreaming mode again? Some of your ideas are great comedy. For instance, do you have evidence that the demonstrators fired on by Assad’s forces were armed? With weapons ‘we’ (who?) sent them?

      Reply
      • Sean Lamb

        Maddog it is a fairly normal SOP in these situations to have unidentified snipers on rooftops to fire both into the crowd (where pro-destablisation media will claim it was the government) and into police (to try and provoke return fire)
        http://www.globalresearch.ca/daraa-2011-syrias-islamist-insurrection-in-disguise/5460547
        It happened in Ukraine as well, probably Egypt. Oh and remember those insane stories about Qaddafi sending his fighter jets in to bomb protesters?

        In such a situation as in Kiev and in Syria what the government doesn’t want to do is escalate the situation, whereas what organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood want to do is inflame it with atrocity videos on social media. They do it because it works. In the same way governments don’t send plain clothes snipers to fire on protesters or into funerals because it doesn’t work.

        They do it for the same reason is they slit throats of a few dozen civilians just before a Security Council meeting or letting off sarin gas the day the UN chemical weapons inspector team checks into their Damascus hotel. They have assurances that the Western intelligence agencies and media will back them up and it enables them from a position of weakness to garner the foreign support and legitimacy that may eventually sweep them into power. But it is a practice that dates a long way before that, the CIA used to accuse Marxist groups of the same tactics in South America in the 1970s.

        It is openly acknowledged that the CIA organized the transfer of Libyan weapon stocks to northern Syria (it was in the NY Times and Washington Post). Admittedly that was after the early days of unidentified snipers. Of course at the stage of unidentified snipers you only need a few dozen guns to make a huge impact.

        Reply
        • Sean Lamb

          Or this one
          http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4102417,00.html

          But you may say, this is the just the Syrian government claiming this.

          Of course, remember how the first mass executions of Syrian troops took place and the Syrian government said it was armed militias and how we all laughed and said it was just the Syrian army killing soldiers that refused to fire on protesters……..?

          Or how when the first car bombings took place and we all laughed and said this was just the Syrian government trying to discredit the peaceful protest movement…..?

          Or how the Russian jet went down and we all laughed and said may be this will persuade Putin to change course in Syria…….?

          Then a 100 or so people get killed in Paris and suddenly it is the greatest tragedy of all time.

          Reply
  4. boggled

    Interesting article from a former Soviet General in Romania from times ago, but still has connections and insider knowledge.
    And I think relative to remember last nights horrific attacks in Paris which during the same time Russian proxy forces in Ukraine launch multiple large attacks.
    Distract and commit crimes somewhere else? Seems the Kremlin way.
    Georgian War waged during Chinese Olympics or Euromaidan crackdown during Sochi Olympics?
    Translated from original states –

    ‘In 1972, the Kremlin has decided to pay the entire Muslim world against Israel and the United States. As Yuri Andropov told me, a billion enemies can cause much more damage to America than a few million. We were instructed to introduce the Muslim world to hatred of Jews, similar to the one that fueled the Nazis, and use that hatred as a weapon of mass bloodshed against Israel and its main partner – the United States. The plan was that no one “in the US-Zionist sphere of influence” could no longer feel safe. According to Andropov, the Islamic world was the nutrient solution, which should make and grow the bacillus deadly anti-American hatred, nurtured by leaps and bounds of Marxism Leninism. Indeed, anti-Semitism is deeply taken root in the natural medium for him to Islam. Muslims familiar taste of nationalism, jingoism and sacrifice. Their illiterate, oppressed masses is easy to excite the point of hysteria. Terrorism and violence against Israel and its host, the United States, preaching Andropov, will flow naturally from the religious fervor of the Muslims. We just need to repeat them familiar themes – that the United States and Israel “fascist, Zionist imperialist countries” are dependent on the Jewish capital.’

    http://infoua.blogspot.de/2015/10/blog-post_12.html

    original –
    ‘В 1972 году Кремль принял решение обратить весь мусульманский мир против Израиля и Соединённых Штатов. Как говорил мне Юрий Андропов, миллиард врагов могут нанести Америке гораздо больший ущерб, чем несколько миллионов. Нам предписывалось внедрить в мусульманский мир ненависть к евреям, сходную с той, которую разжигали нацисты, и использовать эту ненависть в качестве оружия массового кровопролития против Израиля и его главного партнёра – Соединённых Штатов. План заключался в том, чтобы никто “в американо-сионистской сфере влияния” не мог больше чувствовать себя в безопасности.

    Fare thee well

    Reply
      • Sean Lamb

        Boggled, I think you might enjoy this
        http://www.torontosun.com/2014/04/18/spying-on-uncle-vova

        “Psychological opinion is that someone of Putin’s type must be given direct warnings of clear economic, military or other consequences for any continuing breach of international norms. However, the considerable possibility of unresolved physical, sexual or emotional abuse in Putin’s early background, raises concern about the leader’s capacity to contain rage, if pushed beyond a certain point.”
        Oh yes, and he probably has significant psychosexual problems.

        By the way, is it possible Uncle Vova shot Kennedy or is he not old enough to have done that?

        Reply
        • Mad Dog

          Sean, you are old enough to figure out if Vova is old enough or not. Was there some kind of hidden meaning in your question?

          Reply
          • Sean Lamb

            No, just trying to wind up boggled.
            As far as the Kennedy assassination, here’s my version.
            Oswald had been primed to fire and miss on Kennedy for Operation Amworld to precipitate a regime change in Cuba (probably to bring Che Guevara to power as a Tito like non-aligned figure). Somehow the plan leaked and someone saw an opportunity to eliminate Kennedy completely risk-free.
            Who exactly saw this opportunity I am not quite sure. Initially the CIA thought they had been double-crossed by Che, which is why they demanded his chopped-off hands. Then I think they blamed Nixon – who certainly knew about Amworld as it was leaking like crazy and did turn up in Dallas the same day. Perhaps they kidnapped Jimmy Hoffa as well – just to cover all bases.
            Most likely it was the far right as they tried to take out the Democrat governor as well, which probably gives an insight into their ideological motivations.

    • stranger

      Wow
      Kremlin is behind the hatr’ed of Muslim’s against Israel, I thought it started in Moses times.
      Kremlin made Saakhashvily to send Georgian army to Souch Osetia during China Olimpics.
      Kremlin started Euromaydan to overthrow another Kremlin agent Yanukovich during Sochi Olimpic, organized also by Kremlin to distract attention.
      Kremlin invented terror’ism and created ISIS (as written in the article).

      Kremlin agents are everywhere, right from Moses times. Watch out, comrade.

      Reply
      • boggled

        I was not in the KGB or affiliated spy agencies in Soviet occupied countries.
        This guy was, he states it plain enough, I do not have to exaggerate.
        You should probably read through the polonium trial case transcripts and you can get an idea of what the Kremlin is willing to wager in vova’s attempt to reclaim RF as a group to be respected.
        This type of group does not deserve respect, they deserve a jail cell and judgement at the Hague..
        You do not think they found against the RF in the Yukos case just because the Kremlin are ‘nice guys’ do you?
        The Kremlin power players and those that know what they are doing have made it clear enough to me, that although they are not as diabolical and murderous as Stalin was, they are still playing an evil part in the world.
        If you refuse to believe your own agents that have defected, then who will you believe?
        It is not like vova or the FSB would actually allow this guy to describe their Black Ops programs in public from inside Russia.

        Fare thee well

        Reply
        • stranger

          I just have a feeling that what he is writing is conspirology. There are other examples of people defected who started to claim they have any special knowledge nobody else knows about: Victor Suvorov (Rezun, who claimed Stalin was going to attack Hitler), Alexander Litvinenko (yes, polonium, I don’t justify, and it was a personal drama, I read a lot).

          As for Yukos, Khodorkovskiy was an oligarch who tried to influence politics that is why he was prisoned. That times in 90th the government was controlled by oligarchs, fighting each other, using central TV to pour dirt on each other. The evil 90th were the criminal time, when nobody paid taxes, problems were solved by murders, government was completely helpless, etc. Many of those oligarchs had a lot of crimes on them. Particularly Yukos is suspected in killing of NefteYugansk major. Nevertheless is was about politics.

          I understand how important private property is, capitalism is the best humankind could invent. But Bill Gates, Steve Jobs created their empires from scratch, while Russian oligarchs just appears at the right place right time to acquire soviet property, built by generations of people before them, yes, also during Stalin industrialization, which cost the price we discussed.

          Now Yukos was sentenced to 50 billion from Russia. Is it what Khodorkovskiy and Co fairly earned, or what they stole from the country? And I’m far not a communist 🙂

          Reply
      • boggled

        It is no surprise that the weapon that the terrorists can get their hands on is the Kalashnikov and Russian plastic explosives is it?

        Is it no surprise that the people in Moldova trying to sell radioactive materials on the black market are Russian and the products come from Russia is it?
        The Kremlin works hard at destabilization of Western unity or support for each other, I think we can agree.
        Defector’s books up and down the board from various Kremlin agencies all pretty much say the same thing in their books and speeches.
        Rezun may have been right, Stalin had many plans.
        You do know there were a couple attempts at signing the ‘divide up Eastern Europe’ plan between the two don’t you stranger?

        One of them, Stalin demanded Turkey and Finland as part of the deal.
        Hitler said nope to Finland because Sweden had the iron ore and if Stalin did that, they might lose access to the iron ore.
        I think he thought Stalin would not stop at Finland.

        Turkey was another issue, I forget why the rejection happened, something to do with control of the straits I think.
        Hitler offered Iran and more Eastern ME control to Stalin, and he accepted that.
        But with the rejection, it is assumed there may be a reason for Stalin to plan to reject the non aggression pact and attack Hitler and take Finland and the Ottoman empire anyways.
        Much of it depended how quickly he (Stalin) could get his war machine up and ready.

        Fare thee well

        Reply
        • stranger

          Btw, why do you think radioactive materials on Moldova are not from Ukrainian power plants? Or walking in Chernobyl area I believe one can pick up those just from the ground, probably.

          I didn’t know Stalin bargained Finland instead of Turky and Iran, need to learn more probably, could you give a hint where to find please. Especially as you know Finland was a former russian empire province which managed to escape after Bolshevik Revolution. While Persia and Turky (which I believe are close) for centuries were enemies to Christian Georgia, Greece, Serbia, which Russia protected and Bulgaria was actually liberated from turkey by Russia, which brothers Slavs there soon forgot.

          Reply
        • Chris

          “You do know there were a couple attempts at signing the ‘divide up Eastern Europe’ plan between the two don’t you stranger?

          One of them, Stalin demanded Turkey and Finland as part of the deal.
          Hitler said nope to Finland because Sweden had the iron ore and if Stalin did that, they might lose access to the iron ore.
          I think he thought Stalin would not stop at Finland.”

          Hey there Boggled, I find your historical claim boggling. You are referring to the very real secret clause of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact where Nazi-Germany and the Soviet union divided Eastern Europe between themselves into spheres of interest. I don’t know about Turkey (who stayed neutral through WW2), but Finland was most certainly part of the deal and part of the secret Soviet sphere of influence, which was accepted by Germany. There is no question about that. The Winter War (30 November 1939 – 13 March 1940), which was fought between the Soviet union and Finland is a sure sign of what happened. Finland wouldn’t freely give into Soviet demands (the way the Baltic countries did) which led to an orchestrated border incident at Mainila, through which the Soviets claimed they had just cause to attack its small neighbour. During that war almost the whole world condemned the actions of the communist juggernaut and the Soviets were thrown out of the League of Nations (the precursor of the UN).

          Nazi-Germany on the other hand stayed neutral through the whole conflict. They didn’t approach Finland until towards the end of 1940, and by that point Finland had no choice really. France was defeated, the US was still neutral, Britain was fighting Germany by itself. Berlin and Moscow had made it impossible to stay out of the conflict anymore as they forbade pacts and unions with its Nordic neighbours.

          Reply
    • stranger

      boggled, Seriously, you do have very strong arguments to use, you don’t have to over exaggerate them to absurd, so they turn against what you are saying…

      Reply
  5. Syava

    Good afternoon.
    Events in Paris, Russia is doing everything right. Now Europe will join Rossii, to fight terrorists. Time has proved the correctness of Russia’s actions. All who wrote against Russia’s actions were wrong.

    Reply
    • Mad Dog

      Sorry, that makes no sense Syava. Russia was not hitting ISIS, the perpetrators of the Paris madness, so how are they doing everything right. Of course, the French have been hitting ISIS, so why are they wrong? Your logic puzzles me.

      Reply
  6. miks

    funny you guys still assume the Russian MoD would disclose the precise locations and targets of its airstikes. How much more foolish can it get? Of course they play with this information to confound the militia groups, but this doesn’t alter anything of substance.

    Reply
  7. Sean Lamb

    The first casualty of war…..

    On a google news search for Daraa two versions of what appears to have been the same event at Sheikh Miskeen, the Syrian Government version appeared first
    http://www.syriaonline.sy/?f=Details&catid=12&pageid=19651
    “Army units ambushed terrorist groups in northern countryside Daraa Province, killing and injuring 15 of them.

    Field sources told SANA that the army ambushed Jabhet al-Nusra terrorists on al-Sheikh Miskeen-Enkhel road, killing and injuring 15 of them and destroying a number of their vehicles.

    Meanwhile, terrorist groups acknowledged on their social media pages that a number of terrorists, including Ahed Mohammad al-Hawamda- leader of the so-called “al-Khulafa al-Rashideen Battalion” terrorist group, were killed in al-Sheikh Miskeen area.”

    A few hours later the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights version appeared:

    “AMISHLI – Syrian regime forces targeted Thursday an olive plant in the countryside of Daraa in southern Syria, with heavy artillery. At least 25 people were killed, including children, and dozens others were wounded, local sources reported.

    In the plant, which lies in the town of Sheikh Miskin of Daraa province, civilians used to produce olive from their annual harvest.

    Speaking to ARA News in Daraa, media activist Mousa Omari said that pro-regime forces have been pummeling the town with heavy weapons in an attempt to suppress Daraa rebels in the southern fighting front.

    “Pro-Assad forces have been targeting residential neighborhoods with barrel bombs, helicopters, missiles, fighter jets, mortars and heavy artillery in an attempt to regain some locations fell to the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) factions,” Omari added. ”

    Guess which version was picked up by the Western news wires? Yep, you guessed right – the innocent civilians killed working in the olive press.

    Reply
    • boggled

      Sean, its your choice to believe a government press release that barrel bombs and uses chemicals on its civilians.
      I would say its propaganda and false.

      Or believe those that were targeted (including western journalists in the village) and that have satellite images and video and photographic images that say otherwise.

      Also, it sounds like the government release was about a ground forces campaign.
      The Western one is about a bombing and artillery campaign.

      Do you actually think the government forces would report that they attacked a olive oil manufacturing location that had people working in it and that they caused multiple civilian deaths with their past history?

      I guess you like the koolaid and wish that Western press picked up on the Slayer of Syria’s propaganda statements?

      Fare thee well

      Reply
      • Sean Lamb

        Good point, Boggled.
        Perhaps Ahed Mohammad al-Hawamda- leader of the so-called “al-Khulafa al-Rashideen Battalion” was at the olive press having a peaceful olive oil tasting?

        Reply
        • boggled

          AS I stated, I believe they were two different attacks reported.

          Syrian government promoting the one were they were just targeting groups that want ASSad out of office and a democratic government put in.

          And the other one which was a reporting of the humanitarian crimes part of the same attack, but more inclusive of what was targeted.
          Western News reported on the more complete issue, and Syrian government just reported on their selective.

          Here is one article that claims it damaged both civilians and rebels in Western Press

          http://www.ibtimes.com/russian-forces-strike-syrias-southern-rebels-preparation-pro-regime-ground-offensive-2162300

          ‘Syrian Civil Defence, a volunteer rescue organization in Daraa, said airstrikes targeted civilian and rebel-held positions. One strike targeted the main road in Daraa city and hit a civilian vehicle, injuring four men and killing one, the Daraa media liaison for SCD told International Business Times.’ – end quote.

          Fare thee well

          Reply
          • Sean Lamb

            Boggled.
            You are deliberately trying to cloud the issue in a fog of nonsense.
            The Russians had nothing to with this incident (by either side’s account) and the article and quote you provided was almost a month old and utterly irrelevant.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)