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How EchoSec Found Evidence of a Russian Fighting in Ukraine

February 19, 2015

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Originally posted on the EchoSec Blog, reproduced with permission.

Recently, the media has been paying close attention to the Donetsk region in northeast Ukraine. We decided to look for ourselves to see if we could identify military personnel of Russian origin in the area.

In a military, or global security context, the data pouring from this region can play a pivotal role in command, control, communications and coordination of operations.

Quick, informed decisions are the best decisions.

We used a systematic, 3-phase approach to find, filter, and investigate the social media coming out of Ukraine and Russia.

We started by using a systematic grid search to identify clusters and outliers, then reviewed each cluster and outliers for interesting information. Finally, we reviewed each piece of flagged information across multiple social media sources to correlate information and draw conclusions.

This investigation took us less than 6 hours, and the results were astounding.

Here is how we did it:

Initially, our analyst drew a box over the Donetsk region in Northeast Ukraine. The purpose of this large initial search is not to find posts immediately, but to determine where a large number of the posts are clustering. These clusters are going to be prioritized, then analyzed later for anything that stands out.

Upon further inspection of the clusters in the Donetsk region on January 23rd, our analysts found an individual of interest. Due to the nature of the data, no firm conclusions can be draw about the pictured soldier; however, he appears to have crossed the Russian boarder into Ukraine to join the fighting, only recently.

2

This particular soldier identified himself as Amigo Desperado, probably an alias. Our analyst then tracked him to using a different social media source, VK. VK is Facebook-like application popular in Russia. As can be seen in the picture below, we can find his date of birth, current city, and the location of several recent posts.

3

In the following picture, we can see that he was located in Russian territory in early December. He is clearly pictured with the Russian flag, a tank, and a group of men.

4

We then found a photograph of him 8 days later on December 22nd. The location associated with this post was from within the Ukrainian boarder.

5

Finally, we find a photograph that he has posted, where the location tag was directly from the Donetsk region. Using Echosec we tracked this individual from his Russian home to the center of the conflict within Ukraine. Further information about his identity, his motivations, and his associations can be derived from other social media accounts similar to VK.

6

While our analyst was looking at the Donetsk region, he saw a number of graphic social media posts that captured the severity of the conflict in the region. These posts included several graphic images of bodies, ordnance and other evidence of the conflict. We elected not to display these graphic images on our blog, however, a social media search near the Donetsk airport, or near Mariupol may yield similar results.

Ultimately, the Echosec social media search tool was an effective tool for finding interesting information that is publicly available online. An effective user can sort through large amounts of information quickly to find what he needs. This can include tracking a person of interest, finding out new information in a crisis situation or gathering actionable intelligence.

All information contained in this post is open source and implications or inferences made by this publication are solely views of the writer.

Written by: Jason Jubinville @jpjubinville.

 

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49 Comments

  1. Nill Nilsen

    Either the idiot or Obama believes in diplomacy with Putin. Russia delivers the weapon and troops after the Minsk-2 agreements. How many children and women have it is killed? What cities will be occupy Russian troops, when all understand Putin is a bully. Nothing more. Only force will stop it. To Ukraine I refused the nuclear weapon. And in exchange she received idle talk, occupation and death of the citizens.

    Reply
    • Walker

      I wish I could say you are wrong. For a year now, I have been watching the world mindlessly in step with Putin towards war. Maybe Putin should be called the pied piper, and we’re the rats. Those of us with our eyes open are screaming, but Obama, Merkel and the rest still seem to march on. Sites like this may open more eyes, I just hope it isn’t too late, but it likely is.

      Reply
      • Lucifer

        Of course, it occupied the West Crimea and sponsors and supplying weapons to the east of Ukraine.)

        Reply
        • Valentine

          To Lucifer. The only amendment is, putinist Russia occupied the ENTIRE Crimea and it has not only been sponsoring and supplying weapons to the east of Ukraine, but its regular troops has been fighting in the east of my country. They are still there at the moment.
          Regards

          Reply
      • spiegel

        “All the rats tried to follow him onto the boat, but they all fell into the water and drowned instead. ” open eyes, gimme a break, Lol

        Reply
    • John

      Are you retarded? At least of all the civilians killed and injured 90% by the Kiev thugs, NOT BY THE REBELS. And there has been THOUSANDS KILLED, TENS OF THOUSANDS OF INJURED and HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS FORCED TO FLEE, BECAUSE OF CRIMINALITY OF KIEV, and im not even talking about their own thugs of rebel soldiers. Its not RUSSIA, its not Putin, and certainly the fuck is not REBELS, but the criminality, killing and madness, is all from MAIDAN/KIEV, RIGHT SEKTOR, AZOV etc SCUM.

      Reply
      • ws

        It obvious that civilan victims are a result of an actions of the both sides. It was also proved that both rebels and ukrainian army use cluster bombs. However I wonder on what you base your assumption that 90% of victims are the results of actions of ukrainian army?

        Reply
        • Rob

          ws,
          No doubt that civilian victims fell (by “accident”) as the result of actions on both side in this war.

          However, the war in East Ukraine is plagued by “deliberate” civilian targeting. Attacks on schools and shopping centers and bus stops happen on a daily basis, and with ZERO apparent military advantage for either side.

          For these attacks, analysis by fact-checkers like Interpreter Magazine, and ukraine@war reveals that in many cases these bombings are undetermined. Could have been fired from either side.
          But in the cases where the origin of firing on civilians IS clear, WITHOUT exception the (pro)Russian “separatists” are to blame.
          Such as the School 63 attack, the Mariupol shelling, and the cluster munition bombings on Kramatorsk and Artemivsk.

          There is simply NOT A SINGLE deliberate attack on civilians that has evidence that is must have been fired from Ukrainian side.

          And that includes the use of cluster munition.

          Reply
  2. Putin

    You should kill me, I’m fucking Vladimir Putin. And I’ll not abide any rules and agreements. So guys just kill me, or I will kill this world. I’m crazy old man with small dick.

    Reply
  3. FUKS

    Идиоты, не проще ли сьездить и посмотреть есть ли там кто? Чо зу хуиту вы изобретаете?

    Reply
  4. Anton

    So, Bellingcat found one Russian volunteer who fights in East Ukraine. Big news. This does not prove official Russian troops. It has been common knowledge that volunteers are fighting in Ukraine, also on Kiew’s side, in the battalions like Asow for example

    Reply
    • John

      Yes thank you. Maybe a volunteer, maybe a person form Donbass that fled to Russia and returned to fight, but certainly not anykind of evidence of “Russian troops”. The whole topic of UKRAINIAN CIVIL WAR, attracts WACKOS like shit flies, and all they “think” and “know” is like right from some bizarro world, totally opposite of anything decent, good or truthful. Like take the situation of Kiev regime, if these asshole were “against the west”, they would have been bombed/shot/hanged a long time ago, but as they claim to be “reformists”, “democrats” and what not they are getting away doing the worst war crimes in Europe since 1945, and nobody is saying ANYTHING about it, daily bombardment of civilians, people, INNOCENTS, killed and injured daily, for a YEAR…

      Reply
      • Walker

        This could be a volunteer. But if you look at this guy it is pretty obvious that he is a conscript. Having been in the army, I know that the majority don’t want to die, yet they know pretty well that war is dangerous as it gets drilled into them. This idea that soldiers would go to war during their leave instead of home to their families is pure baloney. The stories of them getting pushed into a room and threatened until they sign is consistent and logical. If you call this volunteering, you are crazy, the military term is called “being volunteered” is much more accurate. But I don’t really expect you to understand. Any one with a decent brain would know this. That means either you don’t have one, or more likely, are being intentionally obtuse.

        Reply
      • Rob

        John,

        Your allegations against the Kiev government, like “doing the worst war crimes in Europe since 1945” and “daily bombardment of civilians” are suspiciously void of evidence.

        So far it seems you are making this stuff up on the fly, against mounting evidence of war crimes and atrocities, including shelling of civilian population with cluster munition, violations of the Geneva Convention and even execution of POWs committed by your “friendly people” working for the Russian FSB (oops, I mean for the officers of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic).

        Reply
    • Valentine

      Really, Anton, – Azov, Donbas, Pravy Sektor, Crimea, Dnipro and many other battalions consist of volunteers. However the real truth is, they are fighting in their own land and for their own land, unlike thugs from Russia.

      Reply
  5. Rob

    When investigating video and photo evidence for events in Eastern Ukraine, geo-locating and timing the evidence is always a pain in the neck.
    This tool helps a LOT with that, and I already found some very interesting pictures for some of the events I am looking into that still have inconclusive evidence.

    So, THANKS guys, for making us aware of this EchoSec tool !

    One thing that would be nice (for EchoSec) is if you can click on the mapped icon and see which post (tweet or InstaGram) it represents. And the other way around.

    Also, is the ‘time’ for the items Pacific Standard Time ? Or Pacific Daylight Time ? Or something else ?

    Reply
    • MBobrik

      russian-insider shorter : “You are liars because all your evidence does not count. Why ? Because we said so.” Pathetic.

      Reply
    • Harri

      Russia 2014: “There are no Russian soldiers…, there are no Russian soldiers…, there are no Russian soldiers…. YES The little Green Men in Ukraine (Crimea) are Russian soldiers.” Conclution: There are a lot (thousands!) of Russian soldiers in Ukraine incl. Crimea and other places. I rest my case.

      Reply
  6. EllBee

    I have been following the events in the Ukraine from the beginning and anyone who denies that Russian soldiers, and I’m not even remotely suggesting they are volunteers, have been involved from the start are simply deluding themselves. From the beginning, starting with the Russian snipers imported to put down the initial unrest, the videos of Russia’s “little green men” attacking government buildings in the Crimea, to the news footage by western media of Russian armored vehicles “hidden” in woods several miles inside Ukraine last summer, to the infrequent reports of identifiable Russian professionals, all of this makes me wonder why anyone would say that Russia is not involved.

    And if that is not enough to satisfy the deniers, what about the Russians imported to Luhansk and Donetsk early in the fighting last summer? You know, the ones who were sent in to stir up the locals and organize them according to the Russian (dare I say Putin) playbook? Putin has gotten away with it so far and here the operative word is “far” and now has to keep going because all the old-style communists he leads are aching for the “glory days” of old.

    I like many others in the west thought at one time that Mr. Putin was a force for good in his country. Now I know better. Who was it that once said, ” Power corrupts! Absolute power corrupts absolutely!” Putin is in power now for life because he tolerates no opposition. He is now in the same league as Al-Baghdadi in Syria/Iraq without the grisly bits. I’d like to see him attend the funerals of some of his soldiers and explain their deaths in Ukraine to their parents. Don’t count on that though. Enough.

    Reply
      • EllBee

        cr0c, I read the tripe in the RI article you referred to above and I would say it is the stuff that would make the “news” editors at Fox News in the US proud. However, in the US Fox News has voluntarily taken up the mantra of the right wing Republican cause, not mandated to do so by an authoritarian regime such as we see in Russia today. And because of that, news in the US is balanced to the point where it offers at least two views/sides to a story. In Russia, there is only one side offered to the people – the Putin side! Dissenting media types are harassed and/or imprisoned like opposition politicians. Even bloggers are now controlled to stifle and intimidate average citizens from voicing their concerns about the direction their “leader” is taking the country.

        Final words – It’s a small world and getting smaller! We all have to live in it and should learn to compromise and accommodate and the only proven way to do that, albeit at times imperfectly, is by the democratic actions of citizens, all citizens! Like all protests, Ukraine’s Maidan spring started out peacefully and escalated to violence because the former government would not listen to what the people were saying. All Mr. Yanukovych had to do was offer the people a referendum with a simple question – East or West? He didn’t!

        Reply
    • vojnov

      “from the beginning, starting with the Russian snipers imported to put down the initial unrest”… why the hack would anyone use snipers to put down civic unrest? when snipers have NEVER succeeded in this way? One puts civic unrest down by tear gas, rubber and water cannons. Like they do in the west. Or by tanks and machine guns, like Stalin did in Hungary or China on Tchian an men. By face to face violence. Not by snipers. One uses snipers to spice the unrest and turn peaceful crowd into a radical blood-thirsty mob… And you just don’t want to answer yourself to whose benefit this would have been on Maidan, do you?

      sure, Kiev government just blamed the sniping on Russia. the same people also claimed that Iljovansk and Debalcevo were not pockets…

      (i have no doubt that Russia supports the rebels. it can hardly do otherwise. the US (as THEY THEMSELVES claimed) have orchestrated the regime change in Ukraine. Putin just cannot let happen Krajina Srpska with Russians. Or afford to have US soldiers not only in the Baltics but in Krimea as well.)

      Reply
    • Walker

      If the maidan snipers were Russian, they weren’t there to put down the revolution. They would have been there to create one. Recent leaks from Russian newspaper shows Russia had plans for what to do if Yanokovych was deposed. The recent BBC interview with an opposition sniper points to his recruitment from a KGB agent. To this day it appears he doesn’t realize that himself.

      Reply
  7. Frank

    It gets even more bizarre….”a Russian fighting in Ukraine”….is that really the title…and do the authors expect anyone to take it seriously…? I should imagine the majority of people in Eastern Ukraine are actually Russian, in almost every sense of the word.

    Reply
    • Walker

      And your reasoning that there are no Russians is what? Because Putin says so, because he doesn’t. Get with the program, you are supposed to say they are volunteers, not that they don’t exist. If you look at this person they are following, he appears to be a young army conscript. So yes theoretically, he volunteered. My guess that if it is so, he and a bunch of others were taken into a room and told to volunteer or be branded a traitor and go to prison.

      Reply
      • Frank

        No I think the entire notion of it being surprising at all is bizarre. The title is just odd.
        I would guess that people in Eastern Ukraine are more Russian than Ukraine in almost every sense of the word.
        The fact the article declares it as surprising is strange. The whole narrative is deceptive – Eastern Ukraine is Russian culturally, historically, ethnically…in this part of the world the national borders are arbitrary lines that are accidents of history.
        It is the same with the MH17 story….DPR publically announced they had a BUK military unit in that area about a week or two before the MH17 flight was downed. You can still find that article on ITAR TASS publications dated. Planes were being shot out of the sky at high altitude. So a) why were commercial flights pemitted by Kiev? and b) why is everyone so surprised ?
        And as for little green men in Crimea. It’s a conspiracy joke…Russia has an allowance of up to 25000 troops in Crimea until 2050 or something…so why is there a debate about the presence of troops? Honestly it’s Orwellian how the western media just keeps coming up with this stuff.

        Reply
        • Max

          “a) why were commercial flights pemitted by Kiev? ”

          simple answere. shutting down airspace costs you money. Intentions of ukrain government to use civil airspace and machines as human shield for attacks on rebel ground forces, is possible, but can’t be proved. At least there are no reports from rebel sides that these tactic was utilized after closing the lower airspace. Before downing MH17 flight level below 10.000 meters was closed, as a reaction on downings of ukrainian aircraft. When ukranian forces had intentions to use the method of hidden/covered approach to target area, why closing the airspace for most of their able attack planes. That’s just implausible move then.

          “b) why is everyone so surprised ?”

          Well, most thought, that Russians or Rebels (However you wanna name them) where decently enough not to go that far in attacking cicil planes. It was accidently, and rebels where shocked about their mistake (explains the desperate effort of russians and rebels to cover the story be telling conspiracies and giving at least lousy fake proof that Ukrain forces did it).

          “And as for little green men in Crimea. It’s a conspiracy joke…Russia has an allowance of up to 25000 troops in Crimea until 2050 or something…so why is there a debate about the presence of troops?”

          There is no debate about the exsitance of russian troops in Crimea, but it is questioned with good reason, 1. did they have the right to capture Ukrainian troops? 2. Why the hack, if legaly on Crimean ground, why did that troops try to make themselves unidentifiable? 3. Why does the Putin lie about the activities of his legal troops and their involvement Crimean activities?

          Well, if US-Troops would ran around in Havana, capture Cuban forces and threatening with use of lethal force to hold a referendum with some local guys for the “freedom of cuba from communist oppresion”, what would this be like? Legal? Following the logic of the critical voices of the “green man move” the right of US-Troops in Guantanamo is not a legal status to utilize these forces to overthrow a regional or national regime. Russia has the right for Troops on Crimea, but it has no right to involve this troop the way they did.

          Reply
          • Walker

            All very good thought out replies. Also completely unnecessary, unless you choose to not see the truth. And a complete waste of time if you do such as this one likely does. They have us going round and round answering the same questions and ignoring our answers. Always asking for proof and never accepting it when it is shown, then asking for it again.

          • Max

            @Walker.

            You’re rite. Sometimes parts of me have that crazy idea, that we are discussing with rational persons, that are open for arguments. Most of the time, I don’t.

            I am trying, to answere some questions, just to make clear, that i am not withdrawing from discussion. But I also try to avoid repeating. The question about the Crimean happenings f.e. I won’t answere again.

            After I read a report about a St. Petersburg media agency, that is producing all this bullshit, that can be read in the comments here too, i know what they are about. But I learned one important thing. Standing that bullshit, and beeing serious, giving good ideas and raising questions, makes you more credible for third parties. Trolling can easily identified for others, by not falling back on trollish niveau. And that’s what I try to do, by answering. I don’t think that it is complete unneccessary, there are third ones coming here and in forums of newspaper f.e. that are not part of the good informed community or the trolling side. Some ppl realy have questions and they need answeres.

            But obvious not the one (frank) i replied at 🙂

          • Walker

            @max. I hope you are right. And if one person reads your comment and is moved by it. Good. And it was all worth it.

        • John

          You are using a typical propaganda tactic: when losing the argument, change the topic.
          You are upset because the title of the article is “odd”? Seriously? How about this, “Active Duty Members of the Russians Federation military and their equipment are engaging in hostilities in eastern Ukraine.” Better?

          Reply
        • PaulCC

          Well, by now we have an answer on this “conspiracy joke”, from the horse’s mouth – Putin has said yesterday on Russian TV, in a trailer for a documentary to be show on first anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, how he ordered Russian special forces and ministry of defence, to return Crimea to Russia. It happened on Feb. 22, 2014.

          Today, damage control, as Kremlin realised that Putin has admitted a naked aggression – there was supposedly a secret opinion poll performed by Kremlin in Crimea, before the decision was made.

          It would all be laughable, if it was not a tragedy for millions of Ukrainians that now live in a war zone, and thousands dead….

          Reply
  8. EllBee

    The snipers were there to emphatically scare off the protesters. Nothing says get off the streets like a dead person on the ground in front of you, staring into space! But what does it matter now? All logic, reason and rational thought has gone out the window on a breath of wind from the Kremlin. When eastern Ukraine’s puppets declare their territory part of the new Soviet Federation then pity those who had little to start with and even less now. And pity the Russians as well for having to take on another basket case thereby having to share in their misery.

    Reply

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