Russia's 200th Motorized Infantry Brigade in the Donbass
The following post originally appeared on the Russian-language blog of the author, Askai707
Below is an English translation of the post (translated by Aric Toler), which concerns the direct open source evidence regarding the participation of the 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade (military unit 08274) in the conflict in eastern Ukraine in the summer and autumn of 2014. The primary evidence for this, as presented below by Askai, is that the military equipment photographed and captured in video footage near Luhansk in 2014 were returned to their base in Russia in 2015, with the changed identifying features (yellow numbers, triangles) unchanged since their time in the Donbass. The second entry to this investigative series can be found here, and the third and final here.
In the fierce battles near Luhansk at the end of August 2014, Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers faced a group made up of various units of Russian military brigades. The 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade (military unit 08275, Pechenga) was one of them. This post will given direct evidence of of the participation of units of the this Russian brigade from Pechenga in the war in the Donbass.
Going into the warzone in the Donbass, Russian military units paint over the signs of their tactical units on military equipment in order to avoid detection. Some military units apply temporary identification signs. This is done in order to minimize the chance of accidentally opening fire on one’s own combat vehicles in a situation in which the enemy has the same or visually similar military equipment. However, now it is possible to identify which Russian military units fought in Ukraine by the visible identification signs.
In the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, like before in the Soviet Army, so-called tactical signs and hull numbers are applied to military vehicles in each military unit. Before the outbreak of hostilities in the Donbass, there was not a single tactical mark used for the whole 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade. Instead, each unit used its own sign.
The first, second, and third motorized infantry battalions had their own tactical symbols (a circle, inverted equilateral triangle, and a circle within a square, respectively, all painted in white), and their own numbering sequences:
The tactical sign of the tank battalion of the 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade was a white diamond within a square, formed by a white line:
An artillery installation of a 2S3 Akatsiya self-propelled howitzer of the artillery battalion of the 200th Brigade also has its own tactical sign:
Below is an example of the tactical sign of the anti-aircraft rocket-artillery battalion of the 200th Brigade, on the anti-aircraft complexes of a Strela-10 and a Tunguska.
In order to hide their participation in hostilities in the Donbass, these white tactical signs and hull numbers were painted over. In their place, new numbers and a tactical sign of a small triangle were painted in yellow. In some cases, the old numbers were painted over, but the new ones were not put on.
Obviously, the sequence of numbers has also been changed for reasons of secrecy. The numbers used on the hulls of the armored transporters MT-LB BMK, T-72B3 tanks, and anti-aircraft complexes Tunguska were unusual for the relevant units of the 200th Brigade, as they began with 7 and 8.
Below are examples of military equipment of the 200th Motorized Infantry Brigade with identifying yellow triangles, hull numbers, and similar markings (the full collection of available photographs will be presented in a later enumeration of indirect evidence of the brigade’s participation in the war in the Donbass).
The Tunguska complex carries many marks and a new yellow number, but they were not able to completely cover up the tactical sign of the anti-aircraft/artillery battalion of the brigade:
In place of the old hull numbers and tactical signs on the T-72B3 tanks, we can now see new numbers and a triangle tactical sign in yellow:The yellow triangles and hull numbers on the Akatsiya howitzer and a BTR:
The armored vehicles with the identifying signs of yellow triangles actually belong to the 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade, as demonstrated in the photographs below.
A serviceman registered on the Russian social network site “VKontakte” as “Tolik Kondrashov” made a post in March on his page. In this post, he published a crude poem about how life is horrible for a kontraktnik (contract soldier) in Pechenga, about the false promises of commanders, and about a trip to Luhansk with the goal of killing enemies and saving his Slavic brothers. The poem has little value when compared to the photograph below it.
On Kondrashav’s photo, a number of units of military equipment from the 200th Brigade are in a village called “19th Kilometer,” near Pechenga, where the unit is located. Dozens of vehicles have the yellow identifying triangles and hull numbers on the front side of the chassis. Also in this photograph is a MT-LB BMK with its “relatives” that is not adorned with white numbers and tactical signs.
The high resolution version of the photograph allows us to distinguish the yellow hull numbers on the BTRs: 786, 800, 804, 810, and 811.
It’s possible to identify the location of this group of military equipment with the use of additional photographs from social networks and satellite maps:
The MT-LB BMK is the main type of armored vehicle for the 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade, which it uses for infantry transport. Up until Spring 2015, in the brigade we would find MT-LB BMKs with the conspiratorial yellow numbers that begin with 7 and 8, and yellow triangles. They were later painted over, and then carried the standard of the old numbers and a new tactical symbol for all of the units of a square with white lines.
Analyzing the accounts of the 200th Brigade servicemen on VKontakte allows us to find seventeen photographs of MT-LB BMKs with yellow numbers. The following list contains the yellow hull numbers on the MT-LB BMK with the original photographs hyperlinked and archives of the VKontakte pages where the photographs were found.
- 777 (archive)
- 782 (archive)
- 783 (archive)
- 786 (2) (archive 1, 2)
- 789 (2) (archive 1, 2)
- 792 (2) (3) (4) (archive 1, 2, 3, 4)
- 794 (2) (archive 1, 2)
- 797 (2) (archive 1, 2)
- 800 (2) (archive 1, 2)
- 801 (2) (archive 1, 2)
- 802 (2) (archive 1, 2)
- 805 (2) (archive 1, 2)
- 804, 810, 811 (archive)
- 815, 816 (archive) — this photo was taken in Fall 2014 in Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Russia, and was not taken by a Russian serviceman
Additionally, the MT-LB BMK with the yellow hull number 805 and identifying yellow triangle was visible in media coverage of the training exercises of the coastal forces of the Northern Fleet in February 2015. The exercises were held at Kolsky Bay at Guba Gryaznaya in the Murmansk oblast’. In their training, servicemen practice amphibious landings with the MT-LB BTK numbered 805.
The screenshots below are from a video about the Northern Fleet’s training exercises from RT.
The very same vehicle numbered 805 is in a photograph on the news site SeverPost.ru.
The fact that these exercises were held at Guba Gryaznaya in the Kolsky Bay is confirmed by the common feature of certain buildings along the coast in a photograph on VKontakte and a photograph on Panoramio.
In the following photograph, it is easy to see both the yellow number 805 and the identifying yellow triangle on the hull of the MT-LB BMK chassis:
We will now consider the most direct evidence regarding the participation of this brigade in combat operations in the Donbass.
In early September 2014, a video was uploaded online that was shot from a vehicle on September 3, 2015 near a village Severo-Gundorovsky in the Luhansk oblast’. The video recorder took the GPS coordinates of the vehicle, by which we can establish that the beginning of the video is at 48.379461, 39.874896, headed northward. The vehicle stops at 48.380638, 39.875110, where we see a column of military equipment headed southward.
Ahead of the column is a camouflaged jeep ‘UAZ Patriot.” Until the moment when the video ends, we see the following vehicles pass by:
- 1 BTR-80
- 10 MT-LB BMK transporters
- 3 Strela-10 missile complexes
- 2 T-72B3 tanks
- 7 Ural trucks
- 2 KamAZ trucks
- 7 2B16 Nona-K artillery installations
Judging by the models of the military equipment (the T-72B3 tank, the modified MT-LB BMKs, the Nona-K), it is clear that this column is made up of vehicles from the Russian Armed Forces. The identifying signs on the MT-LB BMK are small yellow triangles, and there are yellow numbers on the front part of the chassis. These two features on the vehicles clearly point to the 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade.
The quality of the video allows us to distinguish the following numbers on the MT-LB BMK vehicles: 775, 784, 785, 790, 791, 792, and 797. From these seven, which were already noticed in the previous list, we can find photographs of the MT-LB BMK vehicles with the yellow hull numbers 792 and 797 on the VKontakte pages of 200th Brigade servicemen.
Photograph from the account of Maksim Belozerskikh:
Additionally, see here (archive) for a second photograph of MT-LB BMK with the number 792 from Maksim Belezersky, and another photograph (archive) with resemblance to it on the page of “Zenka Nechayev,” another serviceman of the 200th.
The MT-LB BMK transporter with the yellow hull number 979 is in the photographs of a Russian serviceman registered on VKontakte under the name “Kolya Liba,” and also on the page of a serviceman under the name Yury Shcherbakov.
The pro-Russian channel ANNA-News happened to publish a video in September 2014 of armored vehicles from the 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade. In the segment, in which the story is told of how the courageous “militia” of the Donbass liberated the Luhansk Airport from mythical Polish and Georgian mercenaries, we can see an MT-LB BMK in the fifth minute. The video tells of how there was the “removal of wounded militiamen from the airport.” The faces of the servicemen on the vehicle are hidden due to image blurring.
In fact, what ANNA-News showed was one of the Russian MT-LB BMKs of the 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade. In the video, we can clearly see the yellow number 784 and the identifying triangles on the hull of the chassis, to the right of the armored door.
The MT-LB BMK with the hull number 784 can also be seen in the column near the village of Severo-Gundorovsky:
Other than the outskirts of Luhansk, we can also find photographs of the armored vehicles of the 200th Brigade at the Luhansk Airport.
An LNR fighter from Izhevsk, who is a member of the Vityaz’ Battalion, is registered on VKontakte under the name Pavel R. On September 3, 2014, he posted an album titled “Luhansk Airport 03.09.14” on his account. In this album, a variety of photographs of the Luhansk Airport are published. On two of them, we can see the MT-LB BMK vehicles of Russia’s 200th Motorized Infantry Brigade.
The photographs were taken in front of the facade of the airport’s building at 48°25’20.5″N 39°22’46.4″E. Alongside the army truck is a MT-LB BMK, on the front chassis of which we can see a yellow hull number.
Below is a comparison of the features of the photograph with a video from “Novaya Rus'” at the Luhansk Airport:
In a different photograph, we can see part of the right rear of the armored vehicle, where a small yellow triangle is visible:
We have also seen this mark on the majority of the MT-LB BMK vehicles of the 200th Brigade, including many of the vehicles at the 200th Brigade vehicle yard.
This photograph from Pavel P was also taken at the Luhansk Airport, at 48°25’22.3″N 39°22’37.4″E.
Additional confirmation of the location can be attained with some easily recognizable objects in the photograph (pipes and two large reservoirs) with the help of the video “IGCP. Luhansk Airport (30 September 2014) 18+.”
At the end of our survey of the direct evidence of the participation of the 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade in military aggression against Ukraine, we have the photographs of the Russian serviceman Sergey Kalashnikov. Kalashnikov does not indicate that where he is serving in his profile; however, there is good reason to believe that he is a sergeant in the 200th Brigade.
In a photograph uploaded in April 2015, Sergey Kalashnikov is in a Russian military uniform with the chevron of the Northern Fleet:
In a photograph published in November 2014, Kalashnikov poses in front of a T-72B3 tank with the yellow hull number 830 on blocks of reactive armor on the right side of the turret. Additionally, there is a KMT-6 mine-clearing plow attached to the front of the tank.
Exactly one T-72B3 tank in the 200th Brigade in 2014 had the yellow number 830 on blocks of reactive armor plates to the right of the turret, and had such a mine-clearing plow:
In addition to the above evidence, Kalashnikov also uploaded a photograph of military equipment of the 200th Brigade with the identifying yellow triangles and photographs from the ruined Luhansk Airport. In these photographs, we can see elements of the MT-LB armored transporter chassis.
Thanks to the photographs on Kalashnikov’s account, we can find two other locations in the Luhansk oblast’ through which the military equipment of the 200th Motorized Infantry Brigade passed.
A column of military equipment of the 200th was in the village of Khryashchevatoe, which is near Luhansk and about ten kilometers from the Luhansk Airport. The photograph below was uploaded in November 2014, but was likely taken around the end of August or beginning of September.
At the head of the column is a camouflaged “UAZ Patriot” — just like in the video at the village of Severo-Gundorovsky.
This video was shot at the coordinates of 48°30’31.3″N 39°25’43.4″E. We can easily match elements of this photograph with those in the video “Road from Luhansk to Pridorozhnoe 14 September 2014.”
Below, we can see the highlighted objects in the area along with the direction of the column on a satellite map:
In the following photograph from Sergey Kalashnikov, a column of military equipment (MT-LB BMK and Strela-10) is moving through the city of Krasnodon along Artyoma Street (located at 48°17’18.0″N 39°44’19.1″E).
We can find the matching elements in the photograph with the help of the video “Trip to Krasnodon through Luhansk and ruined Novosvetlovka.”
Below, see the highlighted objects in the area and the direction of the column on a satellite map:
In this summary, we reviewed the direct evidence of the participation of the 200th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in military activities in the Donbass in the summer and autumn of 2014. The evidence was presented in the form of photographs and videos from open sources, including social networks, videos on YouTube, and reports in the mass media. Another selection of circumstantial evidence regarding to the 200th Brigade in the Donbass in 2014 will be presented in a second section, still to come.
Translator’s note: Bellingcat will publish the second part of this investigation soon after the author finishes his work.