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Russia’s War in Ukraine: The Medals and Treacherous Numbers

August 31, 2016

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

Translations: Русский

The full report can be downloaded here stock_save_pdf

The war in eastern Ukraine is known under multiple names; most often formulations similar to Ukrainian civil war or Ukrainian conflict are still used to describe the war. The implied characteristic as solely internal Ukrainian conflict is heavily disputed and an active Russian participation is widely accepted. While there is now plentiful evidence documenting a direct and decisive participation of Russian servicemen and the Russian armed forces in the fighting in eastern Ukraine since summer 2014, it is however not possible to support the various claims about the size of the Russian involvement using public available information.

Given the nature of open source evidence, it is near impossible to provide an exact number of Russian servicemen participating in the fighting in eastern Ukraine only relying on this type of information. The open source research done by @Askai707 and InformNapalm strongly suggest that – at minimum – hundreds of Russian servicemen were involved in the fighting so far. The most direct evidence could be provided by the Russian bureaucracy. However, such an information is also most likely a Russian state secret and not publicly available. Other information, similar to official statistics, would also allow an estimation of the number of involved Russian servicemen. Such information is available in previously published individual cases of Russian servicemen.

Previous published analyses identified Russian servicemen who published imagery of awarded medals. This imagery is valuable because most of the higher Russian medals have a consecutive numbering, explicitly stating the number of medals awarded so far. Therefore, imagery from two medals awarded at different dates allows us to calculate the number of awarded medals between both dates. Awards of four medals are analyzed in this report. It is possible to demonstrate that the number of awarded medals, compared to the years before 2014, suddenly and strongly increased in 2014 and 2015. The large number of awarded medals “For Distinction in Combat”, 4300 awards between 07.11.2014 and 18.02.2016, strongly suggests larger combat operations with active Russian military involvement in this period. In sum, the data suggests that more than ten thousand medals of all four considered types were awarded in the considered period. Therefore, it can be directly concluded that:

  • Thousands of Russian servicemen participated in 2014 and 2015 in combat operations and were awarded with medals for their actions in these operations.

Because of the evidence presented in preceding reports documenting the presence of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in eastern Ukraine and its participating in the fighting, and because it is a rather unrealistic assumption that every Russian serviceman participating or involved in the fighting in eastern Ukraine has been awarded with one of the discussed medals, it is possible to conclude:

  • Most likely far more than ten thousand Russian servicemen participated in combat operations in eastern Ukraine.
  • Most likely tens of thousands Russian servicemen participated in or contributed to the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

In sum, the findings of this report support the claims that thousands of Russian servicemen were active in eastern Ukraine. With these findings, it is also possible to strongly increase the lower data-based estimate of Russian servicemen involved in the fighting in eastern Ukraine using only open source information.

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  1. John Zenwirt

    Attacks on Bellingcat from the two biggest Russian media sources, and that is supposedly a, “co-incident.”

    But in the tightly-guarded realm of Russia’s big media, that chance is almost impossible.

    Someone higher up, made a decision that Russian media would “attack” B/C on a certain day, today….

  2. John Zenwirt

    Ukraine Reports Russia Is Practicing Its Readiness For Nuclear Conflict.

    Ukraine’s military intelligence claims Russia’s nuclear forces have begun training, simulating the conditions of a large-scale conflict.

    Kiev’s military intelligence posted a statement on Facebook Wednesday, reporting that Russia’s 33 Guards Rocket Army, based in the western Siberian city of Omsk, had kicked off a nuclear combat practice drill.

    “The aim of the exercise is to check the readiness of Russia’s strategic missile troops on duty, to carry out objectives in the conditions of a large-scale conflict with the implementation of nuclear arms,” the statement read.” (NewsWeek)

    • stranger

      The strategic forces are always ready starting from the middle of 50s. The whole idea of the deterrence is that the rockets should take off before the enemy’s ones land and destroy them. The inheritance of the Cold War which is returning now. And Ukraine is happy to collide Russia with the rest of the world, at least at the level of misinformation.
      Please see here how it works in US, the same in Russia:
      But it is a progress for the Ukrainian mass misformation, last time they claimed Russia has already used tactic nukes at Donbass. Now a bit more careful.
      John, why do you keep posting all this nonsense? 🙁

      • Mad Dog

        I guess for the same reasons you continue to post a lot of nonsense! The Russkies are getting ready for a nuke exchange with China as that is the only way they could stop them coming across the Amur….LOL. Also, by making these teams drill, they will have less time to become blindingly drunk! I feel for them, because they live a pretty bleak existence out there in the cold and mud. Only thing left open for recreation is bootleg vodka. (or hockey if they are in the 65th Guards.)

        • stranger

          China will sleep for another 1000 years, for they historical scale it is nothing. But there is a real risk Russians and Americans would start to kill each others in Syria sooner or later. Or in Crimea. God safe us from that. You know, Russians are so custom to the cold, so they would not even notice the nuclear winter, especially drinking vodka, but how are you going to go out in a gas mask? LOL


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