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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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474 Comments

  1. Mad Dog

    Brent, welcome to the fray. It was getting a bit lonely here. Stranger keeps ranting about Ukrainian trolls, but I see very little evidence to support that. Doesn’t matter though, cause BC will keep on publishing this stuff as it becomes available and all of this evidence, despite claims to the contrary (loved that post about the medals being awarded for Syria….made my day), keeps piling up on the shoulders of Putin and his minions. Sad to see all the suffering and I include the poor Russian troops who go back in body bags as well. As you mentioned, Russia will have to pay for this sooner or later and I do hope the pitchforks come out at that time. Russia, filled with fine intelligent and caring people, does not need this kind of Czar. BTW, stranger also accused me of being a Ukrainian troll….another bit of comedy from a pretty funny guy. Finally, despite Soviet (oops) propaganda to the contrary, these persistent claims about mass civilian casualties in Donbass from Ukrainian shelling has been shown to be bogus, as I related on another thread. Floggin a dead horse I guess.

    Reply
    • stranger

      Yes, I also find your ignorance in Russia and ignoring the obvious facts – funny to say at least. I just was trying to understand your motivation, combined with the doggy nick, while you didn’t answer what you are doing for the living. I agree that your manners are more like American may be, ignorance + arrogance is my favorite meme of bad American manners. Other trolls are different, actually everybody is unique of course.
      It seemed everything had calmed down for a while here. So very surprised by the Ukrainian cyber warriors attacking a fresh article like a bunch of piranhas a fresh meat, ready to tear apart everybody who dares to disagree with the general legend. Do they fool anybody? It seems more like trolls are talking to themselves, with occasional very rare voices of real people who are trying to understand of express personal opinion.

      Reply
      • Mad Dog

        How very funny of you to say so. Ignorance of Russia. How so. I probably know more about Russia than the average person does. As for manners, I resent the statement about arrogance. I would suggest your are probably the most arrogant person here as you ignore all the facts that are put forth on this site and continue to divert attention from things you find distasteful.

        As for not answering your questions, I imagine you have many questions that remain unanswered as well, a prerogative of the Net Sorry, but personal questions only divert from the topic at hand.

        Reply
        • stranger

          Sure, good reply. Personal questions would help to understand what have brought you so such biased position or whether you hypothetically pursue any agenda as some other trolls here definitely do. Of course nobody is obliged to answer, it is just asking for a favor.
          I cannot accept your accusation of ignoring the facts or intentionally trying to divert the discussion. Instead I find suspicious your requests to follow the narrow path directed by the article. Starting from some point I consider the pre selection of topics here as an intentional campaign.

          Reply
        • stranger

          You anyway open yourself as you are posting, as everybody does of course. By claiming you know Russia perfectly, by selecting Gessen and Bershidskiy as your favorite authors, by the specifics of your reinterpretation of history. I usually believe it is inapropriate to discuss personalities. Will try no to do, unless disturbed personally. Just thinking aloud.

          Reply
      • Rascalndear

        I think your English needs a bit of work. That’s a pretty good indication of where you come from. This comment of yours was entirely gratuitous, actually.

        Reply
        • stranger

          Please open your eyes, several posts ago I clearly stated that I’m Russian and I came from Moscow. It would be ridiculous to pretend anybody else, including my not perfect English. But it is understandable anyway I hope.

          Reply
        • stranger

          Ah and as of Mad Dog we have already discussed with him many things for the last half an year so for you this comment may seem unrelavant out of the context.

          Reply
  2. Arya Stark

    I also notice that according to the researchers’ figures, Russia is handing out the highest award for bravery (distinction in combat) in larger numbers than the lesser medals such as the medal of Suvorov which don’t even require the soldier to have been in combat.

    Obviously common sense and reason tells us this can’t be correct.

    This research is either mistaken or just completely bogus.

    Reply
  3. Phillio

    Very good research …. And yet Putin continues to lie ! When will the lies stop ? Will they ever stop ? Or is this just Russia’s fate – to be the land of cold , cruelty and lies…..

    Reply
      • TyRuskiass

        look who is talking, kissing Puty the Mad Midget’s ass whole day feels good?:P
        “russia” is not even a country ffs, its a poor excuse of a federation that should be brought to an end.

        Reply
      • stranger

        Yeah, not only liars, but also the people with the nastiest manners in the world and also rather personally addressed cruelty.

        Reply
        • Arya Stark

          It seems impossible to hold any rational discussion with Ukrainians.

          I highly doubt such a people are capable of fixing any of their own country’s problems.

          Reply
          • Black Star

            That was more than a bit racist comment, wasn’t it? But I guess anything goes in Putinland.

  4. Sandy miller

    The Russian trolls amaze me and their bold face lying. Russia is devastating Ukraine and everyone knows it. The question is when will the world have enough of Putin and his gang of murderers , thieves and liars?

    It’s way beyond time for the west to stop playing cat and mouse games with the Kremlin and do some heavy duty aggression. The more games you play the more lose of life and eventually and maybe sooner than later Putin will pull out the nukes he truly believes he can get away with anything and no one will stop him. Sanctions aren’t working . The only thing Putin and Kremlin understand is raw power. Wake up west you’re all victims of putins evil empire. Their is no diplomacy left.

    Reply
    • stranger

      It’s amazing how easily Ukrainians are calling for the WW3 and hope to stay away from it. Sinking their own country themselves and trying to sink the former bigger brother and beg some special benefits from their new masters for the betrayal.

      Reply
    • Arya Stark

      Ukraine is devastating Ukraine.

      And what’s more, we in the West don’t care about Ukraine any longer.

      Ukraine is yesterday’s news.

      Reply
      • John Zenwirt

        Ukraine is yesterday’s news.

        Wow, you are obvious…It’s NOT forgotten in our West…A truly nasty liar, since you are not a regular here, perhaps you will go back to VKontacte or somewhere, just anywhere.

        Reply
        • Arya Stark

          I’m from the UK and nobody gives a toss about Ukraine.

          Actually several of my work colleagues are visiting Russia on holiday soon.

          When they mentioned they were going many others said they would love to go.

          Reply
          • Rascalndear

            Sticking in “gives a toss” doesn’t make the rest of your English any better or any more UK-ish, “Ms. Stark.” Good try, tho.

          • stranger

            She will just find another example from wild nature BBC documentary specifically for you. 🙂 if somebody doubted that I’m Russian for example I would not spend time to dissuade.

  5. Mad Dog

    Russia is bigger, so the number of liars is greater. Putin is the biggest one, so why pick on Ukraine. Constant refrain from our Troll population, but nothing in comparison to some of the major lies we see disclosed here.

    Reply
    • stranger

      Russia is bigger, but the density of liars is lower, so in absolute numbers it is much less. 🙂 If you know Russia perfectly you should know that.

      Reply
  6. Mr.Bushkin

    Quote: “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.”

    Who says that not for instance 5048 of such medals have been awarded during the metioned period?

    Reply
      • stranger

        I’ll tell more – nobody reads them even in Russian language. Except some small club of worshippers. Last time I checked that Radio Liberty was prohibited from broadcasting to US and the western countries. Have they recently changed the policy and turned over the informational cannons towards own population?

        Reply
        • Black Star

          Oh and by the way, if Radio Liberty was prohibited from broadcasting in western countries, how come you can see an Internet link to Radio Liberty webpage on a web site that resides in a western country?

          Reply
          • Arya Stark

            I think stranger is right though, I seem to recall something about Radio Liberty being for non US use only.

          • stranger

            I swear I saw it in the critics section on Wikipedia some time ago and now no any critics is there. But there was the information that it is intentionally not broadcasted in US.
            Well may be this radio is good for some countries, maybe it played a role during isolation in USSR, but today Russia is not so banana republic to be feed by specially cooked information, c’mon. It means not respect yourself. But whatever, it is not banned in Russia and the link to the Russian version of radio Liberty site is always hanging at many oppositional news resources.

        • Arya Stark

          In 2014 the famous UK newspaper The Guardian began a partnership with Radio Liberty and started publishing their articles on its website.

          Up until then I had never heard of Radio Liberty.

          The very name sounds like a joke, some kind of crude 1950s propaganda. And after 2 minutes research online I established that it is indeed a propaganda station originally CIA funded.

          Reply
          • Black Star

            You can read Radio Liberty in any free country around the world.
            So, if you never heard of Radio Liberty, you must be under 40 years old, right?

        • Black Star

          “nobody reads them even in Russian language”

          And which part in Russia do you reside in?

          Reply
          • stranger

            Moscow, I tell by my friends on Facebook. There are a couple who republish them, but that is just like a club of interests, they love to collect any thematic stuff.

  7. Arya Stark

    Why would I, a British citizen, ever have heard of Radio Liberty until I found out about it from the Guardian?

    I have never seen it advertised ever in the UK and never come across it broadcasting in the UK in English.

    I suppose if i had researched American propaganda in eastern Europe I could have found out about it, but I had no interest in the topic.

    Reply
    • Black Star

      Maybe you should read at least the Radio Liberty Wikipage before you start to discuss this matter. Or is it available in your country 😀

      Reply
      • Arya Stark

        I have read the wiikipedia page on US propaganda. It describes Radio Liberty as a propaganda station.

        But I don’t need wikipedia. CIA funding is all i need to know.

        Reply
          • Arya Stark

            Well this is the first few lines of the wiki article on RFE.

            Radio Free Europe was created and grew in its early years through the efforts of the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE), an anti-communist CIA front organization that was formed by Allen Dulles in New York City in 1949.

        • Black Star

          By the way, one of the ways to easily recognise Russian trolls is to ask them to answer something that requires reading something outside their always rather minuscule selection of webpages. They never do. I believe the reason to be that they are writing from a pre-made made discussion format.

          Reply
          • stranger

            I don’t hide that I’m Russian, but not the troll. Aria said she is from UK. What’s the problem?

          • stranger

            Are NYT or WP or well known news agencies good enough for you? If I’m saying I don’t like being brainwashed by whatever dedicated propagandistic resources, that doesn’t mean I don’t respect quality journalism.

          • Black Star

            “Stranger”, I asked *where* in Russia are you living in.

            “Arya Stark” Just read the wikipage and continue then. Also, why are you writing racist comments about people living in Ukraine?

          • Black Star

            “Stranger”, what is your opinion about Russian TV? Especially the news in TV?

          • Black Star

            So I should believe that while you spend copious amounts of time vocally resisting “western brainwashing” you dont care what kind of brainwashing is going on in Russian TV?

          • stranger

            I equally disregard any brainwashing. But I’m optimist that real people are not so subjected and the influence of propaganda is highly overestimated.

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