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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

    Just gotta love this: “and dissent is slowly but surely being quashed.”
    Well, first of all there are no sa_ne dissents who know what to do and who are trusted by people.
    Yeah, straight out of the mouths of Putin followers! So, Russia has no sane dissenters and the only sane people are those who follow United Russia? is this kind of like your blanket condemnation of Ukrainians as consummate liars? You are too young, perhaps, to realize that you sound far too much like zealous Young Pioneers with a tinge of Hitler Jugend when spout that kind of stuff. Dismiss all dissent cause it is not in the interest of the party, condemn the other nation cause it is just full of liars and thieves! Brilliant. So, who ya gonna vote for in the upcoming parliamentary elections….the opposition? Is there any viable opposition?

    Reply
    • stranger

      Well, I’m a bit exhagerating of course, don’t take too literally. I’m saying, whatever is the reason, I don’t see any political figures who would be trusted and who would clearly understand what they are going to do next other than removing Putin. At the best opposition is repeating the populist mottos like ‘it’s better to be healthy and wealthy, than otherwise’, but usually it is just ‘let’s remove Putin’, at worse they sometimes seem to really hate Russia, like Kokh, Illarionov, a number of others. Who do we have from the opposition: populist Yavlinskiy from 1996, the locomotive of the protest, but not ready to go himself, Navalny, the decorative figure he pushes ahead – Kasyanov, planning the revolution in Russia from abroad, our new ‘Lenin’ – Khodorkovskiy? I regret that there are no serious discussion and serious analysis.

      Reply
        • stranger

          Nemtsov, very charismatic, not too popular may be at that moment, overall harmless in the current situation. He has a very nice doughter. Why do think that Putin ordered him? Why so demonstratively by the walls of Kremlin to stage a perfect picture for the western media? The Official investigation led to Chechnia where the trace was lost. There were possibly forces from opposition like Khodor interested in his death as well. I don’t know, but I would not claim the murder was ordered by Putin, just because Putin didn’t gain anything from that.

          Reply
      • Sammy3

        Stranger

        There is no serious analysis of Russia by Russians.

        Low oil prices is not a conspiracy from the west, its supply and demand. Everyone in OPEC and out of OPEC (Russia) lie about their oil production numbers.

        If you base your economy on goo from the ground instead of the brains of your citizens, you aren’t reaching your potential.

        Reply
    • stranger

      I’m talking not about ‘dissents’ of course, but about known opposition politicians who are participating actively now. Whom would you call dissents?

      Reply
      • Mad Dog

        I am sorry, but you are the one who brought up dissidents, so what is your definition?

        Strangely, there are very few opposing voices in Russia, quite different from most other European countries. I betcha there are a lot of LGBT folks who would love to dissent, but they care for their lives even more. Whaddya think stranger..are they just going along with the church and family values??

        Reply
        • stranger

          What can threat the lives of LGBT? There are several public person openly ‘came out’, nobody pursue them, depending maybe on the intelligence level of their close circle, it is their personal business. I can immediately recall at least 3 of them including Masha Gessen. The ‘propaganda of LGBT’ is prohibited, that means no the gay parades and no gay marriage of course. But you know they should honor the feelings of the straight people as well.

          I don’t know why there are no so many protest voices. There are they – many people criticize and rather popular and well known people as well. Not enough? Probably people are overall satisfied or most probably don’t care. According to Lenin – there should be a revolutionary situation ripened, until then nobody is able to artificially create it.

          Reply
    • stranger

      “condemn the other nation cause it is just full of l1ars and thieves! Brilliant.”
      Wait, wait, this is your statement, not mine. I’m just saying be careful to trust just words of the interested people. Because you tend to idealize everything going on in Ukraine and prejudice if not ‘demonize’ everything which is going in Russia. I also regret the current Ukrainian policy to fingerpoint and call the west to ‘revenge’ Russia, I believe there is a good deal of hypocrisy and simply ly1ng there. There is some unpleasant personal experience as well, not all experience was the same of course.

      Reply
    • stranger

      “condemn the other nation cause it is just full of l1ars and thieves! Brilliant”
      Also if you look where I said that, you would see I was answering assertions like ‘all Russians are l1ers’ from our trolls. Why don’t you apply the same logic to the other side like ‘…condemn the other nation…’

      Reply
    • stranger

      Sorry, the last thing. You said “You are too young, perhaps, to realize that you sound far too much like zealous Young Pioneers” not too young not to catch pioneering in Soviet school, though that time it was only decorative.
      I’m so surprised to see exactly the same at this forum and mass media just with the opposite sign. The young ‘pioneers’ condemning Russia at this forum look so pretty much similar to their twins from contemporary ‘Molodaya Gvardia’, ‘Nashi’ or even Soviet pioneers and Komsomolets. I can just feel peremptory and sharp ideologically-aligned statements to condemn Russia, to contain, to make Putin pay for that. Feels so pretty much like old good soviet times and old cozy international news at Soviet TV somewhen in 80s, ‘USSR condemns American imperialists and the instigators of wars!’. Now you can review those old Soviet programs as an anecdote or a cozy and kind joke. It looks so pretty much similar now, but already against Russia, and not so cozy and kind as old Soviet TV was 🙁

      Reply
  2. stranger

    Sorry for off topic. WADA which insisted to ban all Russian Olympic team, unsuccessfully, but still managed to cut it and ban completely the Paralympic team. The same WADA officially used to allow some of American sports persons to take doping due to ‘therapy needs’.

    That shows all the essence of anti Russian campaign – hypocrisy, double standards or simply shameless l1es.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-37352326

    I’m not saying it was good to make personal records public, not sure it were Russian hackers, but what matters is the hypocrisy of WADA. Russia should more actively sue such organizations. Hope WADA will be reformed as the result of the scandal and court trials.

    Reply
    • stranger

      While all western media spin off only allerged Russian hackers and exposing of personal records. And completely ignore the fact of doping usage itself and double standards relating to the Russian team. Just a hypocrisy.

      Reply
    • Mad Dog

      Uh, there are major differences in the determination of WADA. There was no FSB involved in the young lady’s use of a drug from a very early age and her use was well known to the IOC and WADA. No one stole her urine samples or doctored them. Actually, you come off a bit prejudiced in this respect. Hypocritical as well. You do remember the East Germans were found to have such a national program, very similar to the one Russia is accused of, but they got caught after unification whereas their Russian comrades continued on until being caught doing the same thing. FSB, STASI, same thing, helping to run a national program, not a case of a young lady with a treatable disorder using some drugs before she even became an athlete. Get real stranger.

      Reply
      • stranger

        The young ladies are not guilty, in the sense they were allowed to take doping officially due to vague ‘medical conditions’ like ‘deficit of attention and hyperactivity(!?)’. WADA conducted a double standard hypocritical policy, by officially allowing some sportspeople to take doping and get the benefit over others at Olympics while keeping it all in secret. It is also very strange to observe the WADA’s pressing to IOC, and how much IOC was criticizes in the all mainstream western media for admitting Russian team despite of WADA ‘recommendations’, actually just delegated the decision to particular sports federations. WADA exceeded it’s credentials. Sportspeople usually have enough money to hire good lawyers, I hope they will have WADA to respond, several countries are insisting on it’s reforming.
        As for Russian allegedly state program. FSB involvement version sounds simply ridiculous. Some sportspeople probably might have been taking the doping, others not, it was wrong to apply the principal of collective responsibility, especially to the people with disabilities only. Pure logic – why was the regular team admitted, but the people with limited abilities banned?
        Don’t you agree that it was purely politically motivated decision even though they are afraid to admit it?

        Reply
  3. Mad Dog

    Wonder if the FSB drugged some of the troops in the Ukraine in order to keep their mouths shut (of course, the medals may have helped as well).

    So, stranger, did you do your civic duty as a young draftee. Army, Navy, Air Force?

    Reply
    • stranger

      We had the system, when those studying in a technical college/university automatically received some additional (very minor) military speciality and were assigned to the reserve w/o actual service. Those strategic missiles for example. Btw USSR had the best in the world liquid fuel rocket engines which are still used in NASA. But I don’t know any secrets which you cannot find openly on Wikipedia anyway.

      Reply
      • John Zenwirt

        No; for years the USA discovered, and produced, the 1st solid-fuel rocket, much safer and more stable. You didn’t know that? Liquid fuel is V-2 type liquid oxygen. also used in 1950’s in USA. But its no good for offensive operations, it takes so much time to load the LOX, at the last moment, and your enemy has sattelites and can see you loading up…1st strike therefore is on the way now…

        Reply
        • stranger

          I believe most of heavy silo-based intercontinental missiles has been liquid fuel. While the mobile chassis based missiles are hard-fuel. I may be wrong, but I believe liquid fuel engines are more power and can provide a higher load and distance.

          Reply
    • stranger

      And as you understand, the same rocket engines may be used to deliver war heads worldwide faster than any DHL. That’s why the articles of the so called ‘analysts’ at Atlantic Consil and other ‘think tanks’ where they are saying Russia cannot withstand NAT0 or that a local war between Russia and ‘the west’ is possible is a stupidlty, and a very dangerous one. I also recommend BBC documentary: WW3, Inside the War Room, even though it’s authors are deb1ls.

      Reply
  4. John Zenwirt

    stranger:

    And as you understand, the same rocket engines may be used to deliver war heads worldwide faster than any DHL. ”

    That is why the USA is converting nuclear rocket silos into the new, “Global Strike.” This is to launch a warhead world-wide in a few minutes, with an explosive warhead. Super-fast (17,000) miles per hour….and land on a coin….

    Reply
    • stranger

      That doesn’t matter a lot, because any ‘global strike’ or any large scale conventional conflict which threatens the existence of the state will cause a counter-strike with the following ‘nuclear winter’ on all the Earth.
      Russia is unique among the nine world’s nuclear powers, because besides US only Russia has the advanced means of delivery, the so called ‘nuclear triad’: land based, submarine based and air based. The land based ones include the hidden mobile chassis and rail based launchers which are constantly changing they dislocation and are difficult to trace and target. So it’s a bad idea to mess with Russia.
      The political tensions between our countries make it difficult to start disarming. The vast overwhelming of NAT0 conventional weapon leaves no any other choice for the defense other than the maintaining of the nuclear weapon and improving the means of delivery.
      So when US is saying absolutely right words about nuclear weapon control and reduction, that sounds great, but unfortunately means that countries outside NAT0, first of all Russia, China, perhaps Israel will be left literally defenseless. Especially because at the very same time US continues to modernize and increase the conventional weapon as well as nukes. So I have no idea when this nuclear madness which started many decades ago during the Cold War would eventually come to an end.

      Reply
  5. Mad Dog

    Well, we have North Korea following the precepts of Josef Stalin doing his little mantra. Just about to test a big engine, based on a Russian design, (thanks Russia) so they can send their nukes (thanks Pakistan) over the ocean to hit places like LA or Hawaii or even Tokyo. How fun. So, with actors like that, I doubt the US will shed any nukes any time soon. Plus, China is a big worry as well, but maybe even a bigger worry for you folks stranger…When do you think the Jewish Autonomous Region will become the Deng Shao Ping Memorial Agricultural Cooperative? Any thought on the Heilong Jiang ( река́ Аму́р) and Chinese designs on all that land north of that border. Russia’s falling population must look awful good to a billion Chinese.

    Reply
    • stranger

      The nuke disarming of all nine well known world’s nuke holders would give a tremendous benefit to US in conventional weapon. US doesn’t actually need nukes with the advance and accumulation of the modern regular weapon. So who would be the first to disarm? No fools…
      China doesn’t need to capture lands since it is becoming the world’s trade and economic power regardless of that. As for the Jewish Autonomous Region – ask Jews, probably : )
      As for N/Korea, even if it will really want and be able to make such a disaster, it would be local anyway. There are only 3 countries in the worlds which are able to create the real apocalypses when we all will be dropped back to the Stone Age or the era of dinosaurs, hopefully at least cockroaches will survive: USA, Russia and possibly China.
      But obviously the most possible risk is coming from the nuclear or dirty terrorsm, unfortunately it is only the matter of a time.

      Reply
      • Mad Dog

        Really have to disagree with you here stranger. China looks longingly at the lands on the other side of the Amur. The populations there are growing heavily Chinese recently and there are now tenant Chinese farmers in the Jewish Oblast. And you seem to forget that China has always claimed much of that area was stolen from them, a claim somewhat similar to their claims in the South China Sea.

        As for NK, they are a bit cuckoo and with the help of Russia (the latest rocket engine) and Pakistan (the beginnings of their nuke program plus enriched uranium) they are on the way to building a nice ICBM with a potential threat to the areas I mentioned. As Kim is loonier than Assad, he would not be averse to having his whole country burn to the ground as long as he survived.

        As for the convoy, I note you really have no idea who attacked it, though it is clearly an air attack. The US owned up to its mistake, though I am sure they are not very sorry about it (for good reason), but who else has air assets in that area and why was a Russian recce plane flying overhead just before the attack.

        Chlorine was blamed on Syria, not Russia, and again, they are the only ones in the area with that kind air asset. We know they still drop barrel bombs, so why not include them as the biggest suspect in the chlorine attacks. And why do you suspect all of these accusations are against Russia and hence side with that brutal thug Assad. What has he done for the Syrian people….ever???

        Reply
        • stranger

          China doesn’t show any evidence of aggression, it’s interests are in Asia, and in the economical sphere, if it does, that would be a different problem.

          As for Syrian people, who has been waging the civil war and fed it from abroad for already 5 years? The Libyan and Iraqi dictators were removed in a similar way – has it become better for the people there, may be there is peace and democracy there now?

          What I’d be concerned. Sooner or later the coalition will bomb a Russian detachment, of course by mistake. Sooner or later Russian Caliber missiles will fall on US advisors heads, and Russia would apologize or wouldn’t admit. There are already such rumors spread by Syrian activists and retold by questionable Iranian media, but yet unconfirmed and probably false, so far. But it is quite possible sooner or later. What will be next? Welcome the Judgment Day?

          The politicians have already forgotten themselves in playing.

          The hilarious, supposedly soviet kids’ song of 70-80s: “Slowly the rockets are flying far away…May be we have offended someone in vain – dropped 15 megatons…Biphosgen is stuffing under our gas mask…” very funny…
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtL0iih5L5c

          Reply
  6. John Zenwirt

    U.S. Officials Say Russia Probably Attacked U.N. Humanitarian Convoy.

    Russia was probably responsible for the deadly bombing of a United Nations humanitarian aid convoy in Syria, American officials said Tuesday, further shredding what remained of a severely weakened agreement between the United States and Russia aimed at halting the war.

    Aghast at the attack on Monday night, United Nations officials on Tuesday suspended all aid convoys in Syria, describing the bombing as a possible war crime and a cowardly act.

    http://tinyurl.com/jm5gv68 (NYT)

    This shows how incredible the Russians really are…they hopefully will reap the whirlwind…

    Reply
    • stranger

      ‘PROBABLY attacked’!? They are ly1ng as usual. If you remember several days ago US and coalition hit Syrian army (which kept an important region surrounded by ISIS) allergedly’ by mistake’ and killed at least 60, injuried 100. That let ISIS to advance in that region. US admitted allergedly a mistake. Russia called for UN meeting. US was very annoyed – ‘just because of one mistake’, ‘don’t play for public’. Now they are trying to retaliate Russia and accuse in the bombing of the convoy with the genius formulation – ‘probably’. Everything just after the peace agreements were made and after some secret negotiation between US and Russia was reached which US refused to make public.
      They try to put responsibility to Russia for everything Syrians army does. In the same way Russia tries to put responsibility to US for everything the so called mild rebels do including the violation of peace, including the separation of ‘mild opposition’ from extremist groups.
      That is all dirty politics, but I don’t believe Russia attacked the convoy, hardly even Syrians did, probably just a loud media provocation as usual, as well as you ‘Chlorine’ and other. That was not Russia anyway.
      It is just a dirty political game. And the main reason is perhaps because neither US is able to control their proxies, nor Russia can take responsibility to control Assad. US has already announced that it may cease the collaboration with Russia on Syria, established so difficultly just recently.
      It was not Russia anyway and the formulation ‘probably’ sounds weird and ridiculous. They basically mean they want to assign Russia responsible for everything Assad is doing, while Russia is saying – please curb you armed thugs first and make them to observe our agreements.
      And you prejudice to Russia is already remarkable. Are you sure you are not from Ukraine? Or are you doing it for fun maybe? But it’s not funny.

      Reply
  7. John Zenwirt

    The bombed trucks: “Just when we think it cannot get any worse, the bar of depravity sinks lower.” (NYT)

    Which uSSr is responsible for….this is a War Crime, under Geneva rules….They must be brought to justice @ The Hague….

    Russian government is the worst Government on the face of the Earth…

    Reply
  8. John Zenwirt

    RT says Russia has their “own” Bellingcat!:

    ‘Untenable claims’: Russian bloggers raise more questions about Bellingcat MH17 investigation ”

    A group of Russian activists have released what they say is a fresh batch of discrepancies spotted in the MH17 investigation by their British peers, Bellingcat. Among other inaccuracies and flaws, the report cites Bellingcat’s ignorance of technical details.

    The Russian report is based on the investigation carried out by a team of bloggers, journalists, aviation experts and volunteers calling themselves ‘Anti-Bellingcat’. It makes use of the technical expertise of the Russian arms producer Almaz-Antey. The leader of the group and author of the report is Yury Kotenok, editor-in-chief of the news website Segodnia.ru.

    http://tinyurl.com/zeklz3d (RT)

    Wow; the Russians must hate Bellingcat, to set up the “anti-Bellingcat.”

    Reply
    • stranger

      If seriously, the investigation has been going already for 2.5 years and we don’t have any official results even closely.
      The major risk is that it will be gradually ‘settled quietly’ until everybody forgets. The political targets have already been achieved, everybody is convinced Russia did in intentionally, nobody is interested to dig for the truth any longer.
      The major efforts should be to push the official investigation and demand clear answers.

      Reply
  9. John Zenwirt

    Does anyone think there’s a way to cross-post with the new Russian, “Anti-Bellingcat”…?

    Stranger, you know both languages, can you get them on the ‘nets, and introduce us to them…? That would be most helpful, Thanks….

    Reply
    • stranger

      It they do have a site and a forum, which I doubt, get ready to the battle. ‘I’ll give you a Parabellum’ (c) 🙂

      Reply
  10. John Zenwirt

    Now this community is on Sputnik;

    Leaked Report Blows Lid Off Bellingcat’s Systematic Lying in MH17 Investigation.

    “…the erroneous and sometimes outright falsified evidence presented by Bellingcat, a group of Western journalists heavily engaged in investigating the plane’s destruction.”

    http://tinyurl.com/zaoydds (SputnikNews)

    Reply
    • stranger

      à la guerre comme à la guerre
      I used to tell all the time that it is an informational war from both sides and it is unclear who started first. What did you expect?

      Reply

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