by and for citizen investigative journalists

Confirming the Location of the Same Msta-S in Russia and Ukraine

May 29, 2015

By Eliot Higgins

During the conflict in Ukraine it has been possible to identify units sighted in Russia that have also been filmed and photographed in Ukraine. The following is an example of the same Msta-S self-propelled 152 mm howitzer filmed in both Ukraine and Russia.

Rostov-na-Donu, Russia

A video uploaded to YouTube on July 30 shows various pieces of Russian military equipment, including two Msta-S self-propelled howitzers.

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The self-reported location of the video was in Rostov on the Taganrog highway, making that the first location we should check to either verify or disprove. The general location of the video can be established by the license plates visible in the photo—all of which end in either “61” or “161,” the regional plate numbers for the Rostov oblast.

Plates1

The road has four lanes and has a distinct series of shops on one side of the road—a flower shop (ЦВЕТЫ), construction material shop (СТРОЙМАТЕРИАЛЫ), repair shop (РЕМОНТ), and hardware shop (КРЕПЕЖ), along with a lemonade / kvas kiosk kiosk on the corner.

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By following the self-reported location (the highway that goes from Rostov to Taganrog) on Google street view, eventually we come to a location that shows the exact same series of shops, located at the intersection of Taganroskaya ulitsa (Taganrog Street) and Solovyinaya ulitsa. Even though some of the image is distorted or blurred out, this is clearly the same location:

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Therefore, we can confidently say that this video was shot near the coordinates of 47.262757, 39.660493 in Rostov-na-Donu, Russia.

Novoazovsk, Ukraine

The same Msta-S appeared in a September video, filmed in Novoazovsk, Ukraine, driving along a road at 47.1275441, 38.0892229. While the video contains multiple shots filmed at different positions and angles, it’s possible to confirm the location of the road the Msta-S was driving along.

m4

Signs visible in the September video are also visible in an earlier video filmed in 2012 showing an extremely lengthy section of the road. Due to the length of the video it is possible to match multiple features along the road, showing the camera is facing to the west. It’s also possible to establish the shot that shows the Msta-S also sighted in Russia was filmed from approximately the same location.

In the 2012 video, just before the car reaches the signs filmed in the September 2014 video, a single story blue building is visible, opposite a junction, and with a pole in front of it. This matches with the shot in the September 2014 video showing the Msta-S previously sighted in Russia.

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It’s possible to establish the location of the camera in each of those two shots as follows, therefore confirming the same Msta-S was seen in both Russia in July 2014 and later Ukraine in September 2014.

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These images were collected as part of the Bellingcat Ukraine Conflict Vehicle Tracking Project, a crowd sourced project aimed at collecting and organising images of military vehicles involved in the conflict with Ukraine.

This example is featured in Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin’s War in Ukraine, available here.

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

35 Comments

  1. Robert Johnson

    Well this is convincing.

    The Russians really are roaring down the road into Ukraine with massively armed identifiable vehicles, giving zero fucks if anyone sees them or not.

    Couldnt they be a bit more discreet?

    Reply
    • Just a A

      “Couldnt they be a bit more discreet?”

      Seems not to be case, or? However, they certainly believed that the vehicles are not clearly identifiable as Russian Msta-S. All were “masked”. However, the soldiers missed some details which nevertheless allowed their identification.

      Reply
  2. PaulCC

    I guess I am missing some photographs here, or grabs from the video, that prove the same vehicle appears in the pics from Rostov and from Novoazovsk, showing some identifying marks being identical.

    Thanks for all the good work to the Bellingcat team ! Paul.

    Reply
  3. Robert Johnson

    Wait a minute.

    The camouflage pattern is very obviously not the same on the 2 pictures.

    And here was me believing Bellingcat.

    Reply
    • Not Mark

      What on earth are you talking about? All of the pictures of that vehicle have IDENTICAL camouflage. Since these patterns are typically hand painted these patterns serve as an excellent “fingerprint” for identifying such vehicles.

      Reply
      • Robert Johnson

        Nope, the two pictures are clearly different. Theres a whole section of green camo missing towards the rear of the supposed Rostov vehicle.

        Reply
        • Not Mark

          What is the URL of the picture you are referring to so we can all look and be on the same page as you? There are many many pictures on this site and there could be confusion.

          Reply
      • Max

        @Not Mark: stay cool. Robby J here not the first time displays his perception difficulties.

        It is not your job to convince him. And if you start trying, he will get you in clueless discussions.

        @bellingcat: thx as always good job.

        Reply
  4. Robert Johnson

    Another question.

    We are told by Just a A that the H2200 number refers to the size of the vehicle, each number in the squence being a record of how oversize it is in various dimensions for the purposes of Russian railway transport.

    How can these huge self propelled guns have the same H2200 number as far smaller T72 tanks?

    Reply
    • Not Mark

      If you would do some very quick research you will find these vehicle vary in weight by only a few hundred kilos. Indeed the Msta is powered by the exact same engine as the T-72. Looks can be deceiving when it comes to such things!

      Reply
        • Not Mark

          You are correct. I should have paid more attention. Regardless, the same holds true. The Msta is built the T-80 tank platform. The T-80 “hull” is actually a few tens of cm LESS wide than the T-72 and a few tens of cm longer. The height is unlikely to be a factor in that H2200 number. I do not how to decode that number so that is only conjecture. The weights and hull dimensions are VERY similar so it is not a huge leap to say its plausible they have the same H2200 number.

          Reply
          • Robert Johnson

            one last comment before i finish with you. The height is most definitely a factor. As is the length.

          • Not Mark

            Really? Please give a breakdown of the H2200 so that we may know what H, 2, 2, 0, and 0 stand for?

          • Not Mark

            Nevermind, It is I provided the decoding chart as follows:

            The 1st digit – is always letter “H”;
            2nd digit — the degree of low oversize (1 to 6 degree);
            3rd digit — the degree of side oversize (1 to 6 degree);
            4th digit — the degree of top oversize (from 1st to 3rd degree);
            5th digit — vertical oversize.

            So we have always have “H”, then 2 for low oversize, then 2 for side oversize, then 0 for top oversize, and 0 for vertical oversize. So there we have it. Obviously, these two pieces of equipment are not oversized in the top and vertical dimensions. Easy peasy!

  5. Robert Johnson

    Not Mark wrote:
    You might wanna get your glasses/eyes checked. Those pictures are identical. To say they are not is not something a sane/rational person would say.

    You sir, are a liar. I’m done with you.

    Reply
    • Not Mark

      How is this a lie? To lie, I would have know what I am saying is incorrect and knowingly state said incorrect information. I know what I am saying is correct because I have eyes and can discern the fact that those tanks are identical.and therefore am not lying.

      Reply
  6. Robert Johnson

    All the Msta-S vehicles in Rostov on Don have a camouflage pattern with a green area at the rear which is squared off about 3/4 of the way up the vehicle’s side.

    The Msta-S vehicles in Novoazovsk, Ukraine have a pattern where that area continues to the top of the vehicle.

    Another Bellingcat fail.

    Reply
    • Not Mark

      Please provide a picture proving your point. Your words are meaningless without photographic evidence. Bellingcat would provide the pictures with the areas in question circled so as to make their evidence clear.

      Reply
      • Just a A

        I can only imagine that he means an area at the rear part of the turret (because of his “about 3/4 of the way up the vehicle’s side”). There is section where the upper part of the camouflage seems to be brighter in Rostov than in Novoazovsk.

        However, this difference is obviously caused by the light conditions and the shape of the turret.

        Reply
        • Not Mark

          Exactly my thoughts. The albedo of a surface will change depending on its angle relative to the observer.

          Reply
  7. Sinon Walker

    1.Ukraine army is killing civilians in Eastern Ukraine.
    2.The west is helping the Ukrainians kill civilians
    3 .Russians are helping to protect these civilians
    4.Bellingcat supports the west who are killing civilians
    5.Bellingcat opposes the Russians who are protecting civilians

    Reply
    • Not Mark

      Your comment has nothing to do with this article. Please take your useless propaganda elsewhere or add something constructive to the conversation.

      Reply
      • Sinon Walker

        It has everything to do with this article. This site calls itself journalism, but it
        1.Consistently gives one side of the story.
        2. It operates without any oversight, recklessly and irresponsibly. If we are to be men we must take a stand against the support of the killing of innocent civillians

        Reply
        • Just a A

          1. The truth has only one side. And sometimes the truth is not in the middle of the different claims. Even if some still claim that the earth is flat, it is a sphere. Providing “both sides of the story” in such obvious situations is under no circumstances good journalism.

          2. If you really would take a stand against the killing of innocent civilians, you would condemn the Russian aggression, which made the eastern part of Ukraine to a battlefield.

          Reply
          • Not Mark

            Absolutely! How fast would this whole mess fizzle out if russia stopped dumping gasoline on the fire? My guess is the rebels would be quickly overrun by the legitimate government and people could go back to repairing their wrecked lives. Courtesy of His Eternal Majesty Putin.

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