This week, the commander of Russia’s Southern Military District announced snap checks for a number of the military units in the south of Russia. Some of these military units were in the Krasnodar Krai, Rostov Oblast, Astrakhan Oblast, and at Russian bases in Armenia and Abkhazia, among other locations.
According to Russian news service TASS, about 6,000 soldiers were involved in the combat readiness check. Earlier in March, another readiness check was instituted for military units in occupied Crimea and the North Caucasus, which are also in the Southern Military District.
We can observe much of the equipment involved in these snap checks through videos shared by ordinary Russians who noticed military convoys driving past them. A number of these videos were shot in the Rostov Oblast, bordering Ukraine. These military convoys were a common sight in the summer of 2014 throughout the Rostov Oblast, where they were transported to large bases that served as the staging ground for Russia’s intervention in the war in the Donbas.
Another key signifier for the presence of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border since February 2015 is the reliable presence of a couple of Siberian huskies at the Kuzminsky firing range, Russia’s largest staging ground for its war in the Donbas. We’ll get to that at the end of the article.
Tracking the convoys
One photograph shows a BTR (armored personnel carrier) on a highway near Krasnodar, one of the largest cities in Russia’s Southern Military District.
A Twitter user uploaded a video showing military equipment being transported via rail near Krasnodar on March 12, even providing coordinates for the filming location: 44°54′38″N, 38°52′58″E.
By comparing the landmarks in the video with a capture of the given coordinates on Google Streetview, we can confirm the location:
Another video was shared by a Russian Instagram user, showing a BTR with hull number 107 traveling through Volgograd.
This video was filmed at 48.704577, 44.437668 outside of a Nissan car dealership. As with the Krasnodar railway video, we can compare features of the uploaded video clip with imagery from Google Streetview.
Another video shows a line of military vehicles waiting alongside the M4 highway near Rostov.
At the end of the video, we can see a fragment of a road sign near a truck carrying water, alongside a few features ahead on the M4 highway. We can only make out a few of the letters: -LYUTINS-, giving us a lead in finding nearby towns along the M4 highway.
The village of Milyutinskaya near Rostov is a good place to start. Even though the person who uploaded the video had hashtags for Rostov and the M4 highway, he was actually quite a way from Rostov (at 48.370781, 41.806965), and on the A-260 highway, which eventually intersects with M4.
Another video shows a BTR numbered 831 traveling along the M4 highway.
After tracing the path of the M4 highway near Rostov on Google Streetview, we eventually find the correct location at 47.201683, 39.866302.
Below, a map of the previously described sightings can be observed throughout southwestern Russia:
Where are many of these soldiers and pieces of military equipment being taken? Perhaps the largest staging ground for Russia’s war in Ukraine has been the Kuzminsky firing range in the Rostov Oblast. If we look for photographs recently posted in that location on social networks such as Instagram and Vkontakte, we find a number of Russian soldiers who have been deployed there, with photographs of military equipment parked at the location. One soldier, for example, was in Abkhazia last month, and is now deployed at the Kuzminsky firing range.
Another soldier was deployed to the Kuzminsky firing range after being near his home base near Astrakhan in February.
One soldier even managed to take a photograph of his journey to the Kuzminsky firing range, geotagging a photograph from March 6 at a street in Rostov.
In one interesting case, we can verify that a soldier was at the Kuzminsky firing range not from geographic features, or a sign in the background, but instead through a dog. A soldier from the Krasnodarsky Krai was deployed to the Kuzminsky firing range in March and took a photograph with a Siberian husky:
This same husky was a quite popular dog on the base in February 2015. Two years ago, a number of soldiers from the 37th Motorized Infantry Brigade, 5th Tank Brigade, and 6th Tank Brigade took photographs of themselves with the same dog. However, at the time, it was still a puppy.
Some of these soldiers fought in the Battle of Debaltseve in February 2015, including Bato Dambaev, who was the subject of the award-winning feature from VICE News “Selfie Soldiers.” These pups served as reliable helpers in identifying what types of military units — tanks, motorized infantry, paratroopers, etc. — were deployed to the Ukrainian border, as they were so popular for soldiers wanting to pose for photographs in the large military camp.
We will continue to monitor movements of Russian military convoys and developments at the bases located near the Ukrainian border.