By Michael Sheldon
In the first weeks of January 2022, video footage emerged of military equipment moving westward by rail all throughout the Eastern Military District (MD) in Russia’s far east. The footage serves in stark contrast to previous video of Russian military movement, which most commonly was filmed in the western and central parts of Russia towards the end of 2021. This newly uncovered movement came in the leadup to — and during — diplomatic talks in Geneva between the US and Russia meant to alleviate tensions over Ukraine.
The new footage shows large amounts of equipment being moved westward, including armored vehicles, tanks, rocket artillery, electronic warfare systems, and short-range ballistic missiles. Local residents of the Russian far east commented on social media with reports of extraordinarily high amounts of military rail traffic heading west.
The evidence discussed in this article are a snapshot of the total amount of equipment moving from the Eastern Military District in early January 2022. Open-source evidence suggests that units from every army in the far east are taking part in this movement, some of which are discussed in this piece.
Iskanders on the move
On January 6, 2022, now-deleted footage emerged on TikTok documented military equipment being loaded onto a train. The video showed engineering equipment as well as command-staff vehicles at a station which geolocation revealed to be Divizionnaya station at Ulan-Ude, southeast of Lake Baikal in the Republic of Buryatia. A caption in the video read, “Are we going?” (Мы идём?)
The station lies adjacent to a large military installation which is home to the 103rd Missile Brigade and the 5th Tank Brigade of the 36th Army. Ongoing satellite imagery from Planet Labs revealed significant wear in the snow in the area where the vehicles were spotted, which increased through January 12.
A video posted by the same user on January 11 revealed Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile launch vehicles covered in tarp.
On the same day, another video was posted to TikTok by a different user, showing command-staff vehicles and other vehicles for the Iskander complex. The video also showed extraordinarily long Kamaz trucks carrying what appeared to be missiles for the Iskander complex. Using knowledge of the length of the train carriages, the DFRLab was able to verify that the length of the containers measured at approximately the same length of an Iskander missile: about seven and a half meters.
Referencing satellite imagery of known Iskander bases showed trucks carrying containers of the same measurements. These containers are believed to be 9Ya293 containers meant for transporting Iskander missiles. The DFRLab was unable to geolocate the video, but the caption claimed that the equipment was moving in a westward direction from the far east.
A third video posted to TikTok on January 14 showed a train carrying Iskanders and associated support equipment at a railroad crossing. The car in front of the cameraman bore plates from the Udmurt Republic, registered to a resident of Kirov city. This suggested the possibility that the video was filmed in the Volga federal district of Russia, significantly further west from where the Iskanders are believed to have originated.
The Iskander launchers in this video were packed differently from those shown in the previous two videos, and are believed to originate from a different unit than the 103rd Missile Regiment.
Additional footage from Buryatia
On January 7, a large quantity of T-72 main battle tanks was spotted along with 2S3 Akatsiya self-propelled howitzers in a video published to TikTok. Geolocation revealed that the video was taken at Naushki station in the Republic of Buryatia, near the Russian border with Mongolia. Likely this equipment came from Kyahkta, home to the base of the 37th Motor-Rifle Brigade.
A few days later, another video emerged from Divizionnaya station near Ulan-Ude, showing a Borisoglebsk-2 electronic warfare system at the station. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the 5th Tank Brigade in Ulan-Ude received the system in late 2015. The system is capable of jamming signals from ground and aviation units, as well as interfering with cellular devices.
A Borisoglebsk-2 system was later documented moving by rail along with BM-21 multiple rocket launch systems (MLRS) and BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles (IFV).
On January 6, footage emerged from the village of Razdol’noe in Primorsky Krai showing military equipment being loaded onto a train, with the narrator announcing the location. Primorsky Krai, wherein Vladivostok is located, is one of the furthest eastern parts of Russia.
The twitter account @COUPSURE analyzed satellite imagery of the location from January 12 and reported the continued use of the station to move military equipment, describing two trains waiting to depart the station.
In addition to the equipment observed at Razdol’noe, BMP-3s among other armored vehicles have been observed moving westward through the Russian far east. The BMP-3s are suspected to be from the Pacific Fleet’s 155th Naval Infantry Brigade.
On January 12, a video was posted to TikTok showing tanks and other armored vehicles being loaded onto trains. Street signs visible in the footage showed that the video was shot in the city of Khabarovsk, in an area near several military depots and vehicle parks.
Prior to the publication of this video, footage was already circulating of T-80BVMs moving westward by rail in the far east. T-80BVMs are a recent modernization of the T-80 main battle tank family, and very few units have been issued them so far. Likely these are from the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade in Khabarovsk, which recently received shipments of these tanks.
Michael Sheldon is a Research Assistant at the Digital Forensic Research Lab.
Cite this case study:
Michael Sheldon, “Missile systems and tanks spotted in Russian far east, heading west,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), January 14, 2022, https://medium.com/dfrlab/missile-systems-and-tanks-spotted-in-russian-far-east-heading-west-6d2a4fe7717a.