By Michael Sheldon
On January 17, 2021, Russian military equipment arrived in Belarus. Trains transporting BM-27 220mm multiple rocket launchers and other materiel were spotted in the Belarusian cities of Minsk, Gomel, and Rechitsa, the latter two near the Ukrainian border. It is expected that more equipment will arrive throughout the week.
In recent months, Russia has deployed forces and equipment to the northeast, east and south of Ukraine. This latest deployment would apply additional pressure on Ukraine along its northern border, due north of Kyiv.
Belarusian state media BELTA reported that Russian military hardware arrived in Belarus for “Allied Resolve” joint exercises, taking place on the western and southern borders of the country. Nonetheless, these developments are concerning given their timing, the scale of the Russian buildup, and the involvement of equipment originating from the Russian far east. According to the report, the exercises are scheduled for February.
A Russian convoy arrived on January 17 in the southeastern Belarusian city of Gomel with a BM-27 220mm multiple rocket launcher and 11 9T452 transporter-loader vehicles. The DFRLab tracked this train from its departure from a depot near Lake Baikal in Russia’s Eastern Military district.
A video posted to a local Gomel Instagram page shows the equipment arriving at Novobelitskaya station. In the footage, 11 transporter-loaders and a single BM-27 multiple rocket launcher are visible, along with other support vehicles. This footage was later reposted to Twitter, where users geolocated the station.
That same day, a video was uploaded showing the same equipment being moved by road through Gomel. The DFRLab geolocated the video to the southern portion of the city and determined the equipment headed south from the direction of Novobelitskaya station on Ilich Street. At the point where the equipment was filmed, it was headed directly for the Ukrainian border, just 30 kilometers away. The BM-27 multiple rocket launcher has an effective firing range of 32 kilometers, and a maximum firing range of 90km.
Online comments suggested that equipment was moved from Gomel towards Rechitsa. This was supported by open-source imagery of a column of 19 military vehicles parked on the side of the road of the 108km stretch of the M-10 highway, which connects Gomel to Kalinkovichi, just short of the roundabout which connects to Rechitsa. Other local reporting claimed that military equipment headed from Gomel in the direction of Khoyniki, by the Ukrainian border, and 150 km north of Kyiv. The column appeared to consist primarily of logistical vehicles, such as fuel trucks and other transports. It was followed by a civilian truck and a bus.
As several transporter-loaders for the BM-27 rocket launcher arrived in Gomel, BM-27 launchers appeared at the train station in Rechitsa. Analysis of open-source footage revealed two sets of rail cars parked on separate cargo offloading tracks on either side of the station. BM-27 rocket launchers and associated equipment were visible in the footage.
One video from outside the station showed three BM-27 rocket launchers leaving the station in a westward direction to exit the town. It is unclear where they went.
Russian equipment also appeared in and around the Belarusian capital of Minsk on January 17. One video showed a train carrying about a dozen BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, communication trucks, and general transportation trucks. Users on Twitter were quick to geolocate the video to the city of Stowbtsy in the Minsk region.
The train in the video was moving in a southwesterly direction, towards the city of Baranovichi, where a large military training area is located.
One day prior, a video of the same train was uploaded to TikTok. The DFRLab geolocated the footage to the town of Ishim in the Tyumen region in Russia, nearly 3,000 km away. Given the context of Russian military movements observed over the past weeks, this train likely originated in the Russian far east.
Belarusian news outlet MotolkoHelp posted a series of pictures and videos showing trains with Russian military equipment moving to or within Belarus. One train, originally from the Eastern Military District, was depicted in Smolensk, on its way to Minsk.
The same train was previously shown in a TikTok video in Ekaterinburg, moving through a train station at night.
Another series of photos posted by MotolkoHelp was analyzed by the Moscow-based monitoring group Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), who found that the equipment likely came from the 16th Radiation, Biological, and Chemical Defense Brigade in the Russian far east region of Primorsky Krai.
Michael Sheldon is a Research Associate at the Digital Forensic Research Lab.
Cite this case study:
Michael Sheldon, “Russian military equipment spotted in Belarus as tensions heighten with Ukraine,” Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), January 18, 2022, https://medium.com/dfrlab/russian-military-equipment-spotted-in-belarus-as-tensions-heighten-with-ukraine-e80475954175.