#ZapadWatch: Russian Troops and Uragans
A snapshot of Russian soldiers in Belarus prior to Zapad 2017
As @DFRLab previously reported, Radio Svaboda, the Belarusian outlet of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), published photos on August 25 suggesting a Russian military presence at the Vereitsy station near Osipovichi, Belarus as part of the Russian military exercise Zapad 2017. Further evidence emerged on social media, providing additional information about the deployment.
Locals observed Russian forces installing a radar station in the village of Vereitsy, just north of Osipovichi. A large military engineering machine on caterpillar tracks and other military vehicles remained at the station.
According to the locals, troops unloaded the equipment in the night. In the morning, the equipment moved through the woods towards a military base near the village of Pratasevichy.
Belsat reported that when a correspondent went to the village of Vereitsy, he saw a military truck and a Belarusian police car. A policeman showed him signs that he could not take the main route. The correspondent took a way around and saw that behind the military truck there was a line of Russian military equipment — mostly self-propelled artillery systems.
According to Belsat’s correspondent, there were no fence or signs of a restricted area. Anyone could get a wide-angle shot of the military equipment or approach a Russian soldier.
Belsat’s correspondent approached one of the soldiers, who said his name was Toha (Anton). The article quoted him:
“We just came here,” the guy says, “they have not set us anywhere down, and I do not even know where they will take us to. We are artillerymen from the Kantemirovskaya tank division, have you heard of it? I like here — it’s quiet, calm. How many of us? In general, there will be many of us, ten thousand. But not the whole Kantemirovskaya division will be involved — only a motorized rifle regiment and reconnaissance. In the meantime, we are unloading. Officers do not let us go far, only here, next to, a maximum to the gates…”
The full name of the Kantemirovskaya tank division is 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division (military unit 19612). It is based in the city of Naro-Fominsk, Moscow Oblast. The division has a VK group that consists of over 13,500 members.
Some soldiers posted images and updates about their days in Osipovichi.
On August 24, VK user Pavel Potapov, whose public profile indicates he is serving with the Kantemirovskaya tank division, posted a gallery of him and other soldiers with the text “On our way to Belarus”.
The post confirms that the 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division is in Belarus.
On August 27, Instagram user gera_low_e21 posted an image with himself and other soldiers.
The post reads:
gera_low_e21 A little bit, and I’ll return to a normal life. Meanwhile, we are having a ride with guys on “Uragan” #army #whereisdangerthereisme #traininggrund #osipovichi
The fact that there is a reported BM-27 “Uragan” multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) in Osipovichi corresponds with observations made by a local person interviewed by Belsat. A local from Vereitsy, “Aleksandr”, who also served in the military, told Belsat that he thought the Russian troops had been using a “Grad” multiple launch rocket system.
Though the systems are visually different, the sound effects of missile firing are reportedly similar.
The post (on the left) reads:
piliuhina Russian army in Belarus #zapadwatch #Захад2017 #запад2017 #zapad2017
piliuhina We went to Vitebsk to attend Lyapis’s 98 concert. Somewhere in Lepel we had a nostalgia moment: childhood, the first school and our first home. I wanted to turn around and go in there. But the column of Russian equipment spoiled the whole mood.
Finally, on August 29, Instagram user vitaly_markovskiy posted an image with him by a tractor. Though the image was not geotagged, the post mentions Osipovichi.
The post reads:
The post suggests that the soldiers in Osipovichi are involved in logistics.
Open source evidence suggests the Russian 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division, is at Osipovichi, a military village in Mahilyow Voblast.
According to a Russian soldier interviewed by Belsat, there will be about ten thousand Russian soldiers from the division involved in the Zapad 2017 exercise. This is over three times more than Russian Ministry of Defense officially announced.
The division has been there since at least August 25. The multiple launch rocket system “Uragan” may have been used already.
@DFRLab will continue to monitor the situation as preparations for Zapad 2017 intensify. If you or any other #DigitalSherlocks see anything on the ground or online related to the exercises, join the conversation using #ZapadWatch.
Nika Aleksejeva is a Digital Forensic Research Assistant at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).
Follow along for more in-depth analysis from our #DigitalSherlocks.