One base to rule them all – five facts you should know about Russia’s main invasion hub

On January 6, spotted that the latest updated Google Earth satellite images revealed / included the base, many people knew about, but nobody could ever locate due to Russian army security measure to not leak meaningful footage of it and the lack of recent satellite footage from the area.

The Russian invasion, that started in April 2014 and continues to that very day includes hundreds of tanks, apcs, MLRS and other vehicles as well as thousands of shells, missiles and last but not least tens of thousands of Russian army personal as well as Russian army-trained “volunteers” or rather paid mercenaries / invasion troops. Such invasion can not be planned and organized from Moscow alone or via regular army bases, which are either too far away from the Ukrainian border or by far not large enough to handle the logistics necessary for such an operation. It needs (at least) one major logistical military hub. This hub was revealed by the latest Google Earth satellite image update.

The following article answers 5 questions, you should know about when talking about that base in particular and the sophistication and organized malice of the Russian policy towards Ukraine in general.

 

1. Where is the base?

The base is located in a strategically brilliant position. 23 km north east of Taganrog and 30 km north west of Rostov-on-Don, it is in close range of several major Russian army hubs, including military bases, airports but also civilian supply structures for the daily life of the thousands of troops inside the base.

rostov taganrog

Strategic position in Russia

However, the major significance of the localization of the base appears, when we look at it in relation to the deployment zone in Ukraine. From the very south to the very north of the today mostly-occupied areas in Donbas, namely the centers of Mariupol, Donetsk and Luhansk, the distance is almost exactly 130 km, meaning an offensive- as well as quick reaction potential at all sectors of the front within the same period of time. At the same time, the base if 48km from the nearest Ukrainian border point, giving it a “safety distance” to possible counter attacks.

ukraine-base

Strategic position in relation to Ukraine — map source: Ukr. ATO

 

2. How large is the base?

It is HUGE … The north-south expansion of the base is exactly 6.5 kilometers, so 4 miles. There are several concentrations of buildings, tents and vehicles all along that axis. The east-west expansion depends on what you regard as being a “military base”. In a width of 600 meters, we have the hard infrastructure of the base, again including buildings and vehicles plus positioned artillery pieces and much more (for more, read 4.). In a width of 2 kilometers, we can see extensive tracks, probably from intense training exercises and scattered current and former structures, which were used as forward positions and observation points. In its total width of 6.5 km, there are multiple craters visible, likely from artillery and tank shelling.

So in conclusion, we have a built up infrastructure area of 4 km², a vehicle training ground of 10 km² and a firing range of another 30 km². Adding all this to a coherent military installation, we find an area of some 40 km² which as an example is 4 times bigger than the airport of London Heathrow.

base perimeters

Dimensions of the base

 

3. When was the base established?

The area in question was last scanned by available satellites in October 2013, so 4 months before the Russian invasion of Crimea started and half a year, before Donbas was for the first time attacked and occupied by Russian forces. At images from that time, nothing is to see that would indicate the soon emergence of a large military complex or only a new road or farm on the concerned field. One year later, a complex military installation exists at this large field. So given the fact, it would need at least 1-2 months to build the entire infrastructure (including fixed buildings), the date of the base formation could be in August 2014.

2013-2014

Comparison Left: October 2013; Right: October 2014

But there are hints, indicating an even earlier start of construction and use. Between the developed parts of the base, large areas with former formations can be seen. What happened to the units in these areas? They were either given up, moved to another – the current – October 2014 location OR – which is the most likely version – were completely deployed as invasion army battle groups to Ukraine. Three examples are given below. Again: Remember that all these major installations were built up and removed between October 2013 and October 2014.

old fields

former battle group positions inside the base

Taking into account that it took also 1-2 months to build these developments and another few weeks to remove them once again, it must be concluded that the base was built up and used at least since June 2014, possibly even earlier. This would mean that all escalation, especially the one from late August, costing over 1000 Ukrainian troops their lives, was planned long before, showing that Russia had plans for a major escalation even before the Ukrainian army moved into the mostly unarmed separatist-held cities in early summer last year. It also shows that after annexing Crimea, Russia never planned to rethink its policies and lied all along, claiming it was finished with its expansionism inside Ukraine.

 

4. Which military hardware is inside the base?

In brief: All it needs to lead a war and all, we saw and see entering Ukraine from Russia.

There are several concentrations of Russian army vehicles of the same type all across the outlined base parameters. However, we are talking about commercially detailed satellite images, so there is it is possible for experts to identify the general model of a weapon system, but not to distinguish between different versions of it (like BTR-70 or BTR-80). Nonetheless, I have identified groups of KamAZ and Ural trucks, BMP-1/ BMP-2, BTR-70/BTR-80, MT-LB, MT-LBu, Msta-S and Msta-B, BM-21/27/30 and last but not least T-64/T-72. The following image is only one example of one battle group, being stationed at the base.

vehicles

Weapon systems

The next image seems extremely interesting as it shows several multy launch rocket systems, but also something, which looks like sophisticated air defense systems, possibly the SA-10 “Grumble”. However, this can not be said for sure as we are talking about satellite images with a maximum resolution of maybe 1 meter large objects.

bm-21

MLRS plus AA systems?!

Summarizing the vehicles and weapons systems at the front it can – once again – be excluded – that this is any kind of regular or defensive military installation. It houses – as I said before – battle groups, ready to be deployed as punchy forces in a neighboring country, leading to the last question.

 

5. What is the main purpose of the base?

While such question could (or even should) not be answered out of the blue, the first four points of this analytic article qualified it for an informed answer. Looking at the position, size, age and equipment of the base, only one conclusion is possible: This is the one base to rule them all. It was established and still is operated for one reason: To keep the invasion and ongoing occupation of neighboring Ukraine running.

Its current and former visiting forces suggest the assumption that it is BOTH a RF armed forces-led training ground for “voluntary”–> paid Russian invasion forces and the small number of real Ukrainian separatists where they can learn / refresh their driving and firing skills before going to war AND a “traditional” Russian army base, serving as a bridgehead for all major offensive operations and a backup- and retreat area for resupplies and reinforcements. Just today, the Ukrainian defense minister said that 7.500 Russian army troops are serving in Ukraine at the moment, being constantly rotated with their entire equipment. Now we know to / from where and that fresh battle groups are always waiting to be deployed.

All in all, the – at some point inevitable – revelation of this large key base is another reminder that Russia is not hiding its efforts in its war on Ukraine anymore and probably never did. It is also a reminder that the mainstream media and most Western – and Ukrainian! – politicians are painting an entirely wrong picture of the situation. We are not facing a “covert war”, nor have there ever been “Russian-backed rebels” in Ukraine. What we see since almost 11 months is an aggressive war by the Russian Federation vs. the sovereign state of Ukraine, with all organisation and logistics such war necessarily needs.

 

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The Russian invasion continues – latest military developments in Ukraine

Today on the 4th of January 2015, we are 27 days into the Ukrainian government’s latest initiative of the “silent mode” – the latest additional appeasement measure after the “Minsk agreement” from September last year. Still, there is no visible let up in Russian attacks on the front line all across occupied Donbas, reaching from southern Mariupol until Stanitsia Luhanska on the north eastern end of the new de facto border between Russia and Ukraine. The number of daily Russian attacks on Ukrainian held towns and military positions slightly decreased from approximately 40-50 a day to now 20-30, however this is rather due to the fact that Russian forces now decide when and where to hit, being able to concentrate their forces on the target areas, not being afraid anymore of Ukrainian counterattacks or even return fire after their assaults. Just during the first 4 days of 2015, Ukraine saw 2 civilians and 1 soldier killed in fighting, while at least 7 civilians and 12 more Ukrainian troops were injured. Hot spots of the fighting remain the same as before December 9, meaning the Bakhmutka highway in northern Luhansk province with its Ukrainian strongholds Krymske, Zolote and Hirske being targeted daily, the town of Stanitsia Luhanska on the (old) Ukrainian-Russian border and Popasna, opposite Pervomaisk. Yes, the number of Grad missile attacks decreased, but more direct artillery, mortar and small arms encounters remain a daily appearance with civilians as well as Ukrainian armed forces casualties. In Donetsk region, the airport of Donetsk city as well as its bridgeheads in Pisky, Opytne and partly Avdeevka are subject to daily shelling and fire attacks, while it remains unclear, if Terminal 1 of Donetsk airport is still accessible via Ukrainian.held territory or the two allowed resupply routes via Russian-held territory signal an even worse situation. It is chilling that Ukrainian troops at the airport – the so called “Cyborgs” – claim, they were not rotated and resupplied with arms and ammunition since more than 8 weeks.

Rus flags

Picture shows flags of “Novorossiya” on top of Terminal 2, only meters away from Terminal 1, held by the Ukrainian army

A rather new development in terms of Russian attack focus areas stretches along the Kalmius river, north of Mariupol. This river is the official demarcation line, agreed on by all parties in the Minsk memorandum. However, as we know Russian forces and their local proxies do not accept their own signatures under the paper, it is not astonishing they are willing to extend their area of control beyond that natural border. Thus, attacks started on January 1st with all sorts of weapons, even face to face encounters, trying to push back Ukrainian forces – mainly from the Regiment Azov national guard – and build bridgeheads on the left side of the river. Between January 2 and 4, Orlivske, Hnutove and Hranitne came under attack from Russian forces.

Kalmius

Map shows locations and used weapons, acc. to the Ukrainian defenders

Beyond concrete attacks on the Ukrainian line of defense, multiple other worrying developments were recorded, mainly a – partly violent – replacement of Russian “volunteer” (former army) mercenaries with more Moscow-loyal forces, accepting the high command from the Kremlin and behaving less “wild” on Ukrainian ground. Despite only little facts available, it seems those Russian invaders, trying to build a “New Russia” – “Novorossiya” – are fought and replaced by the more “legitimate” pro-Moscow regimes, namely the “People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk”. While one Russian ringleader, called “Batman”, was killed by LC regime forces, others of his group swore to fight both, the local regimes as well as the Ukrainian army from now on. Ukrainian reports say up to 23 militants from both sides were killed in recent infighting, seemingly supported by aftermath pictures.

batman

Aftermath of LC-Novorossiya infighting in Luhansk region

While those, not behaving like Moscow wants it, are sent back to Russia or – if not willing to – obliterated without mercy, those, who obey to the Kremlin leaders’ will are rewarded with the latest Russian army military hardware, namely the BPM-97 “Vystrel”. Those apc, only produced in Russia and only used by Russian border troops, are the latest hint that the very leadership of the Russian Federation has nothing in mind that could equal any kind of retraction from its offensive position in Ukraine.

BPM-97

The BPM-97 in “war games” in Luhansk province

At the same time, it becomes once more explicit that Russia – just like with its T-72B1 or T-72B3 – would never give its latest armored personal carriers to any “rebel” faction in some renegade region abroad, but would only allow a free “export” of its 2000s hardware with qualified and loyal – Russian Army – personal. That this personal is active as never before in Ukraine can on the one hand be recognized by multiple reports:  Even the Ukrainian NSDC, which has a long history of downplaying Russian involvement in the conflict, fearing a cut off from international funds, said on January 3 that hundreds of Russian Federation troops entered Ukraine lately. Other reports from local witnesses and media reported for instance that 300 Russian soldiers had taken over Horlivka at the frontline with Ukraine, sending “DNR” forces to the hinterland. On the other hand, more and more evidence turns up that Russian soldiers from the Far East, seen approaching from Ulan Ude and elsewhere in November, are now fighting in Donbas, like in Horlivka as mentioned above.

horlivka

Far East Russian soldier in Horlivka on January 1

Last but not least, the Russian army (ab)used the Ukrainian “silence mode” to build up a working military logistic and infrastructure network in Donbas, now being able to (at least for a while) repulse any kind of military attack from the Ukrainian mainland. Part of this network are air defense systems and backup bases in Donbas hinterland (10km or more from the front line), like this base with dozens of BMP-1 in a former public transport depot, recently recovered and geolocated by me in Krasnyi-Luch.

krasnyi-luch

Russian base in Krasnyi Luch

In conclusion, there is no indication at all of Russia or its two local puppet regimes, having any intention to stick to the signed Minsk agreement. Hence, there is no sign on the horizon that the Ukrainian president’s peace plan, ceasefire or “silent mode” were anything close to be working in Ukraine’s favor. Therefor it is up to the Ukrainian government to chose if it wants to further stand idle and watch how a powerful Russian invasion force is taking shape on Ukrainian soil, able to hit hard when it where it chooses — OR if it wants to regain the initiative in the conflict by not allowing militants to strike at will and unpunished, killing Ukrainian citizens and soldiers and – slowly but steadily – expanding their controlled territory inside Ukraine and further shrinking a young, but proud and – if willing – also punchy European nation. Did you have a good read?! Please support my work with 1$ per month or more!

“The Boy who cried wolf” – my interview with the BBC at the turning point in Ukraine

At the 21st of August 2014, I was contacted by Vivienne Nunis from the BBC World Service, asking for an interview on the current situation in eastern Ukraine.

Although, the battle for Donbas was raging on for almost 4 months at this point, the general expectation was that the Ukrainian army was advancing and – after the recaptures of towns like Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Lisiciansk – was close to retaking Luhansk and Donetsk city, which would have brought the majority of the population of Donbas back under Ukrainian government control.

Instead, it had decided to bypass these metropoles and instead try to recapture the entire borderline between Ukraine and Russia, seemingly still thinking, there was an influx in fighters and equipment ongoing, but no direct involvement of the Russia Federation’s armed forces was looming on the horizon. As most of us know today – it was dead wrong.

Already two weeks before this date, the first T-72B1 (video-evidently) turned up inside Ukraine, tanks that – different from the until then supplied old sotcks T-64 – were still in active service by the Russian Federation’s army and which the country would never have “presented” to “rebels” abroad, not being sure that the operators of those modern battle tanks were trained enough to properly use them on the battlefield.

However at this point, several days before the end of August, most of the relevant actors, including the EU and the Ukrainian government as well as wide parts of the public, did not believe or at least did not communicate, that Russia had already gone far beyond logistical support of – few and weak – local insurgent forces as well as “volunteers”, being drafted and deployed to eastern Ukraine from Russian regions like the Caucasus or the wider Don region with its “Cossack” minority community.

At the same time, I was covering the conflict as detailed and beyond mainstream sources as possible, analyzing and geolocating people’s footage, showing large columns of – manned – Russian weapon systems streaming into cities like Krasnodon and Thorez, both, near to the Russian border and strategically located near Luhansk, resp. Donetsk city.

I pointed out that the observed T-72, BTR-80A as well as BMP, MT-LB and a wide range of artillery pieces were only the forerunners of things that would follow shortly. For this pessimistic – and widely contrary to the Ukrainian army-published constant success messages, I was almost daily called the proverbial “boy who cried wolf”, who overdid military developments on the ground and was – if at all – crying “Russian invasion!” far too early.

However, some attentive people – like Vivienne and her bosses at the BBC – had the presentiment that most of the public had a wrong impression of what was really going on in the eastern Ukrainian border areas or at least thought it would be wise give a voise to those, opposing the general public opinion. – So I gave the interview at the 23rd of August, clarifying that already at this point, some 100 Russian T-64 main battle tank had entered Ukraine and more modern equipment was entering at this very moment. I also felt the obligation to say, that because of this, it was misleading and simply wrong to speak of “separatists”, but the only possible accurate wording was to call those forces “invaders”.

Although the short interview didn’t allow me to further go into detail, I think I made it clear, that we are not dealing with a local insurgency, but a foreign-led invasion, happening in eastern Ukraine at this time and gaining strength by the day.

Within the next 7 days, it turned out, I was WAY OFF from “crying wolf” and Ukraine and the free world paid a heavy price for not listening to a small group of people, being aware of the real sitaution on the ground …

A massive Russian army invasion started from exactly these areas, we predicted them to come from. The Ukrainian army strongholds of Savur Mohyla, Ilovaisk and Luhansk airport fell and with them some 1000 Ukrainian soldiers, a number, Europe has not seen in such a short period of time since World War II.

The below maps shows the (official Ukrainian army-reported) strategic situation, at the day of my interview with the BBC and today.

21.8.201415.12.2014

As you can see, “crying wolf” where there were tens of thousands of wolves, invading the Donbas region, didn’t help as there was either no political will to treat the situation as what it was (and still is!) or political incompetence, leading to the most crushing defeat of a European army in the 21st century.

Four months on, we are in another “ceasefire” that cost far more than 1000 people their lives, have a de facto pro-Russian regime in eastern Ukraine and still no political will to regain the lost land or – at least finally call a spade a spade.

What does this tell us for the future?

1st: LISTEN to people, opposing the common opinion in security-related issues, especially when they have inside information, mainstream media and seemingly even government intelligence do not have or is not willing to use.

2nd: Do not repeat mistakes, you have made once. Until the very day, Russia is claiming, it is not involved in the Ukrainian conflict and not responsible for the death of 1500-2000 Ukrainian soldiers, national guard troops and border patrol forces as well as thousands of civilians. They lied then and they lie today, which is such as evidently that even former close allies – like several European governments – are not willing to buy those lies anymore and put a range of sanctions on Russia, punishing its “meddling” in Ukraine.

3rd: Follow the example BBC and other established mainstream media companies, letting citizens and especially citizen journalists have their say, although it might contradict what most people think is “real”. Sometimes only a few boys (and girls) see the wolf coming.

AUDIO FILE: My interview with the BBC on August 21

A ceasefire to lose it all?! An analysis of the latest military developments in Ukraine.

This morning, the Ukrainian president Poroshenko had his first public appearance in Australia.

14.000 kilometers away from his country, he claimed: ” Today is the first 24 hours for seven months… when we have a real ceasefire in Ukraine.” and he continued: “You simply can’t imagine how important it is for me. This is the first night when I don’t have either a lost or wounded Ukrainian soldier.”

But is his optimism justified? Is there really a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, which saw death and destruction by Russian aggressors over the last 7 months? Or is this just another silence before the storm, like the it happened in June and September for instance?!

This morning, first report emerged of Russian forces, strengthening their positions near the strategic Bahmutki highway, which is partly controlled by Ukrainian forces and secures Ukrainian-held territory south of the Seversky Donets river in the Luhansk region (source). At least five tanks and several 2S1 self-propellered howitzers were seen taking up positions near Ukrainian checkpoints, without the Ukrainian army reacting to it, due to the “silence mode”, ordered by the government.

Then this afternoon, chilling footage appeared, seemingly showing a large Russian invasion army convoy, going from the Donetsk area to the southern city of Mariupol, which Russian forces tried to take in August, but were stopped some 5-10 km east of it. The convoy was probably filmed near Starobesheve, as shown of the map.

map

Possible path of the filmed Russian column

The footage shows dozens of modern battle tanks, namely T-72B1 and T-64BV, all brought to Ukraine by the Russian army via trains and low-loaders from all over Russia (as proven before by the Russian railway H2200 markings for heavy equipment on top of its wagons. The convoy also included a double-digit number of BMP-2, BTR-70, BTR-80 – all of those infantry fighting vehicles and armored personal carriers – as well as dozens of Ural and KamAZ trucks, transporting troops, ammunition and some of them towing field artillery pieces of different types.

Last but not least it should be mentioned that many of the armored personal carriers caried the writing: “TO MARIUPOL” which seems to be hard to misinterpret.

The following pictures show some of the weapon systems in the observed column.

bmp-2

BMP-2 with “TO MARIUPOL” written on it

T-72B1

Two T-72B1 main battle tanks

T-64

T-64BV main battle tank

Ural with artillery

Ural trucks, towing artillery

So what to make out of these obvious massive redeployments of Russian forces inside occupied Donbas?

Regarding the large column, seen yesterday, there are three possible alternatives, why they left Donetsk towards the south.

1. It is possible that these vehicles and the involved troops are actually not going to Mariupol but back to Russia, using one of the Russian-controlled Ukrainian border posts in south eastern Donetsk oblast or the “green border”. The fact that these troops are so willingly showing their “real intention” – “to go to Mariupol” raises suspicion, if they are really so confident that they will give away all strategic advantage by not telling spectators, the internet – and by this the Ukrainian army, what they are planning right now.

It is possible that the Russian regime – in its attempt to fix and calm the situation in eastern Ukraine – is withdrawing its “victorious” forces, however not willing to show that without any propaganda.

2. As I have argued over the last weeks, large Russian army movements and reinforcements to certain areas inside Ukraine do not automatically mean that those troops shall be used to fight Ukrainian soldiers, but to control and – if necessary fight and kill – “rogue” (pro-)Russian units, which have too high aspirations for the advance inside Ukraine (“Odessa” or alike) or are not willing to obey orders from the “rebel” military leadership in Moscow.

There were several reports of Russian forces shelling each other east of Mariupol over the last 2 months, reports of Russian army forces retreating to Novoazovsk and only badly equipped volunteers or even locals holding the frontline, 5-10 km from Mariupol.

3. … and this is where we are coming back to the initial question: There is a – huge – possibility that the entire latest “ceasefire” in eastern Ukraine – which was never fully accepted or even implemented by ANY of the anti-Ukrainian factions, is solely used by Russian aggressors to prepare for the next – even more daily and brutal – round of fighting. These preparations could be made to take – as the leaders of the two “Peoples’ Republics always promised” to prepare for the battle that would aim to take all of Luhansk and Donetsk oblast and reach possibly even further.

In this case, what we hear and see since the start of the latest ceasefire on Tuesday is a tactical redeployments and strengthening of troops, equipment and positions to simply break it another time and hit the Ukrainian army and people as severely as never before. In this context, the arrival of another – 120 vehicle – “aid” convoy in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions this morning could be another sign of escalation, knowing these convoys transported military equipment to local forces before.

Also in this context, the massive Russian military column that was seen yesterday and described above could indeed by the Battalion-size force which is to take Mariupol and the surrounding areas in the weeks and months to come. Although, there is a massive Ukrainian army force west of Donetsk, Russian invaders could have realized that they can rely on Poroshenko’s word and he won’t start any counterattack, no matter what. Knowing this, Russia could have decided to redeploy several hundred troops plus a mighty apc/tank/artillery force to the south to extend its controlled territory on the northern coast of the Sea of Azov.

President Poroshenko’s policy – still – could be the smartest possible one, not provoking further aggression from the Russian side. However, there is a certain chance, his political and military restraint will be interpreted by weakness by the rulers in the Kremlin and their proxy forces in occupied Donbas, which could lead to Ukraine, paying the highest price for its current appeasement policy.

Source tweets by me: