An open source investigation of alleged Russian missiles outside of Minsk
Last week, a Belarusian media outlet used photographic evidence to report that alleged Russian military equipment was spotted on the move in Belarus. While @DFRLab cannot confirm this equipment to be Russian, we can verify the locations depicted in the photo-evidence to be in Belarus.
On August 1, Charter 97 reported the multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) BM-27 Uragan was spotted in the city of Brest, Belarus, close to the Polish border. Two days later, Charter 97 reported combat vehicles and other military equipment were spotted at the Minsk-Passazhirsky railway station in Minsk.
Charter 97 received both photographs directly from anonymous readers. Open source digital verification by @DFRLab and our community of #DigitalSherlocks proved the reports MLRS Uragan’s near the Polish border were correct. Open source investigation also supported the photographic evidence of alleged Russian military equipment in Minsk, but with one key distinction: the image does not seem to have been taken at the Minsk-Passazhirsky railway station. Instead, it seems the photo was taken at the Minsk-North (Minsk-Paŭnočny) railway station. That is, Charter 97’s reporting misidentified the specific location where the alleged Russian military equipment was spotted in Minsk, however, the claim that this equipment is moving through Minsk holds up.
15 minutes away from Poland
According to Charter 97, the reader who sent photos of the MLRS Uragan in the city of Brest wrote:
MLRS “Uragan” on the streets of Brest. On August 1, on the Warsaw highway, a few hundred meters from the border with Poland, the movement of the multiple rocket launch system Uragan was noticed. Are these the next exercises, or are we preparing for a war?
The claim accompanied three images that showed an MLRS being transported on a civilian highway, passing a crossroads.
The big blue sign on the right side of the last image is behind traffic lights. Nevertheless, a web search based on a few visible letters verify the location as the “Free Economic Zone ‘Brest.’”
The sign is located on the way to the Polish customs point at Terespol.
The place in the photos, where the MLRS Uragan was spotted, is just 15 minutes away by car from Terespol.
Because the sighting was near a town where joint Russian-Belarusian military activities will be carried out next month, the MLRS Uragan spotted could have been Russian or Belarusian.
The military equipment in Minsk
The more recent photographic evidence Charter 97 published shows combat vehicles and other military equipment on railway platforms allegedly at the Minsk-Passazhirsky railway station.
The article reads:
Combat military vehicles and other military equipment arrived at the Minsk-Passazhirsky station on the railway platforms. […] On the vehicles there is no symbol that indicates belonging to any state, there is only the number “624.”
However, open source digital verification did not prove support this claim.
The picture shows the railway platforms are stationed right behind the last railway platform, under a roof. A white multistory building is visible in the background.
The Minsk-Passazhirsky station has three separate platforms with roofs. The columns on the platforms are yellow, and the roof has yellow features that are not visible in the photo-evidence published by Charter 97.
A still shot from a YouTube video about how trains are announced at the Minsk-Passazhirsky railway station shows how the platform looked in 2016.
As Twitter user @wpitinho brought to the attention of @DFRLab, the place where the photo was taken was Minsk-North (Minsk-Paŭnočny) station. A still shot from a YouTube video of the Minsk-North station in 2013 shows platform features identical to those depicted in the photo published by Charter 97: the construction of the roof, the color of columns, and the design of benches match exactly.
This confirms that the allegedly Russian military equipment is in the capital of Belarus.
An MLRS Uragan was spotted in the city of Brest, 15 minutes away from the Polish border. Though the Belarusian media outlet Charter 97 alleges it was a Russian MLRS Uragan, there is some reason to question this claim: one hundred kilometers away is the Osipovichi military village, where other Belarusian MLRS Uragans are permanently stationed. Nevertheless, it’s not clear why a single MLRS Uragan was heading toward Poland.
The photographic evidence of alleged Russian military equipment in the Minsk-Passazhirsky railway station was, in fact, taken at the Minsk-North railway station.
While @DFRLab cannot prove that either of these sightings involved Russian equipment, we can lend some credence to Charter 97’s claim that the movement of military equipment of some kind is occurring in Belarus.
Nika Aleksejeva is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).
Follow along for more in-depth analysis from our #DigitalSherlocks.