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Atlantic Council | 27May2015 | Maksymilian Czuperski, John Herbst, Eliot Higgins, Alina Polyakova, Damon Wilson

Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin's War in Ukraine

Table of Contents

Foreword (p1)
Executive Summary (p3)
Background: A Kremlin-Made War (p4)
Russian Denial of Facts (p7)
Using Digital Forensics to Expose Russia’s War in Ukraine (p8)
A Steady Flow of Arms and Military Equipment  from Russia to Eastern Ukraine (p8)
Border Camps: Preparing for Combat  (p13)
Russian Troops in Ukraine (p15)
Cargo 200: Hiding Russia’s Dead (p17)
Cross-Border Shelling (p18)
Policy Recommendations (p20)
Casebook (p21)
Section 1. Russian Military Equipment in Use in Ukraine (p21)
Section 2. Russian Training Camps on Ukraine’s Border (p23)
Section 3. Russian Soldiers in Ukraine (p25)
Section 4. Russian Cross-Border Artillery Attacks on Ukraine (p28)
Appendix (p32)

- "Only after the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, steps from the Kremlin, did the Council team learn about his efforts to expose Mr. Putin’s war. While the work Mr. Nemtsov spearheaded remains distinct from the Council’s, our teams have subsequently coordinated the release of this report with Mr. Nemtsov’s report [in Russian] [English/Russian] to reinforce our common message: Mr. Putin led his nation into war against a peaceful neighbor and lied about it. Review and share the facts via #PutinAtW"

Executive Summary
Russia is at war with Ukraine. Russian citizens and soldiers are fighting and dying in a war of their government's own making. President Vladimir Putin continues to deny Russian involvement in the fighting, but the evidence is overwhelming and indisputable. Drawing upon open source information that is “hiding in plain sight,” this report provides irrefutable evidence of direct Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine.

This report is the result of an Atlantic Council Working Group launched to examine direct Russian military involvement in Ukraine. Discussions in March 2015 with senior Ukrainian civilian and military officials in Kyiv, investigative journalists, and a fact-finding mission to eastern Ukraine inform the report and its conclusions. It finds:

• Satellite images confirm the movement of Russian troops and camp buildups along the Ukrainian border.
• Russian training camps stationed along the Ukrainian border are the launching points of Russia’s war in Ukraine. These camps are the staging ground for Russian military equipment transported into Ukraine, soon to join the separatist arsenal, and for Russian soldiers mobilized across Russia to cross into Ukraine.
• Commanders order Russian soldiers to conceal the identifying features of military vehicles, remove insignia from uniforms, and travel across the border to join separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.
• A variety of Russian manufactured arms and munitions not used by the Ukrainian military have appeared in the hands of separatists, including shoulder launched surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), various types of rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles, landmines, and various small arms. 
• During key offensives, Russian forces in Ukraine have received cover from Russian territory. A combination of satellite data, crater analysis, and open source materials confirms that many attacks originated in Russia, not in the separatist controlled areas of Ukraine.

As a prerequisite for policies that can better deter Russia’s aggression, Western political leaders should speak clearly about Russia’s war against Ukraine, including Russian forces fighting in Ukraine and the Kremlin’s direction of the campaign. To do otherwise buttresses Putin’s attempt to obfuscate Russia’s direct role in the conflict. The West must also recognize that Putin has used each lull in combat, now under the cover of the negotiated ceasefire in Minsk, to further reinforce Russian and Russian-backed forces in Ukraine’s east and to prepare for the next stage of fighting. Furthermore, as Russia strengthens the capacity and arsenal of the forces in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin is building its case that forces engaged in any future outbreaks in fighting are indigenous, legitimate Ukrainian forces rather than Moscow’s creation. [1]

In addition, to counter Russia’s disinformation war, the Working
Group recommends that Western governments:

• devote substantially more intelligence assets to unveiling and countering Putin’s war in Ukraine;
• employ new digital forensic methods and geolocation analysis to collect intelligence that is releasable to the public to complement covert and technical intelligence collection;
• make public, to the maximum extent possible, information documenting Putin’s aggressive designs, the presence of Russian troops and equipment in Ukraine, and Russian officials directing the fighting in Ukraine, while protecting intelligence methods as needed;
• share intelligence regarding Russian plans against and Russian forces in and near Ukraine through vetted channels with the Ukrainian government;
• counter, not abet, Russia’s hybrid war by speaking clearly, consistently, and publicly about Russia’s war against Ukraine;
• increase funding for, and mobilize private investment in, Russian-language independent programs and media that broadcast into Russian-speaking areas to offset the impact of Moscow’s propaganda;
• dedicate more intelligence assets to and analysis of Putin’s burgeoning hybrid warfare against other neighbors and European nations (including other post-Soviet states and NATO and EU nations); and
• draw on these insights to inform policy decisions (such as extending, not curtailing, sanctions) and to formulate a more comprehensive transatlantic strategy to deter Russia’s aggressive actions.

[1]Adrian Karatnycky, “Putin’s Project Sparta,” New Atlanticist (blog), Atlantic Council, November 12, 2014,
http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlantacist/putin-s-project-sparta .

[W.Z. The reader is encouraged to read the full report available in the pdf file in the link below.]