Eliot Higgins Profile picture
Founder and creative director of @Bellingcat and director of Bellingcat Productions BV. Author of We Are Bellingcat. Tonal Whiplash Zone.

Oct 24, 2022, 20 tweets

Ever wonder how Russian cruise missiles find their way into Ukrainian playgrounds, power stations, and apartment buildings? Well thanks to @bellingcat’s @christogrozev wonder no more. It’s time to meet the team behind the targeting of Russian missiles on civilian infrastructure.

Scourge of the Russian intelligence services, Christo Grozev, has spent the last several months piecing together the team responsible for programming Russian cruise missiles launched at targets in Ukraine, frequently hitting civilian infrastructure.

The missile programmers are part of the Russian Armed Forces’ vast Main Computation Centre of the General Staff (GVC), and working with @the_ins_ru and @derspiegel we’ve identified the 33 military engineers involved with cruise missile attacks in Ukraine. bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-eu…

Some of the members of this unit also took part in planning cruise missile attacks on targets in Syria and/or worked at Russia's military command centre in Damascus. Some are also recipients of various military awards, including from Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

The unit within the GVC that we identified appears to consist of three teams of approximately 10 engineers each, with each team dedicated to programming flight-paths of one specific high-precision missile type, launched from the sea, land, and air.

The direct commander of the missile pre-planners sub-unit appears to be Col. Igor Bagnyuk. This was established on the basis of the analysis of telephone data of eleven members of the group of engineers obtained from data sources on the Russian black data market.

One of the team members, Maj. Andrey Ivanyutin, can be seen in the background of this photograph of a meeting between President Putin and Syrian President Assad held in a secure Russian compound in Damascus in January 2021

By examining telephone metadata from the members of the unit it has been possible to link phone activity to attacks on Ukraine, including the October 10th strikes on Kyiv.

During the investigation we discovered Lt. Col. Bagnyuk was also an active user of the auction website Avito.ru, where he actively sells coins, even taking time to do so during the attack of Kyiv.

His current offerings include a medal awarded by President Putin in 2014. Based on descriptions of other offerings of the same type of medal, it was awarded “for contribution to the organisation of the Sochi Olympics”.

Phone records of Bagnyuk and his subordinates from the weeks prior to the 10 October attacks shows a surge of communication starting on 2 October and peaking on 9 October, with a total of 11 calls to engineers made on the last day before the strikes.

Prior to 2 October there was a lull of communication for approximately two weeks, consistent also with the absence of reports of intensive cruise missile use. This suggests that the planning for the 10 October attack began approximately one week earlier.

This timing also implies that the attack on the energy infrastructure and Kyiv may not have been a direct consequence of the partial destruction of the Kerch Bridge in Crimea on 8 October 2022.

Bellingcat and @the_ins_ru approached multiple members of the unit, who responded in a variety of ways. Capt. Sergey Ilyin, who spoke with Bagnyuk by phone more than 30 times over the last four months claimed he was a self employed plumber, despite photos of him in uniform.

Another member of the team appearing in Bagnyuk’s phone calls around the time of missile attacks was Artem Vedenov. He took our call and confirmed his name, but said he works on a farm, and offered to the reporter to explain how to butcher a pig or pluck a chicken.

More details of the investigation, and the responses from the unit’s members can be found on the Bellingcat website: bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-eu…

The Russian language version can be found on @the_ins_ru, with added details, including DMs between one of the programmers and prostitute, can be found here theins.ru/politika/255158

We did try to buy this medal so Christo could wear it during interviews about the article, but it didn't work out as Bagnyuk had to go away for work

Bellingcat's @Michael1Sheldon also managed to geolocate the group photo to the Russian MoD building in Moscow, but we couldn't fit that into the article:

Bellingcat is a charity, so if you'd like to support our work you can donate through this link bellingcat.com/donate/

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