Russia Just Shelled Ukraine
Satellite spots Russian artillery shelling across the border
Russian forces on Russian soil have fired on government troops inside Ukraine, according to commercial satellite imagery that the U.S. State Department has circulated.
The Digital Globe imagery dated July 23 depicts Russian self-propelled artillery in unprepared firing positions aimed at a nearby Ukrainian military unit. A separate battle-damage assessment purports to show the impact craters from the Russian artillery barrage.
The assessment compares imagery from July 20 and July 23. A quick geolocation of both units’ respective positions, via Google Earth, indicates a distance of 8.5 miles between the artillery and its target.
Eight and a half miles is well within the range of Russia’s self-propelled cannons. Owing to the low fidelity of the imagery, we can’t be sure—but it appears the artillery pieces are 2S1 or 2S3 models.
We don’t think they’re the more powerful 2S19 type.
Besides, Ukraine has 2S1s and 2S3s in abundance, which could provide Russia cover for any accusations regarding its material assistance to separatists. Moscow could always claim Ukraine’ rebels stole the artillery from government stockpiles. That said, Russia would have to explain why it allowed a separatist unit on its side of the border.
Perhaps more interestingly, we can also see in the imagery the remnants of various firing positions inside the Ukraine border. Blast marks or ground scarring in imagery from July 21 appear to indicate rocket launches.
U.S. officials suggested on July 24 that these may be from the BM-30 Smerch, which consists of 12 tubes, each packing a 300-millimeter rocket.
The officials said Russia intended to give BM-30s to the pro-Russian separatists. Despite the ground scarring inside the Ukrainian border, we can’t be sure that the transfer actually occurred.
In fact, imagery from July 25 shows additional ground-scarring on the Russian side of the border. This may suggest that the rocket unit had returned to Russia.
On July 26, Ukraine claimed it was ready to retake Donetsk, the heart of the Russian-backed separatist movement. With approximately 15,000 Russian troops just across the border ready to supply and support the rebels, the battle for Donetsk could be a tough one.