The Distant Management Killers Behind Russia’s Cruise Missile Strikes on Ukraine

Within the early hours of Monday, 10 October 2022, Russia pummelled Ukraine’s largest cities with missiles killing at least 20 folks and wounding greater than 100, in keeping with Ukraine’s nationwide emergency service. Russia has boasted concerning the surgical precision of its cruise missiles and claimed the assaults on 10 October focused Ukraine’s navy, safety command centres and the nationwide vitality grid. Nonetheless, open-source proof exhibits that a number of missiles struck non-military targets, damaging residential buildings and hitting kindergartens and playgrounds

The ten October assaults marked Russia’s largest coordinated missile strikes because the starting of the conflict. But the destruction didn’t finish there. Missile strikes continued the following day with at the least 28 launched on 11 October. The strikes left massive numbers of civilians in Kyiv, Lviv, Vinnytsia, and Dnipro with no or sporadic entry to electrical energy. 

Cruise missile assaults on Ukraine’s vitality infrastructure continued right into a second week on 17 October 2022, when Ukraine reported capturing down three cruise missiles flying in direction of Kyiv. On the morning of 18 October, new missile assaults have been reported in at the least three cities leaving a few of them with no electrical energy. As of 18 October 2022, worldwide prosecutors have been investigating the concentrating on of civilian buildings and significant civilian infrastructure as potential conflict crimes.

Remnants of a Kalibr missile discovered close to impression craters on 10 October in Konotop, Ukraine, (Supply: Ukraine’s Defence Ministry). The fuselage wreckage exhibits the Kalibr’s tell-tale black damaged stripes (prime proper picture) and the underside exhibits partly the 3M-14 inscription that adorns the weapon and will be seen in larger element right here).

Visible proof and pictures of stays of the missiles present that many who have been launched on 10 and 11 October 2022 have been winged cruise missiles, of the sea-launched Kalibr (3M-14), the land-launched R-500 (9M728) for the Iskander system, and air-launched Kh-101 varieties. These missiles are touted by Russia as high-precision weapons that solely destroy related navy targets. Nonetheless, because the begin of Russia’s invasion, long-range cruise missiles have repeatedly destroyed civilian infrastructure and brought on a whole lot of civilian deaths and accidents for instance when a cruise missile hit residential areas in Odesa and Mykolaiv earlier this summer time. 

In a single single day in July, cruise missile assaults on town of Vinnytsia are reported to have killed 27 civilians. These strikes, that hit non-military targets, counsel both that the missiles did not comply with their pre-programmed flight path, that concentrating on was primarily based on faulty intelligence info, or that civilian hurt was intentional. In at the least two instances in April and early June, Russian cruise missiles flew dangerously low above nuclear energy stations, creating the chance of a nuclear accident within the occasion of a misfire or falling particles.

Russia’s Cruise Missiles

Regardless of a whole lot of open-source photos and movies exhibiting the flight and lethal impression of cruise missiles, little is understood about who precisely is chargeable for setting their targets and for programming their flight paths. Attribution of the programming of the flight-path of those allegedly high-precision weapons is related because the deliberate or indiscriminate concentrating on of Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure may represent potential conflict crimes.

Following a six-month-long investigation, Bellingcat and its investigative companions The Insider and Der Spiegel have been in a position to uncover a hitherto secretive group of dozens of navy engineers with an academic {and professional} background in missile programming. Telephone metadata exhibits contacts between these people and their superiors spiked shortly earlier than lots of the high-precision Russian cruise missile strikes which have killed a whole lot and disadvantaged hundreds of thousands in Ukraine of entry to electrical energy and heating. The group, which works from two areas – one on the Ministry of Defence headquarters in Moscow and one other on the Admiralty headquarters in St. Petersburg – is buried deep throughout the Russian Armed Forces’ huge “Predominant Computation Centre of the Common Employees”, usually abbreviated as ГВЦ (GVC). 

Most members recognized by Bellingcat and companions are younger women and men, together with one husband-and-wife couple, many with IT and even computer-gaming backgrounds. Some additionally labored at Russia’s navy command centre in Damascus within the interval between 2016 and 2021, a timeframe throughout which Russia deployed cruise missiles in Syria. Others are recipients of varied navy awards, together with from Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

Bellingcat approached every recognized member of this clandestine GVC unit with a suggestion to substantiate or deny our findings, and with an inventory of questions together with who selects the targets and whether or not the civilian casualties are the results of computational error or intentional concentrating on of civilians. One senior officer, reached by cellphone by a reporter from our investigative accomplice The Insider, hung up as quickly as he came upon with whom he was talking. All however two of the opposite navy engineers both didn’t reply to calls and textual content messages or explicitly denied working for Russia’s armed forces or denied even realizing what GVC was, regardless of many being proven pictures wherein they’re seen posing in navy uniform with GVC insignia. One of many engineers didn’t deny their affiliation to this unit however indicated they might not safely reply the questions we put to them, and thanked our crew for alerting them to the upcoming publication. One other member shared with us, on situation of anonymity, sure contextual details about how the group was tasked with manually programming the delicate flight paths of Russia’s high-precision cruise missiles and several other pictures of their commander Lt. Col. Igor Bagnyuk. This particular person additionally supplied group images of the GVC computation group posing in entrance of a Ministry of Defence constructing in Moscow.

Methodology of Identification

The identification of this clandestine group throughout the Ministry of Defence was made by parsing by open-source information of hundreds of graduates of Russia’s main navy institutes that target missile engineering and programming, particularly the Balashikha-based Army Academy of Strategic Missile Forces close to Moscow, and the Army-Naval Engineering Institute primarily based within the Pushkin suburb of St. Petersburg. A beginning speculation was that these main navy institutes might be a coaching floor for at the least a few of the officers presently programming Russia’s most subtle long-range missiles.

Bellingcat analysed leaked employment or phone entry information on these graduates obtainable by way of Russia’s underground information markets. This allowed us to find that a few of these folks have been referenced in cellphone contact lists, obtained from numerous information lookup Telegram bots reminiscent of Glaz Boga and HimeraSearch, as working at GVC (Главный Вычислительный Центр) or the Predominant Computation Centre of the Armed Forces of Russia. Notably, all of those navy missile engineering graduates with a GVC reference linked to their cellphone numbers in these apps have been registered as dwelling and dealing at Znamenka Avenue 19 in Moscow — the official handle of Russia’s Armed Forces Common Employees.

What’s the GVC?

There isn’t a public info linking the Predominant Computation Centre of the Armed Forces of Russia with the programming of cruise missiles. The perform of the GVC has been opaquely described in navy publications as “offering IT providers” and “automation” to Russia’s armed forces. Regardless of its lengthy historical past (in keeping with Zvezda, a TV outlet affiliated with the Russian armed forces, it was established in 1963), sparse public mentions of this institute exist in present-day Russian media.

A uncommon instance comes within the type of a 2018 award to a member of a navy choir signed by Colonel Robert Baranov, named because the ‘director of the Predominant Computation Centre of the Armed Forces of Russia’. In 2021, an internet site specializing in Russia’s Volga Area reported that Baranov, who hails from the Republic of Chuvashia, had been promoted to Main Common by presidential decree. The corresponding decree naming Baranov will be discovered on the Russian authorities’s web site.

One of many engineers we recognized as working for GVC obtained a “certificates of gratitude” from President Putin in 2020, in keeping with his resume on a freelance job posting. Nonetheless, Bellingcat was unable to search out this man’s title in both of the publicly obtainable listings of Russian recipients of the award from that 12 months. In the identical posting, he describes his training as “automated programs with a particular utility”.

An aggregated evaluation of the academic {and professional} background of the folks affiliated with GVC primarily based on phone contact lists exhibits that almost all of them graduated from both the Academy of Strategic Missile Forces (and particularly its Informatics Programs subsidiary in Serpukhov) or the Army Naval Engineering Institute. Some had prior navy service as navy captains or ship engineers. Others had prior civilian work expertise as company IT specialists or sport designers.

How we Linked the GVC Group to Cruise Missile Strikes

Given these extremely specialised technical expertise, it appeared believable that the GVC could also be linked to programming the flight paths of Russia’s cruise missiles. Subsequently Bellingcat obtained cellphone metadata data of the very best rating particular person publicly named as its director: Maj. Gen. Baranov. This technique is much like that employed by Bellingcat to monitor and hint the poisoners of Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny, with information bought from brokers who generally supply such providers. Whereas this technique can be not possible in most nations, Russia’s black marketplace for information has helped journalists and activists piece collectively quite a few important investigations into the nation’s navy and secret providers in recent times. 

An evaluation of 126 cellphone calls from 24 February to the top of April 2022 confirmed a correlation between important Russian cruise missile assaults in Ukraine, and incoming calls previous to the missile strikes coming from one explicit quantity that we recognized as belonging to a different senior officer working on the GVC. This officer is recognized by way of cellphone contact listings and leaked residential databases as Lt. Col. Igor Bagnyuk, and was registered on the identical handle as the opposite identified GVC officers at Znamenka 19.

On the belief that Lt. Col. Bagnyuk was the senior-most officer probably linked to the programming of long-range missiles, as a consequence of his direct communication with the commander of the group, we then obtained his cellphone metadata data for the interval from the beginning of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. Bagnyuk’s name data confirmed intensive communication with greater than 20 navy engineers and IT specialists related to the GVC. Dipping again into the identical Russian black market information sources, we then acquired a number of of essentially the most continuously interacting cellphone numbers attributed to GVC officers. By analysing the cumulative physique of cellphone data, we reconstructed a crew of 33 navy engineers who appeared to report or talk continuously with Lt. Col. Bagnyuk.

The clandestine group of engineers that we recognized seems to encompass three groups of roughly 10 engineers every, with every crew devoted to at least one particular high-precision missile sort. 

Our preliminary speculation was primarily based on clustering particular person engineers primarily based on their cellphone communication with each other. Three clusters have been recognized that talked primarily amongst the cluster and with their commanding officers. Then we in contrast peaks within the clusters communication with days and instances when missile hits have been publicly reported, and located a correlation to the three particular kinds of missiles. The specialisation of every engineer primarily based on prior employment or training historical past matched the presumed focus, with officers coming from a navy naval background being a part of the sea-launched missile crew and many others).

The three missile varieties are: ЗМ-14 (Kalibr, sea-launched), R-500 (aka 9М728, for Iskander programs, (floor) launched), and Kh-101 (air-launched).

One officer – named Anton Timoshinov, a lieutenant colonel like Bagnyuk – appeared to speak with members of every of the three clusters, however didn’t talk with anybody outranking Lt. Col. Bagnyuk, thus he gave the impression to be a subordinate of Bagnyuk however superior to the officers within the three sub-groups.

What are Russia’s Excessive-Precision missiles?

Russia’s military has been on a quest to develop long-range, high-precision cruise missiles because the center of the twentieth century. Nonetheless, it has been able to growing and perfecting typical cruise missiles solely within the final twenty years – lengthy after their US counterparts have been first deployed.
Through the conflict in Ukraine, Russia has used three main kinds of cruise missiles – all of which seem to have been first battle-tested within the conflict in Syria. These three varieties embody sea-launched, airborne-launched and ground-launched cruise missiles.

Kalibr 3M-14 (Sea-launched)

Kalibr 3M-14, additionally identified underneath the denomination 26 SS-N-30A, is the land-targets variation of the Kalibr household which additionally contains anti-ship and anti-submarine modifications. All three variations of the Kalibr share a vertical launch system that enable them to be launched with any variety of Russian naval vessels together with smaller corvettes and submarines. The missile was test-proven in Syria to have the ability to hit targets as distant as 1,800 km from the launch website.

Whereas exact estimates should not obtainable, Russia has launched a whole lot of Kalibr missiles because the begin of the invasion of Ukraine, with one media estimate of 225 missiles fired in simply the primary two months of the conflict. Every missile is estimated to value roughly EUR 6.5 million (US $6.38 million).

Kh-101 (air-launched)

The Kh-101 is the conventional-warhead model of Russia’s air-launched cruise missiles. Just like the Kalibr, it debuted in a real-war setting in Syria. Additionally just like the Kalibr, the Kh-101 is designed to evade air defence programs by flying at low altitudes carefully monitoring the bottom terrain; nonetheless its potential to defeat radar detection is reported to be extra superior, each as a consequence of decrease flight altitudes and absorptive floor materials. The Kh-101’s reported working vary is as much as 2,800 km, and it may be launched from Tu-160, Tu-95MS, or Tu-22M3 strategic bombers. Every Kh-101 is reported to hold a 450 kg warhead that can embody high-explosive, penetrative or or cluster munitions.


The R-500 is the cruise model of the missiles launched from the vertical-launch Iskander-M missile complicated, historically used to launch ballistic missiles, and was first deployed in 2013. In contrast to the Kalibr and the Kh-101, it has a considerably shorter vary of roughly 500 km, nonetheless will be made prepared, focused and launched with a really quick lead time, with Russian weapons blogs claiming lower than a minute is required between launches aimed toward completely different targets. It carries a standard warhead of 500 kg however, just like the Kh-101, will be modified to host a nuclear warhead. The traditional warheads could carry cluster, fuel-explosive and bunker-busting munition. Just like the Kh-101, the R-500 additionally flies at a low altitude to be able to keep away from most traditional radar discovery programs.

Flight-Path Planning and Precision

Russian authorities declare their cruise missiles are high-precision weapons and may hit targets with a deviation of no more than 5 to seven metres. Nonetheless, Russian state-run media have reported that the precision could also be within the vary of 30 to 50 metres.

Whereas the precise flight-path and target-seeking mechanism varies among the many three varieties, numerous weapons and navy publications describe how every typically follows route-adjusted preliminary flight path that relies upon each on astro-inertial navigation, which compares measurements from on-board gyroscopes and altimeters to a pre-programmed sequence and on satellite tv for pc (Navistar) and GPS (GLONASS) route correction, in addition to optical and correlation-extreme recognition of waypoints alongside the trail and the ultimate goal.

As a result of complexity of interactions between the varied inputs for the flight path and course adjustment, every missile’s flight path requires customised, particular person planning. In keeping with one of many members of the GVC crew who agreed to reply questions on situation of anonymity, the pre-flight planning requires simulation of the entire flight path from launch website to focus on. The ensuing flight path plan in addition to the algorithm for course changes primarily based on numerous inputs is loaded by the programmers onto a ruggedized reminiscence stick, which is then handed on to the launch location and inserted into the missile.

Who’re the Distant Management Killers?

The background of the navy engineers working for the GVC is various. It contains each individuals who spent all of their profession within the military or navy, and subsequently obtained a navy engineering specialisation, in addition to younger individuals who have been recruited from civilian jobs often linked to IT and laptop science.

The direct commander of the missile pre-planners sub-unit at GVC seems to be Col. Igor Bagnyuk. This was established on the premise of the evaluation of phone information of 11 members of the group of engineers obtained from information sources on the Russian black market, together with that of Bagnyuk himself, which confirmed a sample of subordination wherein every member communicated with him however he alone communicated with the superiors. Moreover, he was recognized – each by face recognition and by the navy insignia – because the senior-most officer on the group picture with different GVC crew members. Moreover, the member of the crew who engaged with reporters said Bagnyuk was the direct commander.

Elements of Bagnyuk’s biography will be reconstructed from leaked information present in numerous aggregated databases, reminiscent of HimeraSearch and Glaz Boga. Born in Rīga in 1982, Lt. Col Bagnyuk in 2004 graduated from the Serpukhov subsidiary of the Academy of Strategic Missile Forces which specialises in IT programs for Russia’s missiles. He was deployed at navy unit 29692 close to town of Vladimir till he was moved to Moscow to affix GVC in some unspecified time in the future earlier than 2010.

The medals and orders of distinction on his picture, obtained from one of many GVC members who engaged with Bellingcat, exhibits that Bagnyuk was awarded a medal for “Participation in Army Operations in Syria”. This medal was awarded to Russian officers within the interval between 2015 and 2020. Russian armed forces did fireplace each airplane-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles within the interval between 2015 and 2017 in Syria, together with reported 2016 strikes on Aleppo.

The engagement in Syria of officers from the unit supervised by Bagnyuk can be confirmed by way of open sources. On this picture, revealed on the Kremlin’s official web site (archive), Russia’s President Putin is seen speaking to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad throughout a January 2021 go to to Damascus. The assembly is held inside Russia’s safe navy command centre in Syria, as described within the accompanying Kremlin launch. Sitting in a row behind the 2 leaders are a number of unnamed Russian officers. One among them seems to be Maj. Andrey Ivanyutin (archive), a member of the GVC unit with whom cellphone data present Bagnyuk has been speaking extensively throughout the present conflict. Facial comparability instruments allowed Bellingcat to establish Ivanyutin’s VK web page.

Reporting to High Brass Earlier than Assaults

Taking a look at Lt. Col. Bagnyuk’s cellphone metadata over a interval of months, a sample begins to emerge.

Whereas Bagnyuk known as his subordinates from the GVC crew comparatively usually, he spoke along with his commanders – Lt. Gen. Baranov and Col. Evgeniy Kapshuk – sometimes. A evaluation of his calls to the highest brass on the GVC present a correlation between these calls and impending large-scale missile assaults. 

A month earlier than the key October assaults, Bagnyuk spoke with Gen. Baranov on Saturday, 10 September, at 12:41. On the time of the decision, Bagnyuk was on the workplace at Znamenka 19. The final name Bagnyuk made at 21:20 that night was to Capt. Alexey Mikhaylov, an R-500 concentrating on specialist. 

The following day, Sunday 11 September, the Russian Defence Ministry reported that “during the last 24 hours” Russia had launched an unknown variety of R-500 missiles at Ukraine’s navy deployment in Donbass. Later that very same day, Russia launched 12 further cruise missiles – six Kalibr and 6 air-launched Kh-101 – at Ukraine, within the first reported try to focus on Ukraine’s vitality infrastructure.

On 12 September 2022, Bagnyuk flew to Rostov – close to the border with Ukraine – his cellphone actions present. Through the night time of 12 to 13 September, his cellphone data detailed a flurry of calls. Between midnight and 02:00, he spoke 4 instances along with his superior Col. Kapshuk, and known as his subordinates, Maj. Matvey Lyubavin (Kalibir specialist) and Capt. Alexey Mikhaylov (R-500 specialist), twice every.

The next day, 14 September, Russia’s Defence Ministry reported that it had carried out a “sudden night-time launch” of an Iskander cruise missile complicated concentrating on a command centre of Ukraine’s armed forces. The launch was created from Ukrainian territory, in keeping with Russia’s Ministry of Defence.

Afterward the identical day Russian planes launched eight Kh-101 cruise missiles at hydraulic infrastructure at Kryvyi Rih, leaving elements of the central Ukrainian metropolis with out water for days. 

The earliest calls between Bagnyuk and Gen. Baranov recognized by our crew date again to 13 March 2022. On that morning the 2 spoke twice between 10:00 and 10:30. Earlier that morning, Russia had launched the deadliest salvo because the begin of their invasion, firing 30 Kh-101 and Kalibr missiles. It left a reported toll of at the least 35 killed and 134 wounded troopers and officers. This included international navy instructors at a navy coaching camp in close by Yavoriv.

An Hour to Kill

Bagnyuk’s cellphone data reveal an array of different info, together with that he’s an avid coin collector who spends a big portion of his time – together with throughout working hours – on the cellphone with coin buying and selling websites, reminiscent of His obsession with numismatics appeared notably hanging on the morning of 10 October 2022, when, his cellphone data present, he communicated a number of instances with the coin-trading web site at 6:45 am, about an hour earlier than a salvo of missiles hit Kyiv, killing dozens.

Lt. Col. Bagnyuk can also be an energetic vendor on, the Russian equal of Ebay. Amongst his latest gross sales of cash and client electronics, on the time of publication, he’s presently providing on the market a medal awarded by President Putin in 2014. Primarily based on descriptions of different choices of the identical sort of medal, it was awarded “for contribution to the organisation of the Sochi Olympics”. It’s not clear what position Bagnyuk could have performed in relation to the Olympics. He’s promoting the medal from Putin for six,500 rubles, or roughly $105.

Telephone data of Bagnyuk and his subordinates from the weeks previous to the ten October assaults exhibits a surge of communication beginning on 2 October and peaking on 9 October, with a complete of 11 calls to engineers made on the final day earlier than the strikes. Previous to 2 October there was a lull of communication for roughly two weeks, constant additionally with the absence of reviews of intensive cruise missile use. This means that the planning for the ten October assault started roughly one week earlier, according to intelligence info obtained by Ukrainian authorities. This timing additionally implies that the assault on the vitality infrastructure could not have been a direct consequence of the partial destruction of the Kerch Bridge in Crimea on 8 October 2022.

The day earlier than the missile assaults, starting simply after 15:00 on Sunday, 9 October, Bagnyuk known as in a sequence three officers – engineers from the GVC crew, every specialising in one of many three kinds of cruise missiles. 

At 15:17 Bagnyuk telephoned Capt. Alexey Mikhaylov, a member of the sub-team specialising within the land-launched R-500 missiles. A couple of minutes later he made a name to Maj. Matvei Lyubavin, one of many senior engineers within the sea-launched Kalibr missiles sub-team. He known as Lyubavin on his landline on the workplace, exhibiting Lyubavin was at his desk on a Sunday afternoon.

After a pause of practically two hours, at 17:10 Bagnyuk obtained a cellphone name from Col. Kapshuk, one of many deputy commanders of the GVC. After hanging up along with his superior, Lt. Col. Bagnyuk instantly known as Sr. Lt. Olga Chesnokova, a member of the sub-team specialising within the air-launched Kh-101 cruise missiles. Bagnyuk known as Chesnokova twice in a row at 17:16 and 17:17, after which known as again his superior Col. Kapshuk at 17:20. Thus, between 15:17 and 17:17, Lt. Col. Bagnyuk had known as a member of every of the sub-units specialising within the three kinds of missiles that may be launched towards Ukraine the next morning.

Lt. Col. Bagnyuk then made his means from his suburban residence within the outskirts of Moscow to his workplace at Znamenka 19, the headquarters of the Common Employees of Russia’s military. Cell tower metadata exhibits that he stayed at his workplace till late that night. He made one final name to the chief of the GVC, Gen. Baranov, at 21:15, after which left for residence.

Bagnyuk returned to the workplace simply after 05:30 the following morning, 10 October 2022, his cellular phone metadata exhibits. He arrived simply in time for his on-line coin commerce, an hour earlier than the assaults on Ukraine started.

The Strategy: Reaching out to the GVC Group

The navy engineers from the missile flight-planning unit of GVC are younger folks principally of their late twenties, with the 4 youngest members solely 24 years outdated. Whereas lots of them had prior civilian arithmetic or IT training, all of them underwent navy engineering coaching on the Army Academy of Strategic Missile Forces or the Army-Naval Engineering Institute.

In contrast to their navy friends, most of whom are uncovered to at the least some private danger close to the front-line, these younger folks work from safe command centres in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and seem to go about their lives with little interference from a conflict wherein they play an important position. Whereas their present wartime pay ranges should not identified, leaked wage information for a few of the members from 2018 to 2020, obtainable in information aggregators reminiscent of Glaz Boga, means that the pay charges has been growing, from a month-to-month common of Rub 80,000 (US$1,300) in 2018 to a median of Rub 130,000 ($2,100) in 2020.

Matvey Lyubavin seems to be considered one of Lt. Col. Bagnyuk’s senior-most subordinates primarily based on their variety of cellphone interactions. Lyubavin was born 1992 and completed the Nakhimov naval-military college in St. Petersburg in 2009. In 2014, he graduated from the Army-Naval Engineering Institute in St. Petersburg with a specialisation in “IT automation of special-purpose programs”.

After graduating he labored in civilian jobs, together with in IT assist for 2 banks and at a pharmaceutical R&D firm. For a number of years he led a lifetime of a daily Moscow urbanite, travelling overseas, organising vogue exhibits and tweeting detailed opinions on the most recent motion pictures. Lyubavin additionally took a stance on civic points, retweeting assist for messenger Telegram’s refusal to share information with Russian authorities and changing into a member of Lively Citizen, an unbiased civic engagement programme. His cellphone quantity seems additionally within the leaked database of the Good Voting contributors – a strategic voting endeavour by Alexey Navlany’s anti-corruption basis to steer votes away from the ruling United Russia celebration in favour of another candidate.

Maj. Matvey Lybavin. Left: 2009 college commencement. Middle: 2014, Naval Academy commencement. Proper: 2022 resume picture.

By 2020, Lyubavin was already working for the secretive GVC flight pre-planning unit. In keeping with his personal resume, posted on a contract job search web site in March 2022, he obtained a certificates of gratitude from the Russian president. (Curiously, after the conflict had begun, Lyubavin appeared to imagine that his day-job obligations on the GVC allowed him to generate supplementary revenue from copywriting and modifying providers, in addition to from providing to “organise strategic analysis and coaching manuals for administration” and “suggest structuring and rhyming of the exposition”.)

Having noticed the correlation of Lyubavin’s cellphone calls and the missile launches, in April 2022 Bellingcat approached him by way of a safe chat on Telegram, and requested him to touch upon how he felt concerning the quite a few civilian victims of the missile strikes. Lyubavin responded with the phrases: “Be skilled; ask me concrete questions”. 

We then reformulated the query to “Are the quite a few civilian casualties throughout cruise missile strikes an meant end result or the results of defective concentrating on”. To this Lyubavin responded that he can’t reply this query. Following this response, the Telegram app notified the reporter that he made a screenshot of the chat. He refused to reply repeated additional questions posed to him within the following months.

But, Maj. Matvey Lyubavin was one of the crucial candid members of the crew when approached by Bellingcat for a proper of reply. One other crew member, whose id shouldn’t be generally known as they contacted reporters by way of a burner e-mail account that was supplied by Bellingcat and The Insider to all contacted members, shared two group images of the GVC crew and two images of their commander, Lt. Col. Bagnyuk, sporting his many medals.

When a reporter from Bellingcat’s accomplice The Insider contacted Capt. Yuriy Nikonov, one of many engineers who most continuously interacted with Bagnyuk during the last six months, he denied realizing something concerning the GVC or the continued conflict. He mentioned he was a bus driver and that any claims of him being linked to the presumed concentrating on unit have been “absolute nonsense”. 

Following the method by The Insider, Nikonov made his social media account on VK personal. His new avatar grew to become a photograph of a cartoon character in Russian navy uniform who’s about to press a purple button (the cartoon seems to have been used first as an illustration to a Russian soldier’s joke making enjoyable of the infamous imprecision of Russian missile strikes). At press time, Capt. Yuriy Nikonov nonetheless had an energetic profile on a Russian relationship web site, the place he described himself as an IT specialist, “wanting good” and dealing for the state.

Different members of the GVC crew reached by cellphone on the identical numbers that have been seen in Bagnyuk’s name data, additionally confirmed their identities however denied that they labored on the GVC or had something to do with the Russian military.

For example, Capt. Sergey Ilyin, who spoke with Bagnyuk by cellphone greater than 30 instances during the last 4 months, and whose personal cellphone data present that he communicated with eight different members of the Kalibr sub-team, usually at instances correlated to missile assaults, instructed our accomplice The Insider that he’s a “self-employed plumber”, and that his solely brush with computations have been simply “such measurements that turn out to be useful throughout plumbing work”. But, Ilyin seems in navy uniform in a bunch picture with different navy engineers bearing the insignia of the GVC.

One other member of the crew showing in Bagnyuk’s cellphone calls across the time of missile assaults was Artem Vedenov. He took our name and confirmed his title, however mentioned he works on a farm, and supplied to the reporter to elucidate the best way to butcher a pig or pluck a hen.

Maj. Ivan Popov, one other Kalibr engineer with a level from the St. Petersburg Army Naval Engineering Academy, mentioned he was a self-learner in Python however had by no means heard concerning the GVC or about programming missile paths. Lt. Ekaterina Chugunova, additionally from the Kalibr subunit, mentioned she was a florist, and insisted the decision was to a mistaken quantity.

When one other GVC engineer, Vladimir Vorobyev, who denied having something to do with the Ministry of Defence and with the GVC, was proven {a photograph} of himself in navy uniform bearing the GVC insignia, he mentioned this was the primary time in his life he noticed this picture, and expressed shock that he was in a navy uniform.

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