Analysis: Drones, phones and satellite technology are exposing the truth about Russia’s war in Ukraine in near real-time

The war in Ukraine is defying President Vladimir Putin’s expectations at all times, not only because Russia failed to capture kyiv as planned, but because of the war crimes allegedly committed by its soldiers in Bucha, a city near Ukraine. the capital, exposed to the world. watch.

Throughout history, wars have been won by forces that have taken advantage of new technologies. English King Henry V’s 1415 victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt came courtesy of his archers and newly developed longbows, which fired arrows over a range the French could not match.

The war in Ukraine may see another historic first, with technology cutting through the fog of war, exposing the lies of the aggressors and accelerating efforts to defeat them.

Satellite images of slain civilians matching videos, recorded weeks later, of roadside bodies provide compelling evidence of Russian war crimes, convincing Western leaders to increase sanctions against Russia and speed up the supply of weapons to Ukraine.

It is not clear how this will affect the final outcome of the war. But what is clear at a time when Ukraine urgently seeks any additional influence as Russian forces regroup for a new offensive, is that Russia’s actions in Bucha are strengthening Ukraine’s hand.

While satellite imagery of the battlefield has been available to governments for decades and was instrumental in identifying war crimes during the Bosnian civil war in the 1990s, in particular locating a mass grave of many of the 7,000 Muslims Bosnians massacred in the city of Srebrenica in 1995. has never been so immediately available in the public domain as it is now.

Putin and his battlefield commanders seem unconcerned or unaware of the fact that orders and actions now leave an indelible record beyond their control that could come back to haunt them.

You will be aware that in many past conflicts, even as recent as the Syrian civil war, leaders like Bashar al-Assad escaped conviction and have even been rehabilitated, despite the plethora of incriminating documents pulled from government offices and police stations. .

But this is not the only lesson that Putin should heed. Following the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia and the civil war in Bosnia, the war crimes tribunal in The Hague used the very words of political and military leaders to help convict them.

When the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) put Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic on trial, it had video of him looking out over Sarajevo, condemning civilians below to artillery and mortar fire.

A woman walks past a destroyed Russian armored vehicle in Bucha on April 5.

His military partner in war crimes there, General Ratko Mladic, also saw his words come back to help convict him, as a video showed him on the outskirts of Srebrenica leading the leak of civilians, many of whom would be massacred in briefly by his soldiers, after his orders

That kind of link may be harder to identify with Putin, but his 20-page thesis published last summer on why Ukraine is not a country, and his television comments on why Russia should invade, if war crimes tribunals The previous ones are a precedent, they count against him as the author and director of the war.

If Putin were to stand trial, his unraveling might have started with his failure to understand the weaknesses of his military and the strengths of Ukraine. Failure to accomplish his first major objective, the capture of kyiv, forced his troops to retreat, exposing their tide of terror.

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They did what they have done so many times before, in Syria, in Chechnya, in Georgia: they committed terrible abuses. And Putin and his officials did what they have done so many times before: they lied to cover up their crimes.

Russian defense officials claimed photos and videos that surfaced on April 2, showing civilians being killed, shot in the head, some with their hands and legs tied, were fake, saying their troops left earlier. that the murders occurred. “The troops left the city on March 30,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “Where was the footage for four days? Its absence only confirms the falsification.”

They were very clear about the date. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, one of Putin’s most experienced masters of manipulation, doubled down on the clumsy cover-up, insisting that “Russian forces left the Bucha city area as early as March 30.”

Russian troops leave a trail of dead civilians, flattened apartment blocks and V-signs in Ukraine's Borodianka

But publicly available satellite images from the space technology company Maxar, taken on March 18 while Russian troops were in control, showed dead civilians on the side of the road in exactly the same places Ukrainian forces discovered them when they re-entered the city in early April. And drone video shot before March 10 showed a cyclist shot dead by Russian troops. Ukrainian forces found his body weeks later, exactly where he fell.

In the months leading up to the invasion of Russia and the days after the Maxar footage emerged, tracking Russian forces and their destruction, the public’s understanding of the battlefield has been revolutionized. Coupled with the near-ubiquitous use of smartphone cameras, geolocation technology and sophisticated drones, Putin faces the potential reckoning he escaped in previous conflicts.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wants more cameras and wider access so that the public can see for themselves: “This is what interests us, maximum access for journalists, maximum cooperation with international institutions, court record International Criminal Law, complete truth and full responsibility,” he said in a video address on Monday.

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Ukraine’s enigmatic leader has realized that it’s not just high-tech tank-busting weapons like Javelins and NLAWs, or surface-to-air missiles like Stinger and Starstreaks, that could turn the tide of war. It is the truth and the tools (satellites, drones and smartphones) to deliver it.

Unparalleled in any modern warfare, technology could give the underdog this amazing advantage, undermining the lies of an oversized aggressor. Zelensky struggled to get the United Nations to understand this when he spoke to them on Tuesday: “It’s 2022 now. We have conclusive evidence. There are satellite images. And we can conduct full and transparent investigations.”

Like Henry V in 1415, Zelensky knows an advantage when he sees one. While satellite imagery may not be as groundbreaking as a six-foot yew branch and hemp rope, if he can use it cleverly, it can force Putin to speak much sooner than the Russian president would like.

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