AAAS Geospatial Group Analyzes Russian Military Activity in Crimea

The dimensions, superstructure and color scheme of the tug (right) which controls access to Sevastopol Bay are very similar to Russia’s Okhtenskiy class of seagoing tugs, such as MB-173 (inset). Coordinates: 44.62N, 33.51E. Inset photo by A. Brichevsky, Black Sea Fleet Information Resource. Satellite image ©2014, DigitalGlobe, NextView License | Analysis AAAS

AAAS specialists, who have begun analyzing high-resolution satellite images of Ukraine and Crimea, released several images from the port city of Sevastopol which confirm on-the-ground descriptions of military activity in Crimea prior to Russia's recent annexation of the territory.

The images from the period 10-18 March 2014 show changes in deployment of some armored personnel carriers from a Russian vehicle depot and placement of nets or booms to restrict the entrances to Sevastopol and Striletska Bays. The AAAS Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project will be releasing additional reports on the conflict in Ukraine in the coming weeks, according to Susan Wolfinbarger, the project director.

The team will be analyzing images of Ukraine's border with Russia, where large numbers of Russian troops have been deployed amid Western concerns that Moscow may have further designs on Ukrainian territory.

The AAAS project is part of a larger effort to investigate cross-border conflicts worldwide. Primary support is provided by the United States Institute for Peace.

"High-resolution satellite imagery provides a particularly useful tool for monitoring and quantifying key metrics in border conflicts, such as troop deployments and the movement of military vehicles," the AAAS report said. "By documenting these indicators, geospatial analysis can provide clarity in circumstances where other data are ambiguous, incomplete, disguised, or concealed."

Navigation into Sevastopol and Striletska Bays, open on 5 February 2014, has been restricted by the placement of nets or booms by 12 March 2014. Coordinates, Sevastopol Bay: 44.62N, 33.51E; Image ©2014, DigitalGlobe, NextView License | Analysis AAAS

The geospatial analysis group decided to look at Crimea because of the volatile situation and the high level of uncertainty. It said one of the objectives is "to identify features that could serve as warning signs should the crisis escalate into broader armed conflict."

In the images analyzed so far, the group focused on Russian military bases and port facilities within and near Sevastopol. They found hundreds of military vehicles parked in depots throughout the area, the vast majority of which remained in place during the 10-18 March study period. In some cases, however, they did see changes in the distribution of vehicles that may have relocated to a military roadblock on a key highway leading into Sevastopol. They also found a tugboat towing a floating chain to control access from the Black Sea to the entrance of Sevastopol Bay.

"Particularly in the case of maritime actions," the report says, the observations "suggest a level of coordination and organization consistent with the interpretation that the armed groups which seized control of Crimea in February-March 2014 were not solely "spontaneous self-defense militias."

The full report is available at the AAAS Geospatial Technologies website.