Investigators from The Insider, Bellingcat and Der Spiegel projects found a secret unit within the main computer center of the Russian Armed Forces with 30 of its military engineers directing missiles at civilian targets in Ukraine.
This center determines the flight tasks for high-precision missiles, which eventually destroy the civilian infrastructure of Ukraine. “Either these missiles did not follow a pre-programmed flight path, or were guided to the target based on unreliable intelligence, or, finally, the destruction of the civilian population was the real goal of the Kremlin,” the investigators write.
Most of the centerʼs employees are young men and women with a background in information technology and computer game development. All of them are registered at 19 Znamyanka Street in Moscow, which is the official address of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.
The investigators studied the data of telephone conversations of the head of the general computer center, Major General Robert Baranov, from February 24 to the end of April 2022. Every time before the launch of missiles, he was called from the number of Colonel Ihor Bagnyuk, who is also registered at 19 Znamyanka Street.
Based on repeated calls, investigators recreated a team of 33 military engineers reporting to Bagniuk. They also managed to link individual cruise missile strikes to specific units of the center. In general, the centerʼs division consists of three teams, each of which programs the flight trajectories of one specific type of missile:
- Caliber: Ivan Popov, Matvei Lyubavin, Roman Kurochkin, Ekaterina Chugunova, Sergey Ilyin, Yuri Nikonov, Georgiy Starostin, Dmitriy Tikhonov, Nikolai Tarasov and Igor Groza.
- Iskander: Aleksei Mikhailov, Pavel Obukhov, Elvira Obukhova, Nikita Poplavskyi, Viktor Yaskelainen, Aleksandr Grigoryan, Vladimir Petrov, Artem Vedenov.
- Kh-101: Artem Chernov, Aleksei Betehtin, Andrei Ivanyutin, Anton Chulikov, Olga Pysmenskaya, Pavel Vasiliev, Aleksei Volkov, Anton Shatun, Stanislav Minkov.
Investigators contacted them, and they all denied working at this center and their involvement in shelling Ukraine. Someone claimed to work as a plumber, someone on a pig farm, a bus driver, someone just learning to program.
Colonel Igor Bagnyuk is the commander of the missile guidance unit. He was born in 1982 in Riga, in 2004 he graduated from the Serpukhov branch of the Academy of Missile Forces, specializing in information systems for Russian missiles, and has awards for his participation in the military operation in Syria.
Phone records of Bagniuk and his subordinates in the weeks before the October 10 strikes show an increase in call activity from October 2, reaching a peak on October 9. At the same time, on the last day before the strikes, engineer-gunners made 11 calls. Until October 2, there were no calls for about two weeks.
The earliest calls between Bagniuk and General Baranov date back to March 13, 2022. They spoke twice between 10 AM and 10:30 AM, and a few hours before that, Russia hit a military training ground near Lviv with Kh-101 and Caliber missiles, killing 35 people.