A group of Russian bloggers says they have proof that Russia is not only active in the skies, but on the ground in Syria as well. They base their investigation on photos published on social media. DW takes a closer look.
As the countdown to the Syrian ceasefire starts, there is still some skepticism about Russia’s role and intentions. Over the past months, there have been persistent rumors of Russian soldiers fighting along Syrian troops.
Russia first launched airstrikes to support President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil war in September but has repeatedly denied it has boots on the ground as well.
A group of Russian investigative bloggers now say they have the pictures to prove it. They call themselves "Conflict Intelligence Team" (CIT) and first made headlines two years ago with their discovery of Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine.
Proving Russian ground troops in Syria with selfies?
Now they published reports about their investigation of Russian troops on the ground in Syria. They used social media to locate military personnel in Syria. Some of these images have been circulating online for months, including some selfies.
This selfie was taken by a pro-Assad soldier in Syria. It was tweeted by Russian blogger Ivan Sidorenko, who says Russian soldiers can be seen in the background of the selfie – a proof that Russian troops are on the ground in Syria.
In a similar shot, tweeted by the same Russian blogger, Syrian Army troops appear to be posing with a Russian soldier.
Camouflage paint on tanks as further proof
The Conflict Intelligence Team is also tracking the movements of Russian vehicles. To do that, they're looking at the camouflage paint on tanks. In fact, they say camouflage is like a fingerprint - no two tanks are painted in exactly the same way.
In their report, they merged two pictures. The first shows a Russian military base in western Syria last year, where you can see a T-90 tank. And the second image appears to show that exact same tank, but this time in the eastern part of the country. How do they know? Take a look at what we've highlighted in the above video.
The group says the camouflage on the tank is exactly the same in each picture, highlighted in the circled area. These images were taken months apart and in different locations. So CIT believes this Russian tank and other vehicles are traveling across Syria.
Russian bloggers' mission
While it hasn't yet been 100 percent proven that these claims are true, the Russian bloggers write in their report that based on their investigations, "it is highly likely that Russian airstrikes in Syria indeed lead to damage of civilian facilities and civilian casualties."
They are calling on Russian and foreign media to apply more vigorous checks on what they call "a large-scale misinformation campaign waged alongside the operation in Syria."
"We believe Russian society has the right to know of the objectives Russian soldiers have on the ground in Syria," they write. "The Russian authorities have to be held accountable, or else we could see a repeat of the events in Ukraine, where dozens or even hundreds of Russian soldiers were killed in an undeclared war."