Bear Out of Hibernation or Did the Russian Train Leave 12 Months Ago?

March 31, 2014 • Christopher Ahlberg

Analysis Summary

  • Web intelligence indicates Russian military activity increased significantly in the 12 months leading up to Crimea invasion compared to a five year preceding period – both in frequency and scope.
  • Web intelligence also suggests this pattern was (and perhaps particularly) true in Crimea/Sevastopol, etc.
  • When put in context, the military occupation of Crimea may have been a target of opportunity for an increasingly aggressive Russian military and leadership.

Coming into the Sochi Olympics, security concerns were running high with rumors of black widows performing suicide attacks, and accordingly, President Putin laid down a “ring of steel” security perimeter around Sochi.

On Friday, Vedomosti newspaper reported that 70,000 police and intelligence officers had been relocated to the Black Sea resort to help secure the area, with billions of rubles spent on a so-called “ring of steel” security perimeter set
hundreds of miles outside the city.

A month later, on the coattails of Ukrainian turmoil, Putin invades Crimea in a majestic Maskirovka operation leaving the world more or less in a mode of “what just happened?” Now, was this a surprise or(!) was the Russian bear already gearing up – and in fact – are we just seeing the start of a series of aggressive moves?

Russian Military Activity Geared Up 12 Months Ago

12 months ago – in March of 2013 – Sergei Ryzhkov, head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s International Treaties Implementation stated that Russia was not obliged to notify the West on sudden maneuvers in the Black Sea area.

At the same time we can observe a strong increase in Russian military maneuvers – with a particular emphasis on snap drills to prove out readiness, test new scenarios, and demonstrate strength domestically and internationally. This pattern started 12 months ago. In hindsight, were we really observing the train of Russian aggressiveness starting back then?

Timeline of Increase in Russian Military Maneuvers

Click image for live view

In a bit simpler view we go back further, and the pattern stands out even more strongly. Please note that the view is filtered to content before January 31, 2014 – before the Olympics and the Crimea invasion to ensure no bias/pollution of post-Crimea news speaking about the past.

Timeline of Increase in Russian Military Maneuvers

Click image for larger view

Geographically we can observe the 2013 exercises across the country, and with a keen interest of President Putin himself in the maneuvers.

Map of Russian Military Maneuvers in Russia

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Observing Crimean Activity

Map of Russian Military Maneuvers in Crimea

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Now – a pretty remarkable pattern stands out in observing density of military activity in Crimea leading up to the Russian invasion. Russian activity was clearly increasing and it was available to observe in open source. Please note the view below only includes observations available up until January 31, 2014, with no post Crimea invasion bias/pollution of observations.

Timeline of Russian Military Maneuvers

Click image for larger view


In conclusion, clues of Russian intent and capability are available to study in open source. The Russian bear is awakening, the pattern started 12 months ago, and we now need to track similar patterns elsewhere. We have earlier written about Transnistria – a key place to monitor for example.

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