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Satellites in the War: Does Ukraine Have an Advantage, and Who Is Supplying Data to Russia?

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One has been actively talking about providing Ukraine with satellite images since the beginning of the war, and the topic has not lost its relevance yet. The subject has gained particular importance as related to the counteroffensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on all fronts. The success of the Ukrainian military directly depends on the speed at which they can obtain satellite images. The combination of satellite intelligence and precision weapons increases the effectiveness of artillery and missile forces. But Russians also use satellite imagery to attack our cities. Below we’re looking into who supplies data for the Russian Federation.

Since the beginning of the war, TVIS company has been offering civilian residents and private companies detailed images of the territories. In an interview with Defense News, the company’s CEO Oles Yasynskyi talked about cooperation with one of the largest operators of satellite technologies — Maxar.

TVIS is a provider of Earth remote sensing data. The company was established in 2002 by Valery Harkusha, Vadym Golubovsky and Serhii Golovko.

Among other customers, the company also worked with Russians. In particular, it was an official satellite imagery provider to “SKANEKS” and “SOVZOND” companies.

As of 2014, 25% of the SCANEX company belonged to Igor Rotenberg, the son of the famous oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, considered a close friend of Putin. The company’s website mentions that its clients include “state and business structures, research and educational institutions, environmental organizations.” In particular, they cooperate with “Rosreestr”, “Ministry of Emergency Situations“, “Gazprom”, “Yandex”, and others.

From 2011 to 2017, SCANEX supplied data to a Russian FSB division specialising in software development. And in 2016, the company completed the order of the internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia.

Today, TVIS offers its customers the opportunity to buy Maxar satellite images (WorldView satellites). In an interview with Defense Express, Yasinsky said that TVIS participated in two “powerful space monitoring programs by Maxar and BlackSky.”

According to him, the company received, processed and transmitted images not only of the frontline areas but also of destroyed infrastructural facilities.

Yasynskyi promises to continue to transfer pictures to verified individuals upon request. However, it is worth noting that the cost of images reaches thousands, sometimes even tens of thousands of dollars. Therefore, the volume of funds collected for such activities should be the same as the budgets of the largest Ukrainian charitable foundations.

Where Russians Get Satellite Data

Some of the most brutal attacks by the Russian army on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine could have followed the sale and transfer of Maxar images of these very objects. The events include missile attacks on the Vinnytsia downtown, a shopping center in Kremenchuk, and a recreation location in Odesa. Almost immediately after the images were purchased, Russia attacked these objects using different weapons. Could all these events be a tragic coincidence?

July 14, 2022. Vinnytsia. Russia launched 5 Kalibr missiles from the Black Sea, and the rockets hit the city center. Twenty-five people died, three of whom were children. Ninety people got into hospitals.

Image by DigitalGlobe (Maxar satellite) just before the July 11th missile strike

April 23, 2022. The Russian military directed six missiles at the airport near Odessa. Five people, including a 3-month-old child, died after two rockets hit the Tiras residential complex. Eighteen people were injured.

Image of the site by DigitalGlobe (Maxar satellite) on March 30

June 27, 2022. Kremenchuk. Two Russian Kh-22 missiles hit the city center. Hypermarket “Amstor” razed to the ground. Twenty-one individuals died. One more person is still considered missing. Fifty-six people were injured.

Image of the site by DigitalGlobe (Maxar satellite) on May 5

May 25. Zaporizhzhia. Shevchenkivskyi and Oleksandrivskyi districts experienced the attack by several Russian missiles. A shopping center and 62 private houses were damaged. One person died, and three were injured.

Image of the site by DigitalGlobe (Maxar satellite) on May 11

Image of the site by DigitalGlobe (Maxar satellite) on May 6

The fact all the images were taken by Maxar satellites while TVIS is their official partner in Ukraine raises the suspicion that sensitive data could have been obtained by other countries.

Also, the idea that the Russians carried out these strikes precisely after the images of these objects were purchased is causing concerns. This information should be taken into account and checked by the Security Service of Ukraine. At least to exclude the version with the transfer of intelligence to the enemy.

On the Maxar website, there’s no information about cooperation with the state or commercial structures of the aggressor country. As a result, the images falling into the hands of Russian forces may indicate the leakage of data from Ukraine or other countries.

Russia’s war crimes have led to numerous victims among the civilian population and significant destruction of the infrastructure in major cities. Everyone involved in these atrocities must be identified — from spotters for missile strikes to those who gave and executed the criminal orders.

To remind you, on August 5, the Security Service of Ukraine published information about the notification of suspicion to one of the ex-top managers of the State Space Agency of Ukraine, who leaked secret data to the Russian Federation.

According to the journalists’ investigations, the news concerned Vyacheslav Onysko, who since 2019 held the position of Deputy Head of the National Space Facilities Control and Test Center (NTSUVKZ). In November 2018, LLC “Twis-Info” won a tender for providing services for developing and supplying archival satellite images, the end customer of which was the National Space Facilities Control and Test Center.

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