TikTok Shows Russian Troop Buildup During Putin’s Intimidation Campaign

  • Crowd-sourced videos posted on TikTok and Twitter offer an impressive view of military preparations in real-time.
  • Many videos come from everyday citizens posting on TikTok and Twitter about sightings of tanks rolling along a highway.
  • Ukrainian officials have warned that these videos do more to promote Russia’s campaign to destabilize Ukraine by causing panic.

The movements of Russia’s troops and heavy weapons that would have been shrouded in secrecy decades before are all over Tik Tok, and have been for weeks. Drivers filming tanks riding past on rail cars. Passersby witnesses convoys of road-mobile missile launchers. Bored killing time.

Crowd-sourced videos posted on TikTok and Twitter offer an first view of military preparations in real-time, as they often provide a faster warning of Russia’s military movement than government warnings can offer.

Rob Lee, a Russian defense policy expert from the Department of War Studies at Kings College, said on Twitter that “most of the changes in Russian military posture near Ukraine have been observable publicly on social media before it has been confirmed by US government officials, “Noting one instance where intelligence experts on social media noticed some long-range artillery and missile launchers being moved into an attack posture more than a week before US officials gave the same warning.

Taken together, the continual spotting of these developments can also induce a sense of foreboding about Russia’s overwhelming military power that may play into President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to intimidate Ukraine as it readies for a potential invasion.

Many of these videos come from everyday citizens posting on TikTok and Twitter about sightings of tanks rolling along a highway or trains full of military equipment passing by.

Some videos have also been posted by Russian soldiers or their family and friends. In early January, commentors on TikTok claimed their husbands or brothers had left from “training” in Belarus, weeks before the announcement of joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises, according to a report from RadioFreeEurope.

But Ukrainian officials have warned that videos like these do more to promote Russia’s campaign to destabilize Ukraine by causing panic about a potential invasion.

Last month, Ukrainian officials said Russia is using cyber warfare to “not only to intimidate society but to also destabilize the situation in Ukraine, halting the work of the public sector and crushing Ukrainians’ trust in the authorities.”

The Kremlin has amassed an estimated 130,000 troops in positions that surround Ukraine, from Belarus to its north to the Black Sea to the country’s south, all the while denying plans to attack Ukraine.

Ukraine has sought to join NATO and is led by politicians who’ve sought deeper ties to Europe. The ouster of a pro-Russian president in 2014 preceded Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and annex Crimea, and catalyzed Moscow’s support for rebels in a war against Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region that’s killed over 13,000.

Manyrs see this massive build-up and’s rhetoric, such as Putin observelessly claiming a “genocide” in these separatist areas, as part of a deliberate pressure campaign to bring Kyiv’s leaders to heel, using force if necessary.

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