Early in their invasion of Ukraine, some Russian fighters approaching the capital Kiev made phone calls and uploaded videos to TikTok, giving away your location to the nosy Ukrainians.
The Ukrainians used cell phone signals to fire missiles on their position, with a devastating effectaccording to the head of military intelligence of Ukraine.
Now, almost a year later and despite the ban on personal cell phones, Russian soldiers are in the war zone they keep using them call their wives, girlfriends, parents and each other, and continue to expose themselves to Ukrainian attacks.
Following an attack that killed dozens – possibly hundreds – of Russian soldiers this week, one of the deadliest since the invasion began, the Russian military itself has acknowledged the problem, using it to explain the heavy losses.
“It is already clear that the main reason for what happened was the massive, contrary to the ban, use of personal mobile phones in the range of enemy weapons,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The cell phone data allowed Ukraine, he said, “to determine the coordinates of the position of military service members to inflict a missile attack”.
Both a Ukrainian official and a group of pro-war Russian bloggers say other factors contributed to the attack and that the ministry was trying to shift the blame from military leaders to soldiers.
The Russian commanders had housed large numbers of troops together instead of scattering them, placing them near the munitions that had exploded during the attack and they didn’t hide enough their movements, they said.
But the use of personal cell phones has plagued both Ukraine and especially Russia during the war, leaving troops vulnerable to a piece of technology that, however mundane and ubiquitous in everyday life, can pose an existential threat. in modern warfare.
Ukrainian authorities say Russian-backed forces used the cell phone data has been attacking Ukrainian soldiers since at least 2014, when pro-Kremlin separatists began fighting Ukrainian troops in eastern Ukraine.
The separatists have debuted some of the latest forms of electronic warfare in Moscow, Ukrainian officials say, and Ukrainian soldiers have come to believe they were under attack because the soldiers – often in groups – used their cell phones in close proximity l ‘with each other.
The calls were soon followed by an artillery barrage on their positions.
Nearly a decade later, both Ukraine and Russia have honed their skills in using radio signals and cell phones as effective tools of attack.
Although some Russian and Ukrainian units follow strict rules and ensure that cell phones are not near front-line positions, social media posts from the battlefield show that cell phones are common among both factions of soldiers and that efforts to keep them separate they are irregular at best.
The extent of the losses suffered by Ukraine is unclear, but they appear to be less severe than Russia’s.
The interviews of The New York Times with Russian soldiers and records of phone calls intercepted by Ukrainian security forces during the war and obtained by The Times show that Russian commanders have repeatedly tried to keep phones out of the battlefield.
Shortly before the invasion, Russian soldiers stationed in Belarus were told to hand over their phones, two soldiers said in separate interviews.
In intercepted calls, Russian soldiers are heard saying that the commanders they confiscated their phones in February.
But just as often, the soldiers found ways to get around the rules.
They stole phones from Ukrainians, including those they had killed, and passed them on to call homes, an analysis of call logs shows.
In several of the intercepted calls, Russian soldiers are heard complaining that they don’t trust or feel comfortable in their leaders abandoned by themand they say they didn’t care about the rules.
Some Russian soldiers made comments showing that they are aware that Ukrainian intelligence services may be listening and that they should choose their words carefully not to reveal their location.
But the soldiers seemed unaware that cell phone data alone could give them away, giving Ukrainians enough information to locate a phone even in an apartment building.
“Fighting phones on the front lines of the 21st century is as pointless as fighting prostitution, for example,” a widely followed Russian pro-war blog said on the app Wednesday. Telegram.
“It was, it is and it will be”.
The anonymous blogger said the usage wasn’t necessarily frivolous:
for example, Russian troops had used their phones to send Telegram messages to direct artillery fire.
Some Russian generals spoke on unsafe telephones and radios early in the war, according to current and former US servicemen, allowing the Ukrainians to track down and kill at least a general and his staff thanks to an intercepted call.
But the generals changed tactics after those attacks, analysts say, and the top brass appears to be using more secure communications than ordinary troops, an analysis of call logs shows.
The phone numbers of commanders and their relatives, for example, are conspicuous by their absence from call logs The Times obtained from the Kiev region in March, and Ukrainian officials say the commanders use an encrypted network.
Ukrainian soldiers believe the Russians are looking for Ukrainian cell phones that “chat” to individual cell towers.
Once either side establishes a pattern or pinpoints the concentration of forces on their phones by other means, such as drones, artillery strikes often follow.
In April, in the eastern village of Husarivka, just 5 km from the front, a group of civilians found a place in their small enclave where they could use mobile phone service.
But shortly after a dozen residents gathered there to make phone calls, it started to rain. artillery shells.
The pattern has been repeated to the point that almost all citizens have kept their phones off or in airplane mode and avoided meeting anywhere for too long.
Despite the lingering threat, soldiers on both sides still hang on to their phones.
Ukrainians usually have access to Starlink satellite internet close to the front line, which means calls don’t use cell towers e.g they are usually safe.
But even without Starlink, the need to stay connected to home and family — especially in such a brutal conflict, where even home is targeted by Russian missile attacks — is sometimes too much for Ukrainian troops to resist.
The United States and its allies have watched the breakdown in discipline with some concern.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the whereabouts of US troops and their allies were widely known to their enemies, who lacked the long-range weapons that dominated the war in Ukraine.
There were only hints of the chaos personal technology could unwittingly create, as in 2018 when data from a fitness app revealed the locations and habits of US military personnel and bases, including those of US forces in Iraq and Syria .
“What we weren’t so worried about 30 years ago now is that every time you push a button, you’re emitting,” Marine Corps commander Gen. David H. Berger told the Defense Writers Group last month.
He said commanders were well aware that young servicemen had grown up with cell phones and that their habits were profoundly rooted
“They don’t think about pushing a button,” he said.
“That’s what they do all day. Now we have to completely undo 18 years of daily communication and tell them it’s bad. This will lead them to kill you.”
c.2023 The New York Times Society
Mark Jones is a world traveler and journalist for News Rebeat. With a curious mind and a love of adventure, Mark brings a unique perspective to the latest global events and provides in-depth and thought-provoking coverage of the world at large.