Other videos online showed that equipment belonging to the Russian strategic forces regularly pass through the town en route to military parades in Moscow.

Finland officially became NATO’s 31st member on April 4, 2023. The decision was taken in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The Kremlin branded Finland’s accession an “assault” on Russia’s security and said it would take countermeasures.

A couple of days later, a video appeared on social media with the claim that it showed four RS-24 Yars ballistic missiles being transported through the Russian city Vyborg — around 40 kilometres from the border with Finland. 

“After Finland’s accession to NATO… strategic nuclear equipment and missiles are heading to Vyborg near the border with Finland,” reads a tweet from April 7, 2023. 

But the footage was not taken in Vyborg. Instead, it was shot nearly 1,000 kilometres away in a city near Moscow.

Screenshot on Telegram of a Polish post taken on April 19, 2023

Similar posts were shared on Facebook, TikTok, Reddit and Telegram and also appeared in French, German, Polish and Spanish

Video’s location

Twitter users quickly tracked down where the clip was taken and tweeted their findings, for example here and here. They found that the video had been filmed in the Russian town of Kolchugino, located northeast of Moscow. It is an 11-hour drive from Vyborg.

Screenshot taken on Google Maps on April 19, 2023, showing the road from Vyborg to Kolchugino

One online sleuth posted the exact location of the video: 56.309722°, 39.378333°. When we inputted the geolocation into Google Maps and switched to Google Street View, we spotted the same residential building and street as shown in the footage on social media. The clip features military vehicles against the backdrop of a building with green balconies. Nearby there is a supermarket painted red and white. Both buildings are also visible on Google Street View. 

Below is a side-by-side comparison of screenshots from the video and Google Street View. They both feature a residential building, traffic lights and a red-and-white supermarket.  

A screenshot comparison of the video in the social media post and Google Street View,
on April 19, 2023

A YouTube search of keywords like Kolchugino in Russian turned up similar footage from the same location posted a few years prior. For example, this clip from eight years ago, shows the same residential building with green balconies and military vehicles transporting large missiles in the company of police. “Return of equipment from the parade in Moscow through Kolchugino 13.05.15,” reads the description of the clip. 

Similar Yandex searches pointed us to another video, posted to Russian social media platform VKontakte in 2014. It shows the same building and traffic lights, but from a different angle, as it was taken on Mira street in Kolchugino

Other leads

Another clue to the video’s true location is the licence plate of the car parked in front of the residential building. As seen in the clip, the licence plate number is A 434 TY 33.  

Screenshot of the video on social media, which shows the number plate of a car, on April 20, 2023

We were able to decipher the number thanks to a blog called Russia Beyond, where we read that “the Russian registration plate consists of several parts. First comes a registration code and series that includes a unique combination of numbers and letters. It always looks like a letter – three numbers – and another two letters”. After the registration code and series there is a square separated by a line, the Russian flag and the abbreviation “RUS”. The number in the square refers to the region where the vehicle was registered. According to information on the blog as well as in this article, the number 33 refers to Vladimir Oblast near Moscow, which includes Kolchugino. 

Our online searches also indicated that this type of military vehicle often passes through Kolchugino in connection with the May 9 Victory Day parade in Moscow. When we did a Yandex search for the Russian for “missiles Kolchugino”, it turned up an article from 2020, which noted that military vehicles were spotted in Kolchugino en route to the parade on Moscow’s Red Square. 

While we were able to establish where the video was taken, we did not manage to find out when it was shot. Other sites that also looked into the footage — such as Snopes and Euronews — were also unable to establish when the video was filmed.

Intercontinental ballistic missile 

Google searches of screenshots from the footage took us to the website of the Missile Threat project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which features photos of RS-24 Yars missiles. 

The site features basic facts about the missile, including that it is 22.5 metres long and two metres in diameter. It is able to carry a nuclear warhead and has a range of 10,500 kilometres. 

Russian Yars RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile systems move through Red Square in Moscow, during the Victory Day
military parade, on May 9, 2021 (Photo AFP / Dimitar Dilkoff)

According to the website of the Russian Nuclear Forces project, which provides information about the country’s nuclear weapons, the RS-24 Yars was acquired by the Russia’s strategic rocket forces in 2010. 

The Russian defence ministry announced on March 29, 2023 that its strategic rocket forces — responsible for the country’s strategic nuclear arsenal — had begun drills with Yars mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles. The exercises were being conducted in various regions of Siberia, according to Russian television.

Natalia Sawka

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Translation : Anna Maria Jakubek

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