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Social-Media Posts Belie Russian Denials About Ukraine Involvement

Russia has sought to maintain plausible deniability about its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine's east.

Granted, separatist leaders like Igor Girkin and Igor Bezler are Russian citizens with alleged pasts in Russia's security services, but Moscow says they came to Ukraine on their own accord.

And although some high-powered weapons have been traced back to Russia, the Kremlin has argued -- albeit not particularly convincingly -- that any weapons in separatist hands were taken from the Ukrainian side.

But some Russian military personnel may not have gotten the memo.

Aleksandr Sotkin, a 24-year-old Russian soldier who BuzzFeed first reported had been posting updates apparently from inside Ukraine, is the most recent culprit in the series of what appear to be social-media snafus.

"Night shift..working up a sweat," says this post from June 30, apparently posted inside Ukraine in the town of Krasna Talivka, 3 kilometers from the border with Russia.

According to an Instagram map, Sokin posted two of his photos from within Ukraine:

Internet sleuths were also able to make screen captures of posts apparently belonging to other soldiers before they managed to close their social-media accounts.

Mikhail Chuganov allegedly uploaded photos of military trucks carrying Grad rockets toward Ukraine's border on Vkontakte, Russia's most popular social-networking site. His account has since been deleted.

And in late July, a soldier named Vadim Grigoryev posted photos of launchers and artillery near the border with Ukraine.

"We battered Ukraine all night," he allegedly wrote:

After deleting his account, Grigoryev appeared on Russia's state-run Rossia-24 TV channel and claimed his profile had been hacked.

His defense, though, had some holes.

He first told the interviewer he hadn't heard about the controversy until contacted by the TV channel. But later in the interview, Grigoryev said he had called his family members, who then deleted his account. He also claimed his phone was incapable of posting the photos, which he said had been taken over a month ago -- a claim that seems to suggest the photos do indeed exist.

Some Russian State Duma deputies appear to be at least tacitly acknowledging the veracity of the photos.

A Communist Party deputy is reportedly preparing legislation that would ban soldiers from posting photos and videos on social networks that revealed military equipment or positions.

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    Glenn Kates

    Glenn Kates is the former managing editor for digital at Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. He now reports for RFE/RL as a freelancer.