In this article, we consider the detailed process of geolocation of one of the most discussed persons in the modern conflict – General Surovikin from Russia. Using innovative overt intelligence techniques (OSINT), we were able to pinpoint the location of the general, revealing new aspects of his activities and role in the conflict. This article is an example of a high-tech investigation that demonstrates how modern technology and data collection techniques can be used to uncover information that was previously thought to be inaccessible or hidden. It highlights the importance of OSINT in modern journalism and intelligence, and also demonstrates the capabilities of geolocation for in-depth analysis of international events. Readers of this article will get a unique view of the geolocation process, from the application of specialized software to the analysis of social networks and other open sources.
The article also highlights the role that geolocation plays in revealing facts in conflict zones, providing a broader understanding of international relations and military strategies. As such, this article not only reveals important details about General Surovikin, but also serves as a prime example of the power of OSINT and geolocation in today’s data mining world. It is an indispensable resource for experts in the field of international relations, journalists, researchers, as well as for anyone interested in using open sources of information to reveal the truth.
On September 4, a user published a photo of Russian media personality Ksenia Sobchak in the Telegram channel. “General Surovikin came out. He is alive and well, at home with his family in Moscow,” reads the accompanying text in Russian.
The BBC Verify team reports that it is “highly likely” that the man in the image is indeed General Sergei Surovikin, and that the woman standing next to him is “almost certainly” his wife Anna. The BBC has also been unable to find any early occurrence of this image.
The photo attracted public attention both in Russia and Ukraine amid widespread speculation about the whereabouts of General Serhii Surovykin. Last October, he was appointed to command the Russian forces that invaded Ukraine, but this January he was replaced by General Valery Gerasimov. Surovikin was then appointed commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces, but was removed from this position a few months later.
Meanwhile, doubts about his loyalty to the Kremlin spread. U.S. officials told Reuters in June that Surovikin was “sympathetic” to Wagner’s mutiny. CNN, citing Dossier Center documents, suggests he was a “secret VIP member” of Wagner’s group. Surovikin was last seen in public when he recorded a video calling on Wagner’s troops to end the June mutiny.
Given that the general has fallen out of favor with the Kremlin, his reappearance in this guise could have political significance. Open source researchers were quick to geolocate it, initially with difficulty, to the Terrazza restaurant in an upscale suburb of Moscow (55.738352, 37.242541).
Some contextual information was useful to confirm the location of the image. RFE/RL’s Mark Krutov said the pair are unlikely to be far from their home in Park Ville, an upmarket neighborhood on the outskirts of Moscow, whose location was published on an online map by the independent Russian publication Project Media. .
In the background of the image published on the Sobchak channel, there are tall pine trees with long bare stems, suggesting that they grew in a wooded area. Looking through satellite and ground images of the Surovikini neighborhood, it became clear that the photo must have been taken in the woods south of Park Wheel.
A white stripe on the cobblestones suggested that the couple was walking through the parking lot. One of the obvious places for the couple to go out will be a restaurant. Searching for restaurants in an area of interest yielded several results in Bellingcat’s open street map search tool, which allows you to define starting points for geolocation searches based on objects and structures you can identify.
A few of these places looked good, but most lacked the wall of vegetation seen in the background of the Surovikins’ photo. One location stood out as particularly promising with a similar background and corresponding tree density. The results of a Google Image search for the restaurant complex “Podmoskovnye vechora” (“Podmoskovnye vechora”) turned out to be good enough to require a search for more angles of the establishment in search of a match.
During the search, photos of the venue of the event were found, published by the Russian media “Sobesednyk” in a November 2022 article about Surovikin and his wife attending a party at this restaurant in the company of Kremlin press secretary Dmytro Peskov and propagandist Margarita Simonyan. Face recognition searches support this, but face recognition alone may not be enough to identify someone due to its limitations. During a facial recognition search for Surovikin’s wife, using a photo from Sobchak’s Telegram channel as a source image, the PimEyes tool offered several matches, one of which was a photo of her Interlocutor at a party with her husband at the Terrazza restaurant.
Encouraged by Surovikin’s connection to the Moscow Evenings, we expanded our search to include nearby objects that may have been in the background of the image. We immediately found a similarity at the nearby Terrazza restaurant, where the canopies and railings on the roof are very similar to those seen above the plant-covered wall in the image on the Sobchak channel.
Although images of Terrazza were scarce on the restaurant’s Google Maps and Yandex pages, Benjamin den Braber of the Center for Information Sustainability was able to identify the location where the image was likely taken by pointing out in a tweet the similarity between the angle of view of the parking lot corners and the black hedge planters at Terrazza.
After looking at other businesses in the area, it became clear that Terrazza was attached to Aldo Coppola Beauty Salon and Spa, which had significantly more images of the place to reference. One image in Yandex Maps stood out because it showed a parking area with white stripes and cobblestones that matched the original image. When this image was posted on social network X, formerly known as Twitter, geo-location user Thomas Bordo noted that it showed the same location as the image posted on Sobchak’s Telegram channel.
The annotated image matched many features in the Terrazza car park, including a leaning post and vertically offset curbs. Further inspection of the images also revealed that the same tree was clearly identified in the background of both images.
This geolocation was another practical example of the strengths of crowdsourcing in open search and geolocation research. Contributions from those mentioned in this article, as well as other X (formerly known as Twitter) users such as erich_auerbach, reduced the time it would have taken to geolocate if only one person was trying to determine the exact location.
While this image appears to show that Surovikin is indeed alive, key questions about his fate and current situation remain unanswered. In response to a question about a possible investigation of the general by Russian law enforcement agencies, the Moscow Radio Mayak asked Peskov if it was possible to ask questions about Surovikin. “No, you can’t,” replied the Kremlin spokesman.