A week later, Sotkin, whose social media profiles say he is a communications specialist stationed near the Ukrainian border, posted a photo to Instagram from the village of Krasna Talychka in rebel-controlled territory in east Ukraine.
It’s not entirely clear what Sotkin was doing in Ukraine, or how long he was there. He took this photo in Russia on July 3, seemingly while in an armored personnel carrier.
But in the early hours of July 5, Sotkin posted another photograph from the village of Krasnyi Derkul on the Ukrainian side of the border. Ukraine accused rebels of firing mortars at a border point there at that time.
By July 7, he appeared to be back in Russia for good. “I still don’t understand what we’re doing here, so we’re continuing to go slightly crazy, listen to #swedishhousemafia and wait for new news from Ukraine!” he wrote.
On Sunday, Sotkin posted another photo in which he claimed to be working on a Buk missile launcher. Ukrainian and U.S. officials say rebels used a Buk to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 two weeks ago, killing all 298 on board.
The U.S. released satellite images on Sunday that it said proved Russia was shelling Ukrainian positions across the border. Russia’s defense ministry said that the claims were untrue because the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine posted the pictures to Twitter.
Instagram’s geolocating tool, however, is highly accurate. The only plausible way it could have misplaced Sotkin’s photos on the map is if he had used a trick called GPS ghosting to make his iPad think he was elsewhere.
Siraj Datoo contributed reporting from London.
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