Around thirty military engineers are supposed to steer missiles from St. Petersburg and Moscow to civilian targets in Ukraine. This was the result of a six-month research by a collective of journalists. “Assassins with remote controls” are to determine the trajectories of the missiles, most of them young engineers.

“Have you ever wondered how Russian cruise missiles find their way into Ukrainian playgrounds, power plants and homes?” writes journalist Eliot Higgins on Twitter. A research team from his “Bellingcat” platform claims to have found the answer to this question: Young engineers are directing rockets towards Ukraine from their safe houses in Russia.

A hitherto secret group is said to be responsible for the fact that the country is being attacked by cruise missiles, hundreds of civilians have already died and the destruction of critical infrastructure has left entire regions without electricity and water. “Bellingcat” calls them “Remote Control Killers”.

There are around 33 engineers, some of whom have experience in missile programming, but also in the IT and computer games industry and naval technology, according to “Bellingcat” in the unveiling report. Together with “The Insider” and “Spiegel”, the portal researched the group for six months and was able to gain access to Russian telephone metadata. Previously, “Bellingcat” and “The Insider” worked together, among other things, on the investigative story about the poisoning of opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

The accusation of the research collective: The group should determine the targets that the missiles should hit and determine their trajectories. On condition of anonymity, a member revealed that the group was tasked with manually programming the trajectories of Russia’s precision cruise missiles. A look at the most recent targets: waterworks, kindergartens, playgrounds and residential buildings. Phone records show that contact between group members and their boss spiked just before October 10.

In the early morning of October 10, Russia fired rockets at major Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv. These were the heaviest coordinated attacks since the war began in late February. The command centers of the Ukrainian security forces were to be hit, Russia subsequently claimed. But dozens of civilians died, hundreds were injured and entire regions lost electricity. In the course of the next few days, critical infrastructure was repeatedly shelled, and entire blocks of flats were destroyed.

Photos taken after October 10th and 11th show remnants of launched missiles. They would suggest winged missiles of the types sea-launched Kalibr (3M-14), land-launched R-500 (9M728) for the Iskander system and air-launched Kh-101, according to Bellingcat. Such rockets, which Russia says are only intended for military targets, have previously killed civilians when they hit residential areas in Odessa and Mykolaiv, among other places.

The group would belong to the so-called main computing center of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces (English abbreviation: GVC) and would help control military activities from two locations. The headquarters are in the Russian Defense Ministry, another in St. Petersburg, according to the report. A photo shows the group in front of the ministry. The thirty or so members are divided into three groups — one for each of the above missiles, the report said. Most of them are in their late 20s, the four youngest only 24 years old.

“Unlike their military counterparts, most of whom face at least some personal risk near the front lines, these young people work from secure command centers in Moscow and St. Petersburg,” screams Bellingcat, seemingly living their lives without much suffering from a war in which they play a crucial role.”

There is no official information linking the Russian Armed Forces’ main data center to missile programming. Instead, it should provide IT services, according to several publications. The center does not play a role in public perception, analyzed Bellingcat. However, some members have already received military awards from President Putin himself. Others worked at the Russian command center in Damascus, Syria, between 2016 and 2021. At this point, cruise missiles were being used in Syria.

The group’s superior is said to be Lt. Col. Igor Bagnyuk, an analysis of telephone data has revealed, according to Bellingcat. Photos show that he was honored for his participation in military operations in Syria. According to the journalists’ research, his telephone data would suspect a concrete connection with Russian rocket attacks. According to the telephone data, the pattern repeated itself shortly before rocket attacks: The members of the group call Bagnyuk several times, who in turn calls his superiors, experts on the three cruise missiles. The members of the group did not want to comment on the allegations when asked, according to “Bellingcat”.