As trains carry Russian military equipment to the Ukrainian border, amateur video is circulating via TikTok and Telegram message services. Experts are trying to verify the footage and identify the weapons being transported. Of particular interest are images thought to be of the Iskander, which is one of the most advanced mobile missile systems on the planet.
Samuel Bendett, an authority on Russian military capabilities, says the Iskander is a highly potent weapon.
"Apparently, Iskanders are within close proximity to Ukraine, according to open-source reporting," he said.
Russia's defense ministry, last year, showed video that purports to be of successful Iskander strikes in Syria. They're reported to be accurate to within 30 feet of a target.
"This is a system that is designed to strike targets at several hundred kilometers. It is a modernized system," Bendett said. "It would probably have a place in the initial volume of strikes, initial volley of strikes against some of the Ukrainian assets located within several hundred kilometers from Russian positions.
It's precision-guided. While the missile is airborne, its computer can receive images of the target from — for example, Russian fighter jets — lock onto them and strike at hypersonic speed.
"They can hit essentially any target in Ukraine," CSIS International Security Program Senior Adviser Mark Cancian said. "These are the kinds of weapons that you would use — that the Russians would use — for very special targets. You know, maybe command centers, maybe airfields, something like that. The Ukrainians don't have any equivalent."
Bendett said: "And these strikes will be followed by additional strikes by the Russian Air Force and other missile systems as well."
Open-source video and images appear to show Iskanders on the move. A respected think tank's digital forensics lab has been doing analysis to try to verify what they're seeing. For example, with one photo, finding that "the length of the containers measured at approximately the same length of an Iskander missile."
NEWSY'S JASON BELLINI: I've seen some of those images from the open-source reporting. And those look credible to you?
SAMUEL BENDETT: I believe so. I believe so.
Because of their range, Iksanders could hit targets in Ukraine without actually being in Ukraine.
"Ukraine isn't likely to have defenses against such a missile that isn't likely to shoot down such a missile," Bendett said.
Such a missile, part of the military imbalance between Russia and Ukraine that's in Russia's favor.