Instagram Selfies By Russian Soldier Sanya Sotkin Might've Just Blown Vladimir Putin's Cover
It's rare that a selfie obsession can turn into breaking news, but that's what seems to have happened in Ukraine this week. The culprit is a young man named Sanya Sotkin, a 24-year-old Russian soldier whose hundreds of Instagrams may have given away a pretty big reveal — that the Russian military is in Eastern Ukraine. At least, that's how the story is being viewed in some circles, eager to indict Russia not just for violence and escalating tensions in the region, but for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 as well.
There's so much about this story that's still utterly speculative — it's not as though Sotkin has a photo up of himself pushing a huge red button while covering his ears. Rather, the relevant self-portraits are mostly him mugging for the camera in a variety of close-quarters, military-looking environments.
Over at The Guardian, Jonathan Jones cautioned his readers against interpreting the photos as some kind of evidence of Russian aggression, casting (similarly speculative) doubt on the veracity of the photos. BuzzFeed, which broke the story, highlighted comments by Sotkin last Sunday, about "working on a Buk" — the type of missile launcher believed to have brought down MH17.
Let's try to zero in on what the photos definitely tell us, if we're to put faith in their veracity: Russian President Vladimir Putin is maaaaaaybe not quite being level. That may not come as much surprise to some observers, given his somewhat cold and vague remarks on MH17's crash, aiming to distance Russia from any direct or indirect culpability. But he did directly claim in April that Russian troops hadn't been in Eastern Ukraine, while Sotkin's Instagram seems to tell a very different story.
While he hadn't posted any photos this year until May — an admittedly odd gap for someone as evidently thrilled with his own face as this guy — by June his account was loaded with apparent photos of his military deployment, and thanks to Instagram's geotagging, the photos are traceable to the place they were taken. As Buzzfeed notes, the following photo was tagged in Eastern Ukraine's Krasna Talycha.
For his part, Sotkin hasn't uploaded a photo of himself apparently in the field since July 26, which was four days before BuzzFeed put his Instagram on blast. And if this is what it looks like — as BuzzFeed pointed out, Instagram's locational tagging would be a tough and involved thing to fake, and to what end? — you probably shouldn't expect to see too many more Ukraine-incursion selfies from him. If he actually blew his own country's cover operating in a foreign land, it's a safe bet that'll his social media privileges won't be what they were.