‘Burning Russian Warship’ Admiral Makarov Video Is Almost Certainly Fake

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Did the Ukrainians get another one? Probably not.

Rumors flew Friday that Ukrainian forces had followed up the sinking of a major Russian warship in March — the cruiser Moskva — by setting another Russian ship on fire in the Black Sea with long range missiles, a claim bolstered by apparent overhead-footage of the ship burning. But the “burning ship” video is almost certainly fake, even though it appears to have fooled a number of American media outlets.

The video, seen in the tweet below, supposedly shows the Admiral Makarov, a frigate of the Russian Admiral Grigorovich-class. After the sinking of the 600-foot cruiser Moskva in April, the 400-foot Makarov is supposedly one of the biggest remaining targets in Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

And rumors online of a burning ship were amplified by Ukrainian presidential adviser Anton Gerashchenko on his Telegram page, where he claimed the Makarov was hit by a Ukrainian “Neptune” anti-ship missile, like the Moskva.

 

But the video doesn’t hold up. It’s a fake.

The primary give-away isn’t something seen on the clip — though there are some dodgy details — but a small dose of basic math behind how it could possibly have been filmed. Depending on a few simple variables like distance, any aircraft that filmed the video would have to be flying well past Mach 1, the speed of sound — a completely impossible speed for the Turkish-built drones used by Ukraine for most visual reconnaissance and thoroughly implausible for any other Ukrainian or US assets in the region.

The math works like this:

Although the Admiral Makarov video is suspiciously smooth, the video is grainy and hazy, as if filmed from a long distance. It would have to be, because the Makarov, even if on fire, is brimming with defensive anti-aircraft systems, including 9M317M Buk missiles, the AK-630 close-in machine gun system and smaller anti-aircraft missiles similar to the US Stinger.

A Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aeriel vehicle, which Ukrainian forces have used extensively to observe and target Russian forces. One of the drones is believed to have been used as a decoy in the attack on the Moskva. Powered by a propeller (unlike US drones which use jets), the TB2’s top speed is around 150 MPH. Video still from Bayraktar website.

Several unsourced claims about the video describe it as filmed by a Ukrainian-owned Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone — a likely candidate, known to be in heavy use by Ukraine for intelligence gathering and targeting — from wildly different estimates of distances. Some say just one mile away, another says more like 50.

Both those numbers are sheer fantasy.

One mile would be far too close for a large drone like the TB2 to approach all those anti-air systems, while 50 would be far beyond the optics of any camera on a drone to produce video clear enough to see the actual flames, as are visible in the video.

A more realistic distance is somewhere between 6 miles (outside of most of the known range of most of those anti-aircraft systems) and 15, the farthest distance at which the optics on the TB2 is reported to be capable of spotting enemy targets, though because the ship is so large, it’s possible the cameras on a TB2 could get clear video from farther away than that 15 mile “max range.”

But that would actually make the video less likely to be real. Here’s why:

In the 37 second clip, the filming aircraft moves from roughly 45-degrees off the port side of the ship to straight off the bow. In other words, the plane appears to move about 1/8th of the way around that ship as it films.

Admiral Makarov video

If we assume the aircraft is orbiting the Makarov from 6 miles away — as close as it can safely approach — then it’s just a middle school math problem to figure out how fast it was flying during those 37 seconds. If the video covers roughly a 45-degrees view of the ship — or one-eighth of the orbit — that means the plane flew 4.6 miles in those 37 seconds.

That’s 782 mph, which is roughly Mach 1, the speed of sound — many, many times faster than the prop-driven TB2 can fly, twice as fast as the top speed of a US Global Hawk and at least 200 mph faster than any of the other US spy planes like the U-2 and EC-135 which the US has flown over the Black Sea in recent months. Also worth noting is that virtually no imagery has leaked from US intelligence platforms since the war began, though the Ukrainians have been quick to release their own pictures and videos of victories.

Could anything fly that fast? The Ukrainian’s have fighter jets that can reach the speed of sound but they are, well, kinda busy, and almost certainly would not carry the kind of precise optics needed to capture the video.

The above speed calculations are a very rough Coffee or Die Magazine estimate and changing any of the variables — distance to the ship, angle off the bow, etc — would change the result, but for the video to have been filmed by a drone flying its max speed of 150 MPH, the drone would have to be closer than 2 miles to the “burning” ship.

And that would create one more tell-tale issue of fakery.

At 2 miles or less, the angle of the camera would be very different than that seen on the video. A TB2 observing a target as large as a ship is likely to fly at least 2 miles high, if not higher (its operational ceiling is close to 4 miles up), which would create a steeper “overhead” angle to the video than is seen in the clip.

Madison Square Garden in New York City at a roughly 45-degree angle, on Google Maps. This view of the Admiral Makarov video would be closer to this angle if it was filmed within 2 miles of the ship, rather than the relatively flat angle seen on the video. Photo from Google Maps.

So without even looking too hard at what the Admiral Makarov video shows, it’s safe to say that it’s almost surely a fake.

But what does it show?

Well, it does show a ship that bares a strong resemblance to the Makarov, and the flames and smoke look real enough.

But twitter user Oliver Alexander quickly proved that the compter war game Arma 3 can be used to create a nearly identical scene. While writing a Twitter thread in which analyzes the supposed attack, he says he created these images in about 10 minutes:

Admiral Makarov video
The Arma 3 model of an Admiral Grigoravich-class frigate, like the Admiral Makarov. Photo from Oliver Alexander’s twitter.
Using that model, Oliver Alexander created a video clip nearly identical to the “burning” Admiral Makarov video. He also added grainy video filters to further match the original.

Finally, there were, from the first hours of the Admiral Makarov video emerged, a wide range of indications that nothing particularly interesting was happening in the Black Sea. Various maritime tracking sites showed no real surge of Russian ships toward the supposed attack.

Also several online analyst who track maritime radio communications said there was no uptick in chatter on Russian frequencies.

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