Did Ukraine just assassinate a Russian submarine captain with his own Strava?

Hours after the sub captain was assassinated, his Strava history was tagged by an account with the name of Ukraine's top spy master.
Matt White Avatar
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Ukraine's intelligence service says they assassinated a Russian captain. They might have found him on his Strava account.

Stanislav Rzhitsky was a dedicated mountain biker and runner, who went on rides in nearby mountains and kept a regular running route through the city he lived in, Krasnodar, Russia.

He was also, according to Ukrainian defense officials, a submarine captain who ordered a notorious attack on civilians in 2022 and was shot dead by an assassin while out for a jog on Monday.

And some online sleuths think Ukrainian intelligence operatives might have set up the ambush using Rzhitsky’s account on Strava, a fitness tracker app.

One hint: An otherwise dormant account tagged Rzhitsky with a “kudos” (the Strava version of a “Like”) to one of the dead sailor’s last entries that showed a run on what appears to be his favorite route. That dormant account is named “Кирилл Буданов,” the Cyrillic spelling of Kyrylo Budanov — the name of Ukraine’s shadowy spymaster who runs the nation’s intelligence services.

Budanov, a Ukrainian major general who heads Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence within its military, is widely credited with a long string of intelligence coups before and during the Russian invasion. In 2016, two years after Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine, Budanov led a raid into Crimea that destroyed several Russian helicopters and went toe to toe in a gunfight with elite Russian FSB troops.

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Since Russia’s latest invasion in February 2022, Ukrainian intelligence coups include a string of early deaths of Russian Generals, the assassination of a Russian banker and a car bomb attack in Moscow on an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Budanov’s intelligence arms have also been linked to a string of damaging fires in Russian cities and a long string of tactical victories in the field in which Ukrainian forces appeared to be one-step ahead of Russian strategies.

In social media posts after Rzhitsky death, Ukrainian officials said the Russian officer was at the helm of the submarine Krasnodar when it launched a deadly attack of Kalibr cruise missiles in July 2022 at Vinnytsia, a city deep in Ukraine, killing 23 civilians.

Russian authorities arrested a man on July 11 for Rzhitsky killing and released video of what they say is the man trailing Rzhitsky on a bicycle during his Monday run, just prior to the killing. Reports say the man, 64, is the former head of a Ukrainian martial arts association.

So did the Ukrainians use Strava to kill Rzhitsky? It’s impossible to say, though Rzhitsky’s account appears to be legit. The account — which is under the name Станислав Ржицкий, the Cyrillic spelling of Stanislov Rzhitsky — is full of mountain biking entries that include selfies and other photos of a man that matches public photos of Rzhitsky. And Russian media has reported that Rzhitsky was killed near the Stimpo sports center, which sits about a block from the end point of a route the account appears to have run and uploaded at least four times in July.

The legitimacy of the the Budanov account is murkier, though it appeared to be onto Rzhitsky’s account very soon after the Russian sailor’s death. Though the Russian’s account has been inundated with comments and attention since his death became public, the Budanov account was the first non-Russian account to find Rzhitsky’s account, tagging his final run within hours of his death with a “kudo.”

Strava and other fitness apps have a history of causing headaches for military security officials. Strava’s Global Heat Map is based on trillions of GPS data points and has been used to pinpoint Marine Corps firebases in the deserts of Syria, a Patriot missile defense battery in Yemen, and U.S. special operations forces deployed near a previously unknown U.S. installation in Niger. According to the Daily Beast, the Strava even gave away a major security flaw in Taiwan’s missile command center and another Heat Map once revealed U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, the site of heavy fighting between U.S. forces and Taliban and Islamic State Group militants in 2017.

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