Shady Russian mobile phone companies appear in Ukraine ThePipaNews

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This, McDaid says, suggests that Russian forces expect to occupy the areas for some time. “[In] contested areas, you usually don’t have two or three new operators coming to a location, says McDaid. “I would also say it’s a sign that they expect to be there for a while.” McDaid says the networks may also have been created for Russian troops to use.

Since the companies emerged earlier this year, they say they have expanded their services. Their websites list dozens of purported locations, including retail stores, where people can buy SIM cards and internet access. In an online post, 7Telecom says it is hiring a recruitment manager, office administrator, sales manager and IT specialist to work in the Kherson region.

It is not clear how popular the networks are. Maps showing areas receiving cell phone signals cannot be verified, nor can Russian media claim that 7Telecom has more than 100,000 subscribers. MirTelecom and a Gmail account linked to 7Telecom’s Kherson recruitment efforts did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment. There have been some sporadic online postings showing posters or flyers for the companies, but it’s not clear how widespread they are. 7Telecom has the larger social media presence of the two, with around 8,600 followers of its account on VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook. While there are unofficial Telegram channels for both companies, linked to a company that allows people to top up SIM cards, each only has a few dozen subscribers. (Although this hasn’t stopped people from complaining about bad connections.)

Although the extent of their presence is uncertain, both MirTelecom and 7Telecom appear to have some links to existing mobile companies, which were created after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and which have formed part of its long-term occupation of the area. “The main Russian operators have no commercial presence in this part, and it’s the same as they did in Crimea,” says McDaid. In Crimea and Donbas, Russian forces created new internet providers. In recent months, McDaid says, existing Russian mobile providers in Donbas have updated their coverage maps and claim new areas of Ukraine fall under their service.

Analysis shared with WIRED, which Mc Daid will present at a conference later this month, shows that MirTelecom and 7Telecom appear to be linked to Crimean mobile companies KrymTelecom and K-Telecom, respectively. Details published publicly by MirTelecom and reporting by Russian media also appear to show some links. (Neither KrymTelecom nor K-Telecom responded to requests for comment.)

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