This, Mc Daid says, suggests Russian forces expect to occupy the areas for some time. “[In] contested areas, you don’t generally have two or three new operators coming to a place,” Mc Daid says. “I would say also, that’s a sign that they expect to be there for a while.” Mc Daid says the networks may also have been created for Russian troops to use.
Since the companies emerged earlier this year, they claim to have expanded their services. Their websites list dozens of claimed locations, including shops, where people can buy SIM cards and internet access. In one online post, 7Telecom says
It isn’t clear how popular the networks are. Maps showing areas receiving cell phone signals cannot be verified, nor can Russian media
While the scale of their presence is uncertain, both MirTelecom and 7Telecom appear to have some links to existing mobile companies, which were created following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and have formed part of its long-term occupation in the area. “The main Russian operators are not operating a commercial presence in this part, and this is the same as what they did in Crimea,” says Mc Daid. In Crimea and the Donbas, Russian forces created new internet providers. In recent months, Mc Daid says, existing Russian mobile providers in the Donbas have updated their coverage maps claiming that new areas of Ukraine fall under their service.
Analysis shared with WIRED, which Mc Daid is due to present at a conference later this month, shows MirTelecom and 7Telecom appear to be linked to Crimean mobile companies KrymTelecom and K-Telecom, respectively. Details posted publicly by MirTelecom and reporting by Russian media also appear to show some links. (Neither KrymTelecom nor K-Telecom responded to requests for comment.)