Post-Soviet Maskirovka, Cold War Nostalgia, and Peacetime Engagement

By Shea, Timothy C. | Military Review, May/June 2002 | Go to article overview

Post-Soviet Maskirovka, Cold War Nostalgia, and Peacetime Engagement


Shea, Timothy C., Military Review


The leopard cannot change its spots, or so goes the old saw. This seems to be the case with republics of the former Soviet Union in the military-diplomatic arena. Tim Shea reveals how these republics still use the old Soviet strategy of maskirovka-- measures that deceive, distort, mislead, and misinform-to counter the effects of U.S. peacetime military engagement.

A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent. - Sun Tzu

MASKIROVKA is a component of statecraft-a diverse spectrum of stratagems employed to distort the enemy's view of Soviet positions, designs, and missions and to alter the perception of their own side and their clients as well. Maskirovka, simply defined, was a set of processes employed during the Soviet era designed to mislead, confuse, and interfere with anyone accurately assessing its plans, objectives, strengths, and weaknesses.1 This Soviet concept included, but was not limited to, deception, disinformation, secrecy, and security.2 Since independence almost 10 years ago, the world has not witnessed large-scale purges or witch hunts of former Soviet or party officials in countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, or Uzbekistan.

The reinvented communist nomenclatura, as heads of state and chiefs of the power ministries in most of the former republics, has adapted maskirovka to protect its new nonideological self-interests. The Soviet successor states use passive and active measures of maskirovka in varying degrees to their advantage to manage aspects of bilateral relationships with the United States to serve their own ends while resisting or subverting U.S. shaping efforts. The rise of the reinvented Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB) security organs to prominence and power, the crippling effect of rampant corruption, and increasing state control of the media have inhibited the deepening of U.S. bilateral relations in the region.3 Maskirovka is used to counter the effects of U.S. peacetime military engagement.

Peacetime Military Engagement

A unilaterally imposed fog of war that distorts the truth for both external and domestic consumption clouds peacetime military engagement inside these countries. Maskirovka permits regional military leaders to feed on U.S. freebies while feigning interest in transparency, professing pro-NATO strategic orientations, or claiming support for democratic models. These symbiotic, or even parasitic, bilateral relationships have evolved to conceal the fact that many post-Soviet leaders depend on, even in partnership, forces and interests that view real reform as a threat to their place in society. In some cases, official and criminal structures have effectively merged.

The strategic ambiguity that has followed the end of the Cold War has given birth to a concept whereby the United States engages the world to influence and advocate adopting Western ideals. While many might consider it pretentious to think the United States could have dictated what happened in the former Soviet Union, the United States often readily assumes blame for all that has not gone well. All too often, when planning or executing engagement activity, maskirovka is ignored or viewed as a minor irritant instead of the countermeasure it really is.

The engagement lobby plays a large role in this debacle and exists on both sides. These interest groups benefit almost entirely from the money and missions processes as bureaucracies, but they have no stake in actually measuring progress or achieving concrete results. As individuals and organizations, these groups tout numbers of events and quantities of programs as indicators of progress. Because the activity is largely funded externally, engagement activity can justify creating and maintaining organizations to administer these programs and associated hefty increases in personnel authorizations. Examples include the Army National Guard State Partnership Program and the U. …

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