Maskirovka is a Russian term (Маскировка) broadly meaning military deception. Its earlier and narrower military meaning was simply camouflage. It later also acquired the intelligence meaning of denial and deception.
This widened to include concealment, imitation with decoys and dummies, manoeuvres intended to deceive, denial, and disinformation. The 1944 Soviet Military Encyclopedia defines maskirovka as the "means of securing combat operations and the daily activities of forces; a complexity of measures, directed to mislead the enemy regarding the presence and disposition of forces..." Later versions of the doctrine also include strategic, political, and diplomatic means—including manipulation of "the facts", situation and perceptions—to effect the media and public/world opinion, so as to achieve or facilitate tactical, strategic, national and international goals.
Maskirovka contributed to Soviet victories such as the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Kursk, and Operation Bagration (in Belarus): in these cases, surprise was achieved despite very large concentrations of force, both in attack and in defence. The doctrine has also been put into practice in peacetime, with denial and deception operations in events such as the Cuban missile crisis, the Prague Spring, and the annexation of Crimea.
- 1 Definitions
- 2 Measures
- 3 In practice
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
Maskirovka does not have a single definition because the concept has evolved with time, and it encompasses a number of meanings. The word Maskirovka is a Russian term (Маскировка, literally masking). Its basic military meaning is camouflage, as well as battlefield masking using smoke and other methods of screening. From there it came to have the broader meaning of military deception, or in intelligence terms denial and deception.
There are historical antecedents that predate the Soviet Union. During the Sengoku era in Japan, a daimyo named Takeda Shingen (1521–1573) is said to have become almost invincible in all battles without relying on guns, because he studied Sun Tsu's The Art of War. The book even gave him the inspiration for his famous battle standard "Furinkazan" (Wind, Forest, Fire and Mountain), meaning fast as the wind, silent as a forest, ferocious as fire and immovable as a mountain. According to some authors, the strategy of deception from The Art of War was studied and widely used by the KGB: "I will force the enemy to take our strength for weakness, and our weakness for strength, and thus will turn his strength into weakness". The book is widely cited by KGB officers in charge of disinformation operations in Vladimir Volkoff's novel Le Montage.
Before the Second World War
The Russian Army had a Maskirovka school, active in 1904, disbanded in 1929. Meanwhile, Maskirovka was developed as a military doctrine in the 1920s. The 1924 Soviet directive for higher commands stated that operational maskirovka had to be
based upon the principles of activity, naturalness, diversity, and continuity and includes secrecy, imitation, demonstrative actions, and disinformation.
The 1929 Field Regulations of the Red Army stated that "Surprise has a stunning effect on the enemy. For this reason all troop operations must be accomplished with the greatest concealment and speed." Concealment was to be attained by confusing the enemy with movements, camouflage and use of terrain, speed, use of night and fog, and secrecy.[A]
The 1935 Instructions on Deep Battle and then the 1936 Field Regulations place increasing stress on battlefield deception. The Instructions define the methods of achieving surprise as:
air superiority; mobility and maneuverability of forces; concealed concentration of forces; secret fire preparations; misleading of the enemy; use of smoke and technical maskirovka... the use of night.
The means of securing combat operations and the daily activities of forces; a complexity of measures, directed to mislead the enemy regarding the presence and disposition of forces, various military objectives, their condition, combat readiness and operations, and also the plans of the commander ... maskirovka contributes to the achievement of surprise for the actions of forces, the preservation of combat readiness and the increased survivability of objectives.
The 1978 Soviet Military Encyclopedia defines maskirovka similarly, placing additional stress on strategic levels, explicitly including political, economic and diplomatic measures besides the military ones:
A means of securing the combat operations and daily activity of forces; a complex of measures designed to mislead the enemy as to the presence and disposition of forces and various military objects, their condition, combat readiness and operations and also the plans of the commander ... it is a concept that combines the use of cover, concealment and camouflage, operational security deception and misinformation. Strategic maskirovka is carried out at national and theater levels to mislead the enemy as to political and military capabilities, intentions and timing of actions. In these spheres, as war is but an extension of politics, it includes political, economic and diplomatic measures as well as military.
Maskirovka has as its core meaning military deception including camouflage. This can be distinguished from two other Russian terms in the same area. Khitrost' means a commander's personal gift of cunning and guile, part of his military skill, whereas maskirovka is practised by the whole organization and does not carry the sense of personal trickiness; nor need the Russian use of deception be thought of as "evil". Indeed, as Michael Handel remarks in the preface to David Glantz's book, "After all, as Sun Tzu observed [in The Art of War], 'All warfare is based on deception'. Deception is a normal and essential part of warfare". The goal or purpose of maskirovka is however surprise, vnezapnost', so the two are naturally studied together.
However, the military analyst William Connor comments that
In the Soviet meaning, maskirovka covers much more than just cover and deception. It even has a connotation of positive or active control of the enemy. By 1944 [for Operation Bagration], maskirovka had come to be characterized by this scope and diversity.
The meaning evolved in Soviet practice and doctrine to include strategic, political, and diplomatic objectives, in other words operating at all levels. Maskirovka differs from Western doctrines on deception (and from information warfare doctrines) by its emphasis on pragmatic aspects.[B]
Within the field of intelligence, and often in military intelligence, maskirovka is roughly the equivalent of the Western notions of denial and deception. The United States Army's Glossary of Soviet Military Terminology from 1955 defines the term as "camouflage; concealment; disguise." The International Dictionary of Intelligence from 1990 extends the meaning to apply to intelligence by defining it as the Russian military intelligence (G.R.U.) term for deception. Robert Pringle's Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence defines it as "Strategic Deception". Scott Gerwehr's The Art of Darkness summarizes it as "deception and OPSEC" (operational security). The historian Tom Cubbage comments that[C]
maskirovka proved to be an immense success in the Soviet military experience. While the United States may consider deception to be an exclusively wartime activity, for the Soviet Union it exists both in peace and war.
In his comprehensive study, Soviet Military Deception in the Second World War, David Glantz summarizes the Russian understanding:
by definition, maskirovka includes both active and passive measures designed to deceive and surprise the enemy. Deception, in the Soviet view, permeates all levels of war. Since by Marxist-Leninist definition, war is but an extension of politics, deception also transcends war into the political realm — specifically into the period preceding the outbreak of war ... Since the state of war is a logical, if not inevitable, extension of peace, then the outcome of war depends in part on how a nation exploits conditions existing in the pre-war period. To be effective, deception .. must be of constant concern in peacetime as well as wartime.
As analysed by Charles Smith in 1988, maskirovka is "a set of processes designed to mislead, confuse, and interfere with accurate data collection regarding all areas of Soviet plans, objectives, and strengths or weaknesses." It includes the following measures:
|Measure||Russian name||English equivalent||Techniques||Example|
|Concealment||skrytie||camouflage||Awnings, smoke screens, nets, radio silence||Building tanks in an automobile plant|
|Imitation||imitasiia||mimicry||decoys, military dummies||Dummy tanks with radar reflectors; decoy bridges|
|Simulation||Dummy artillery battery complete with noise and smoke|
|Disinformation||dezinformatsiia||False letters; untrue information to journalists; inaccurate maps; false orders; orders with false dates|
|Deceptive manoeuvres||demonstrativnye manevry||feints||False trails||Attacks away from the main thrust; pontoon bridges away from attack routes|
In addition, Smith identifies different dimensions of maskirovka. He divides it into multiple types – optical, thermal, radar, radio, sound/silence; multiple environments – aquatic, space, atmosphere – each involving active or passive measures; and organizational aspects – mobility, level, and organization. The levels are the conventional military ones, strategic, operational, and tactical, while organization refers to the military branch concerned. Finally, Smith identifies principles – plausibility, continuity through peace and war, variety, and persistent aggressive activity; and contributing factors, namely technological capability and political strategy. “Demonstrative actions or feints serve to mislead an enemy or opponent regarding plans or military operations. A Soviet offensive may begin with attacks in several locations to divert the enemy's attention to areas away from a main thrust.” 
The Battle of Kulikovo in 1380 was cited by Smith as an early example of the successful use of maskirovka; a regiment had hidden in the forest, and the battle is seen as the beginning of the freeing of the Russian lands from Tatar rule. At least three elements of maskirovka, namely deception, concealment, and disinformation with false defensive works and false troop concentrations, were used by Georgy Zhukov in the 1939 Battles of Khalkhin Gol against Japan, and in his memoirs Zhukov described them as such:
to achieve maskirovka and strict secrecy of planning the Military Soviet of the army group ... worked out a plan for operational-tactical deception of the enemy...
Dating back to 1904, the Russian Army had a military maskirovka school, which was continued, and then disbanded in 1929 by the Soviets. There the armed forces "studied the use of reflexive control theory, particularly at the tactical and operational levels, both for maskirovka (deception) and disinformation purposes and, potentially, to control the enemy’s decision-making processes". Concepts were developed and manuals written, which affect policy even to the present.
The first offensive to have its own maskirovka operation was in Zhukov's part of the attack on the Rzhev-Vyazma salient to the west of Moscow in July and August, 1942. The offensive was conducted by Ivan Konev's Kalinin Front on the north, and Zhukov's Western Front with 31st Army and 20th Army on the south. Zhukov decided to simulate a concentration of forces some 200 km to the south near Yukhnov, in the sector of his 43rd, 49th and 50th Armies. He created two maskirovka operation staffs in that sector, and allocated 4 maskirovka companies, 3 rifle companies, 122 vehicles, 9 tanks and other equipment including radios for the deception. These forces built 833 dummy tanks, guns, vehicles, field kitchens and fuel tanks, and used their real and dummy equipment to simulate the unloading of armies from a railhead at Myatlevo, and the concentration of armour and motorized infantry as if preparing to attack Yukhnov. The radios communicated false traffic between the simulated armies and Front headquarters. The real tanks and other vehicles made tracks like those of troop columns. When the Luftwaffe attacked, the maskirovka units returned fire and lit bottles of fuel to simulate fires. The deception had the immediate effect of increasing Luftwaffe air strikes against the railhead and false concentration area, while the two railheads actually in use were not attacked. And the Wehrmacht moved three panzer divisions and one motorized infantry division of XL Panzer Corps to the Yukhnov area. Meanwhile, the real troop concentration to the north was conducted at night and in thick forests. Zhukov's attack began on 4 August, and the 20th and 31st Armies advanced 40 km in two days. The Russians claimed that surprise had been achieved; this is confirmed by the fact that German intelligence failed to notice Zhukov's concentration of 20th and 31st Armies on Rzhev. Other small offensives on the same front had poorly planned and executed maskirovka measures, and these were largely unsuccessful. The successful deception for the attack on Rzhev showed that maskirovka could be effective, but that only certain Red Army commanders applied it correctly.
Battle of Stalingrad, 1942–1943
Maskirovka in the form of secrecy and deception was critical in hiding Soviet preparations for the decisive Operation Uranus encirclement in the Battle of Stalingrad. As Paul Adair writes:
The Soviet counter-attack at Stalingrad in November 1942 was the first major example of this newly found confidence in conducting maskirovka operations on a large scale. The extent to which the Soviets had been able to conceal their preparations is confirmed by the Chief of the German General Staff, General Zeitzler, who stated in early November: 'The Russians no longer have any reserves worth mentioning and are not capable of launching a large-scale attack.' ... Just over two months later Sixth Army surrendered
Hitler's own self-deception played into this, as he was unwilling to believe that the Red Army had sufficient reserves of armour and men. Further, the many ineffective Red Army attacks to the north of Stalingrad had unintentionally given the impression that it was unable to launch any substantial attack, let alone a rapid army-scale pincer movement. Careful attention was paid to security, with greatly reduced radio traffic. The Germans failed to detect the creation of five new tank armies. Troop movements were successfully concealed by moving the armies up only at night, and camouflaging them by day on the open, treeless steppes.
Strategic deception included increasing military activity far away, near Moscow. At the sites of the planned attack, elaborate disinformation was fed to the enemy. Defence lines were built to deceive German tactical reconnaissance.Civilians within 25 kilometres of the front were evacuated, and trenches were dug around the villages for Luftwaffe reconnaissance to see. Conversely, along the uninvolved Voronezh Front, bridging equipment and boats were prepared to suggest an offensive there. The five real bridges that were built for the attack were masked by the construction of seventeen false bridges over the River Don.
To the south of Stalingrad, for the southern arm of the pincer movement, 160,000 men with 550 guns, 430 tanks and 14,000 trucks were ferried across the much larger River Volga, which was beginning to freeze over with dangerous ice floes, entirely at night. Overall, Stavka succeeded in moving a million men, 1000 tanks, 14,000 guns and 1400 aircraft into position without alerting their enemy. Despite the correct appreciation by German air reconnaissance of a major build-up of forces on the River Don, the commander of the 6th Army, Friedrich Paulus took no action. He was caught completely by surprise, failing either to prepare his armour as a mobile reserve with fuel and ammunition, or to move it on the day of the attack. The historian David Glantz commented that the Red Army's "greatest feat was in masking the scale of the offensive".
Battle of Kursk, 1943
Maskirovka was put into practice on a large scale in the 1943 Battle of Kursk, especially on the Red Army's Steppe Front commanded by Ivan Konev. This was a deception for a defensive battle, as Hitler was planning to attack the Kursk salient in a pincer movement. The Soviet forces were moved into position at night and carefully concealed, as were the extensively prepared defences-in-depth, with multiple lines of defence, minefields and thousands of anti-tank guns. The historian Lloyd Clark comments that
Utilizing maskirovka techniques to mask the flow of men and equipment, the Soviet defences were rapidly developed.
"Deception measures included feints, false troop concentrations, false logistics concentrations, radio deception, false airfields, and false rumours." In mid-June 1943 German high command (OKH) had estimated 1500 Soviet tanks in the Kursk salient, against the true figure of over 5100, and underestimated Soviet troop strength by a million. Clark observes that
The Soviets were mastering maskirovka while the Wehrmacht was feeding on intelligence scraps.
did not suspect that our well-camouflaged tanks were waiting for him. As we later learned from prisoners, we had managed to move our tanks forward unnoticed
Katukov's tanks were concealed in defensive emplacements prepared before the battle, with only their turrets above ground level.
The horrible counter-attacks, in which huge masses of manpower and equipment took part, were an unpleasant surprise for us... The most clever camouflage of the Russians should be emphasized again. We did not .. detect even one minefield or anti-tank area until .. the first tank was blown up by a mine or the first Russian anti-tank guns opened fire".
Operation Bagration, 1944
The 1944 Operation Bagration in Belarus applied the strategic aims and objectives of maskirovka on a grand scale, to deceive the Germans about the scale and objectives of the offensive.[D] In particular,
it was vital to the Stavka to know that the Germans were convinced that the main Soviet effort would be in the south. The maskirovka plan was designed to keep the German reserves to the south of the Pripyat marshes until it was too late for them to intervene in Belorussia.
In Operation Bagration, the Soviet Stavka was highly successful:
maskirovka led to some most impressive accomplishments. First the magnitude and location of the movement of the supplies .. was hidden from the Germans. Second, the concentration or relocation of five combined arms armies, two tank armies, two mechanized corps and two cavalry corps, eleven aviation corps, and 210,000 replacements for forces in place were successfully hidden. More important, the location, strength, and timing of the offensive were concealed strategically ... [and other facts were hidden] operationally, and ... tactically.
In Operation Bagration, Stavka and the Red Army applied maskirovka at three levels:
- Strategic (theatre-wide): Stavka hid the location, strength, and timing of the attack, with dummy troop concentrations on the flanks displayed to the enemy before the battle, other offensives timed to work as diversions, and forces left where the enemy expected an attack (3 tank armies in Ukraine), away from the true location of the attack (Belarus)
- Operational: the Red Army hid the locations, strengths and objectives of each force
- Tactical: each unit hid its concentrations of troops, armor and guns
The German Army Group Center (where the main attack fell) underestimated enemy infantry by 40%, mechanized forces by 300% and tanks as 400 to 1800, instead of the 4000 to 5200 in fact arrayed against them. The German high command (OKH) and Adolf Hitler grossly underestimated the threat to Army Group Center, confidently redeploying a third of its artillery, half its tank destroyers and 88% of its tanks to the Southern front where OKH expected the Soviet attack. Only 580 German armoured vehicles were in place for the battle. In the battle, Army Group Center was almost totally destroyed, losing its Fourth Army encircled east of Minsk, its Third Panzer Army (LIII Corps encircled in Vitebsk), and its Ninth Army encircled east of Bobruisk. In military historian Bruce Pirnie's view, "the Germans were more completely fooled prior to Operation Bagration than they had been prior to Operation Uranus [at Stalingrad]". Pirnie concluded, based largely on Bagration and Uranus with a look at other Second World War operations, that
Soviet maskirovka was not sophisticated, but it was clever and effective. It distorted the Germans' intelligence picture as determined by their collection means. During the later phases of the war, German intelligence relied primarily upon radio intercept, aerial photography and agents in formerly occupied territory. The Soviets played to these three sources by systematically denying intelligence on forces as they concentrated for offensive operations while revealing other forces, both real and simulated... Consciously or not, the Soviets played well to the Germans' mental attitude.
Hitler's own reckless optimism and determination to hold on to captured territory at all costs encouraged him to believe the picture suggested by the Russians. Meanwhile, his advisors believed the Soviet Union was running out of men and materiel, with much less industrial production than it in fact had. Thus they underestimated the forces ranged against them, a belief encouraged by continued maskirovka. Pirnie points out that it did not have to succeed in every aspect to be successful. In Belarus, the German armies involved had a good idea of the locations and approximate timing of Operation Bagration, but the higher levels, Army Group Center and OKH failed to appreciate how strong the attacks would be, or the intention to encircle the Army Group. The "combination of display and concealment, directed at the highest command levels, typified their most successful deception."
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
The Soviet intelligence service and the Red Army used maskirovka to conceal their intentions in Operation Anadyr, which led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, from the USA. According to CIA analyst James Hansen:
Moscow has always had a flair for D&D, known in Russian as maskirovka. Its central tenet is to prevent an adversary from discovering Russian intentions by deceiving him about the nature, scope, and timing of an operation. ... DIA analysis preceding the [Cuban] missile crisis noted that the Soviet Army had probably employed large-scale battlefield deception "more frequently and with more consistent success than any other army."
The soldiers involved in Anadyr were provided with winter clothing and informed they would be going to the east of the Soviet Union. On board ship, intelligence officers allowed the 40,000 soldiers involved on deck only during the hours of darkness. The force, including missiles, reached Cuba before US intelligence became aware of it. Anadyr was planned from the start with elaborate denial and deception, ranging from the soldiers' ski boots and fleece-lined parks to the name of the operation, a river and town in the chilly far east. Once America had become aware of Soviet intentions, maskirovka continued in the form of outright denial, as when, on 17 October 1962, the embassy official Georgy Bolshakov gave President Kennedy a "personal message" from the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev reassuring him that "under no circumstances would surface-to-surface missiles be sent to Cuba."
Nowhere does the 10-page Killian Report mention adversarial denial and deception. Within US intelligence organizations, the awareness and systematic study of foreign D&D had not been developed, and would not emerge until some 20 years later. It is likely that with a trained, well-staffed, and deception-aware analytic corps, the United States could have uncovered Khrushchev's great gamble long before Maj. Heyser's revealing U-2 mission.
Only now, four decades later, can we uncover the extent of the use of deception in the events leading to the Cuban missile crisis. To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill,[F] perhaps the least-explored aspect of the crisis was the Soviet effort to cloak the truth of its strategic missile deployment within a body-guard of lies, on a scale that most US planners could not comprehend.
When the Kremlin had failed to reverse Alexander Dubcek's liberal reforms with threats, it decided to use force, masked by deception. The measures taken included transferring fuel and ammunition out of Czechoslovakia on a supposed logistics exercise; and confining most of their soldiers to barracks across the northern Warsaw Pact area. The Czech authorities thus did not suspect anything when two Aeroflot airliners made unscheduled landings at night, full of "fit young men". The men cleared customs and travelled to the Soviet Embassy in the centre of Prague. There they picked up weapons and returned to the airport, taking over the main buildings. They at once allowed further aircraft to land uniformed Spetsnaz and airborne troops, who took over key buildings across Prague before dawn. Reinforcements were then brought in by road, in complete radio silence, leaving NATO Electronic Warfare units "confused and frustrated".
Crimea and Ukraine, 2014
The 2014 annexation of Crimea has been described as maskirovka.[G] The area was quietly occupied by little green men, armed men in military trucks who came at night, with no insignia, so that even pro-Russian activists did not understand what was happening. They were later revealed as Russian special forces, but at the time Vladimir Putin denied this. Time magazine reported in April 2014 that
The anonymous troops in eastern Ukraine say only that they're 'Cossacks', but Ukrainian and Western officials believe many of them are led by Russian special forces. Yet the murkiness of their origin and sponsors inflates their menace, and makes it more difficult to figure out how to deal with them.
The article observed that the wearing of face masks (actually, balaclavas) was typical of the Russian tradition of maskirovka, making asking why they were worn, as one masked separatist remarked, "a stupid question". In April 2014, the Huffington Post asserted that "President Putin's game plan in Ukraine becomes clearer day by day despite Russia's excellent, even brilliant, use of its traditional maskirovka".[H]
|Look up маскировка in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- "Thus 'in Soviet military art during the 1920s the theory of operational maskirovka [deception] was developed as one of the most important means of achieving surprise in operations.'"
- It "is treated as an operational art to be polished by professors of military science and officers who specialize in this area."
- "But маскировка has a broader military meaning: strategic, operational, physical and tactical deception. Apparently in U.S. military terminology, this is called either CC&D (camouflage, concealment and deception) or more recently D&D (denial and deception). It is the whole shebang — from guys in ski masks or uniforms with no insignia, to undercover activities, to hidden weapons transfers, to — well, starting a civil war but pretending that you've done nothing of the sort." The Soviets used maskirova systematically at all levels: strategic, tactical, operational. Camouflage, concealment and deception are unified under the concept “maskirova.”
- For example, "Once the Stavka had decided upon the strategic plan for their 1944 summer offensive [Bagration], they began to consider how the Germans could be deceived about the aims and scale of the offensive... the key to the maskirovka operation was to reinforce the German conviction that operations would continue along this [southern] axis".
- "DIA analysis preceding the missile crisis noted that the Soviet Army had probably employed large-scale battlefield deception 'more frequently and with more consistent success than any other army.'"
- This is a reference to Churchill's "Russian Enigma" speech of 1 October 1939, which began "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma".
- "Five weeks later, once the annexation had been rubber-stamped by the Parliament in Moscow, Putin admitted Russian troops had been deployed in Crimea after all. But the lie had served its purpose. Maskirovka is used to wrong-foot your enemies, to keep them guessing."
- In this more more modern context, it was claimed that Maskirovka "stands for deliberately misleading the enemy with regard to own intentions causing the opponent to make wrong decisions thereby playing into your own hand. In today's world this is mainly done through cunning use of networks to shape perceptions blurring the picture and opening up for world opinion to see your view as the correct one legitimizing policy steps you intend to take."
- Jones 2004, p. 166.
- Safire, William (9 July 1995). "ON LANGUAGE; Surveilling Maskirovka". New York Times. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
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- Glantz 1989, p. 6.
- Absher, Kenneth Michael (1 January 2009). Mind-sets and Missiles: A First Hand Account of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Strategic Studies Institute. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-58487-400-3.
Soviet military equipment and personnel were being sent to Cuba under an extensive denial and deception plan (known as Maskirovka in Russian). Soviets traveled to Cuba posing as machine operators, irrigation specialists, and agricultural specialists.
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