Much has been written about the Russian military concept of _maskirovka_, broadly defined as a set of processes aimed to deceive Russia’s enemies about “its military capabilities, plans, and intentions()”:http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/09/15/how-nato-could-defend-against-a-russian-invasion/. In the 2014 Eastern European version of this old Soviet military doctrine, the principle objective is to achieve plausible deniability of Russian military involvement in Ukraine.
The reason is simple: _maskirovka_ is applied to avoid a unified and resolute Western response to the crisis by creating extra political wiggle room for those politicians and governments who do not wish to confront Russia aggressively and who would prefer to return to business as usual with Vladimir Putin’s government now rather than later.
_Maskirovka_ appears to be working so far. With “more than 2500 people killed()”:http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28990428 since mid-April 2014, 155,000 Ukrainians displaced within the country, more than 188,000 people fleeing to Russia, and the illegal annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory, the West’s response has been rather tepid. During a summit in Wales, “NATO made it clear that it would not offer direct military aid to Ukraine()”:http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/14/us-ukraine-crisis-heletey-idUSKBN0H90PP20140914 (although members are free to do so on a bilateral basis).
The Kremlin’s useful idiots
While the European Union and the United States have recently imposed “further economic sanctions on Russia()”:http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/12/europe-russia-sanctions-ukraine-kalashnikov, some countries, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Finland, and Italy, were reluctant to go along.
Furthermore, Vladimir Putin scored a tactical victory this week by “accomplishing a delay until 2016 of the full implementation of a free-trade agreement between Ukraine and the European Union()”:http://time.com/3374922/ukraine-eu-trade-deal/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+time%2Ftopstories+(TIME%3A+Top+Stories) – the actual trigger of the current conflict.
Of course, _maskirovka_ is not responsible for the political division in Europe over how to deal with Russia – reasons are manifold and particular to each country – but it unquestionably amplifies the discord and has led to peculiar informal alliances.
European far-right politicians in particular, as well as many continental European companies, have inadvertently played the role of the Kremlin’s “useful idiots” in the latter’s carefully executed _maskirovka_ campaign.
For example: “companies doing business in Russia()”:http://news.yahoo.com/one-third-german-firms-see-sanctions-hitting-russian-121927158–business.html “and organizations promoting business interests()”:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwrLqin4sqk (e.g. chambers of commerce) find themselves in the same camp with far-right parties opposing sanctions and a more aggressive stance _vis-à-vis_ Russia. The usual line of defense of those opposed to a tougher stance: No open war has broken out between Ukraine and Russia and we would like to keep it that way and not fuel the flames of war by maneuvering Russia into a corner. A fair enough reaction if it had not been so skillfully exploited by the Kremlin’s propaganda machinery and if open war between the two countries had not already broken out in all but name, despite the recent ceasefire.
In addition, “Russland-Versteher” never fail to point out that NATO’s eastward expansion is partially to blame for Russia’s reaction.
_Maskirovka_ is inherently linked to Russia’s perpetual military inferiority complex. Throughout the centuries, Russian armies never felt quite up to the same military standards as their Western counterparts. Russian military leaders traditionally compensated with mass instead of class. The focus in Russian literature such as Leo Tolstoy’s _War and Peace_ was always on the almost superhuman ability of the Russian soldier to endure great hardships and suffering rather than his combat efficiency or tactical finesse.
Camouflaging this perceived inferiority was and is always one of the principle objectives of any _maskirovka_ campaign.
Today, due to declining birth rates, the Russian military is suffering from a manpower shortage (the total force consists of 700,000 men instead of the envisioned 1,000,000) as well as from a shortage of modern equipment due to its “dependency on overpriced substandard military equipment manufactured by domestic producers()”:http://www.ponarseurasia.org/memo/russian-military-under-sergei-shoigu-will-reform-continue. It is still a deadly force, yet the abovementioned military inferiority makes the Kremlin’s dependence on _maskirovka_ more acute.
The ongoing _maskirovka_ campaign in Eastern Ukraine also appears to be a direct response to “color revolutions()”:http://csis.org/publication/russia-and-color-revolution, which, according to speakers at an international security conference organized by the Russian Ministry of Defense in May 2014, Russian military strategists perceive as a new type of warfare with the aim of destabilizing anti-Western regimes in the world. Examples include Libya, Syria, Serbia, and Ukraine. As “Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg points out, Russia()”:http://russiamil.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/countering-color-revolutions-russias-new-security-strategy-and-its-implications-for-u-s-policy/ “sees itself as a particular target of this strategy.”
It is important for European politicians to understand that Russia’s reliance on _maskirovka_ in Ukraine is much more an admittance of Russia’s innate military weakness than it is a sign of the strategic and tactical brilliance of the Kremlin. This should embolden the West’s collective response to Russian aggression on the territory of a sovereign state.
Sowing distrust and discord
It is, furthermore, important to realize that the single purpose of the _maskirovka_ campaign outside Ukraine is to sow distrust and discord among Western European governments and their allies. Politicians and commentators advocating dialogue and a diplomatic rapprochement under the guise of _realpolitik_ will inevitably be hijacked by the Kremlin’s propaganda machinery.
As Abraham Lincoln stated: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The European post-Cold War security architecture may require a harder base to build upon in the face of Russia’s _maskirovka_ campaign in Ukraine – lest Lincoln’s axiom become true with the fragile architecture collapsing when dealing with Vladimir Putin.