Маскировка? That is the Russian deception in Ukraine

(To Antonio Li Gobbi)
12/02/22

By now the media provide us with extremely accurate data (?) On the massive and "imminent" Russian attack on Ukraine. We are informed in real time of everything: deployed forces and their tactical articulation, names of commanders and their professional backgrounds, probable attack directions, with indication of presumed "main efforts" and disturbance actions that would have been planned, status of supplies ( "The bags of blood have arrived and then it means that they are ready to attack"), dates of the start of the attack ("On February 21, immediately after the closing of the Olympics, to respect the Olympic tradition" indeed no "February 16 because the ice is turning to mud", indeed no, "first…").

US intelligence seems to be constantly blurting out its "top secret" information to the entire international press, accompanying it with an abundance of tactical details of which the intelligence services generally seemed particularly jealous (but it will be me who remember correctly) .

My impression of the US superpower is that of those people who after an altercation with a violent and physically stronger individual, after having carefully made sure to be firmly held by the bystanders, scream "Hold me back or I'll break his face".

Let's be clear, from a geo-political, military and above all economic point of view, the strong side is the USA and not Russia.

So why this strange impression of mine? Because those who are "stronger" are not always willing to risk the use of force (be it economic, political or military).

Putin's Russia seems to me to be a skilled chess player, who for the moment does not seem to miss a move. It remains to be seen if he will also turn into a reckless gambler (by launching a military operation in a big way), because that could cost you dearly. But personally I doubt that he will give in to this temptation.

Allow me some personal reminiscence. When I was attending the General Staff course (at the end of the 80s) they made us study with a wealth of particular doctrine, order, tactics and means of what was still considered the potential "enemy", that is the Warsaw Pact and especially the USSR. Opponent who by virtue of the politically correct ante-litteram it was called the "orange party" (not the "red party", as one might have imagined, in order not to offend our local left parties).

Personally, I found those lessons boring and basically not very useful, because it didn't take Nostradamus to understand that the Soviet bloc he was about to implode. Personally I followed them without particular interest. I apologize now for then. But there was one thing that I remember well about Soviet doctrine and that I admired: it was the "Маскировка " (Maskirovka). That is, the use of "deception" at a tactical, operational and strategic level.

We normally imagine that the "deception" is aimed at not making it understood that it will attack or to make us imagine that the attack will be developed along directions and in different ways from those that have been planned.

Now is it possible that the Russian generals have totally forgotten this cornerstone of their military tradition? The duration of the clearing of forces on the Ukrainian border and the size of the deployed forces cannot leave much to the imagination. So, wouldn't the Russians have tried to hide their warlike intentions at all?

Certain. The Russian army is not the Soviet one. But the Russian officers are the fruit of the same military tradition as the Soviet ones.

So I wonder, if it's not a "reverse deception": that we are faced with a deceptive maneuver tending to make us believe that we are preparing to conduct a military operation that we certainly want to threaten, but that the Russians have no intention of conducting at least in the manner that their massive deployment of forces would lead to hypothesize?

Let us try to summarize the situation.

Russia gives the impression of playing the "Ukrainian game" like cat and mouse. He goes out of his way to make people believe he wants to do something (the invasion of Ukraine) that he verbally denies he wants to do.

In doing so, however, so far Moscow has achieved a series of not indifferent results. Meanwhile, he has obtained a dense series of talks at the level of both head of state and foreign minister (or equivalent) with the US.

The leaders of the EU, NATO and all the main European countries are on a continuous pilgrimage to Moscow ready to negotiate to save the stability of the continent.

The perception that even the distracted observer gets is that the USA and Russia treat them equally, as two super-powers of equal level. A situation that in fact did not come true since the Reagan - Gorbachev talks at the end of the 80s. Only then it was the USA that dictated the agenda and conditions. Today the situation would seem different.

NATO, in search of a role after the Afghan debacle, during the Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the member countries last June gave birth to a final communiqué that many seemed imbued with excessive harshness towards Russia. In addition, this communiqué contained promises of access to the Alliance of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Promises that perhaps had not been properly considered and evaluated in their consequences and which inevitably represented a real "eyesore" of Moscow (after all, let's think about how the White House would react in the case of a mutual military assistance agreement between Russia and Mexico and if in that case Washington would refer to the right of any country to determine its foreign policy). In light of the recent developments in the Ukrainian situation, the declarations of last June seem empty.

The bombastic tones assumed by Secretary General Stoltenberg could suggest a Captain Fracassa of our Commedia dell'Arte. Indeed, NATO ultimately merely threatens "terrible economic retaliation". However, these are sanctions whose application goes back to individual countries. The Alliance in this field can act as a forum for discussion but, unlike the EU, it has neither the authority nor the tools to force member countries to implement such sanctions. Some NATO nations send armaments to Ukraine, others do not. Some Allies send forces to the NATO countries of Eastern Europe (in any case of a ridiculous amount if the Russians were to launch a military operation even with only the 140 men who are said to be already deployed), others participate in naval exercises in the Black Sea. Moreover (rightly) no "boots on the ground" in Ukraine, as on the one hand it boldly proclaims "If Ukraine is attacked we will respond terribly" but it is added in a whisper "However, it is not a NATO country and therefore Article 5 of the Washington Treaty cannot be invoked" (or "narrow escape").

Everything appears a bit messy and reminds me of a maneuver that (according to what is handed down) the crews of the Bourbon navy would have carried out with the cry of "Facite ammuina".

Mostly Moscow has achieved the result of seriously undermining the cohesion of the Alliance (already put to the test by Afghanistan) and has obtained that not insignificant differences of views emerge among the member countries of the Alliance. In the face of an uncompromising position of the US and UK, Germany, France and Italy would seem much more careful to try to cool the hearts, with an eye also to the inevitable and not insignificant economic consequences of a trade war with Russia.

The same front of the former Warsaw Pact countries is fractured, with Orban's Hungary (which is also bordering on Ukraine) which appears much more cautious than the Baltic Republics, Poland or Romania. Furthermore, Turkey is attempting to acquire a third role to NATO in the hope of acting as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine

On the other side of the ocean, Biden and Blinken continue to threatenly declare that any violations of Ukrainian sovereignty would have dire consequences for Russia.

These threats made public leave me perplexed: the great powers have always sent their threats through confidential channels, without necessarily advertising them in all the media. It would seem that more than Putin is intended to speak to his own electorate and allies. I would not want that, after all, this vocality in threatening not well-defined "severe" reprisals was just the umpteenth symptom of the weakness of the West.

However, the US is aware that in the event of a conventional attack by Russia and Belarus on Ukraine with hundreds of thousands of men (plus the pro-Russian militias already in the territory) their response could not be conventional military. NATO as a whole would not follow them. The US domestic electorate would not understand the human and financial costs of a credible deployment of forces for Ukraine.

The US is actually left with only the weapon of economic sanctions. Economic sanctions that need the convinced support of the European economies to be effective. But how long would Europeans be willing to follow it Uncle Sam on this path that would penalize the European economies much more than the US?

Kiev, after the initial requests for help, now seems to be trying to throw water on the fire and phlegmatize the alarms coming from Washington. Probably faced with the Russian tanks, the Ukrainians are realizing that the informal promises received in the last twenty years by the West (and above all by the USA) will not be followed by as much concrete military aid. The Georgians discovered this to their own expense as early as fourteen years ago.

In conclusion, it seems to me that the Biden administration is weak today and has problems both at the domestic level and in the opposition with China. The elections of mid-term they are coming closer. Raising a voice against Putin can restore the old president's polish. However, if the situation were to degenerate, and the words were to be followed by the facts and relative costs (even if only economic) the domestic electorate could not forgive him at the commander in chief.

A large part of Europeans, who are trying to put their disastrous economies back on track after Covid, would not seem to have any intention of suffering the negative consequences of a trade war with Russia, which would severely affect both the cost of fuels and our exports. towards Moscow.

Up to this point, Putin has been able to bring out weaknesses and inconsistencies in the US, NATO and EU spheres. He is perhaps today in an enviable position of strength to negotiate and get what he actually wants (which is certainly much less than he has so far asked for).

Putin has never stated that he wants to resort to the military option to invade part of Ukraine or to overthrow and replace its government with one more favorable to it. But he was able to make sure that it was always others (US and British intelligence) to say it, allowing him to just deny it.. As a result, you can stop at any time when you feel you have achieved satisfactory goals for him.

The massive deployment of forces could only be instrumental in bringing out the weaknesses of the opposite front, in making the Ukrainians feel alone and betrayed and in obtaining, without fighting what it was perhaps aimed at from the beginning (for example a return to Minsk Protocol with a much more submissive Ukraine than it has shown in the past and the international recognition of adequate autonomy for the self-proclaimed people's republics of Donetsk and Luhansk).

Perhaps, as I said, it is a "Maskyovka". In fact, deception is certainly making the opponent think that one does not have the ability to make war when one wants to do it, but deception is also making one believe that one is on the verge of unleashing war, when one is not able to unleash it or you don't want to unleash it.

Returning to us Europeans and looking at the hitherto somewhat confused moves of the US, NATO and EU, the Ukrainian crisis should make us think seriously about the now unspeakable need for a real and credible European strategic autonomy, at least as regards the problems in the " Old World" and in the “Wider Mediterranean”.

That is, in the specific case, on thethe need for a Europe capable of drawing up its own political line for Ukraine, beyond the cross vetoes of Moscow and Washington. For now, we do not see it on the horizon.

Photo: Kremlin / NATO / The White House