The 1944 Soviet Military Encyclopaedia refers to:

“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.”

Russian military deception, known as maskirovka (Russian for ‘disguise’), contributed to major Soviet victories including the Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of Kursk. In both these cases, surprise was achieved despite very large concentrations of force. 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. The subtle point about maskirovka is that it is a tool employed as standard by the Russian state – it has been used for so long that the Russian state has morphed into a great big lie factory.

Of course Vladimir Putin is well-schooled in maskirovka – in misinformation and subterfuge, denial and wrong-footing. Why? Putin worked as a KGB foreign intelligence officer for sixteen years, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel, before resigning (so he claims) in 1991 to begin a political career in Saint Petersburg. Putin controls the Russian media and has carefully conjured a hero strongman image with his people, who he knows respect the look – the Russians have always mocked marionette types like Macron and Trudeau. Despite years of oppression – and a keenness to avoid war in Ukraine – the Russian people are proud and ever-reminded of their World War Two victories and 27 million war dead. As they showed in the football world cup in 2018 to surprised guests, the welcoming Russian people would love to be accepted into the world and believe they have the talent to have a positive effect.

Threat on the Border? Vladimir Putin’s unashamed Maskirovka

To us in the West Putin is clearly a criminal. A multi-billionaire on a government salary who sent two assassins on a plane to England with a bottle of the most toxic nerve agent ever produced. Putin sanctioned the use of other nerve agents and hyper explosive devices in Syria. Russia has repeatedly denied involvement in the missile downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014 yet it’s well established it was a Buk missile system that shot down the plane and it was brought from Russia – Russia is responsible for the murder of those 298 innocents who fell from the sky that day. Putin has blood on his hands and does little to hide it. (Those in the West, like Nigel Farage, who publicly do not begrudge Putin a buffer zone in Ukraine, are wrong and fooled by his maskirovka. Putin is dangerous and cunning, he merits combating and revulsion. Just because he is a fly in the globalist ointment does not make him in the slightest way endearing. Ted Bundy was a handsome fellow but he raped children and was a necrophile.)

The problem the West faces now is a very tricky one to solve – one of brazen double standards. Not that the West does not occasionally use maskirovka itself (militarily, think of Operation Mincemeat; in terms of state policy think of those times Prime Ministers and Presidents have talked about ‘winning the war on drugs’), the current problem lies starkly out in the open rather than being a manageable one lurking in the shadows. The reality is that to the Russians and many others in the world, the Western Liberal Order is now as tainted as Putin. To bring things into sharp relief, the West fleeing Kabul exposed current vulnerabilities. The defence paradigm that created not just NATO, but also the publicly-supported moral justification for security cooperation, was blown out of the water by Bush and Blair’s deluded foreign adventurism based upon the thinnest of pretexts. This did not go unnoticed across the world. Travel to countries in Asia and South America and hear the locals talk about how morally bankrupt the West has become.

Whitehall started sniffing glue in those heady days after 9/11 when cold, clear-headed thinking was required – the UK and the NATO coalition has been compromised. We’ve lost the moral high ground. Public support soon ebbed away from Blair’s campaigns overseas, and the perception across the globe was that the West had been hiding its imperialist instincts behind a purported defence posture. A fantastic, powerful deterrence tool was abused by a shallow, callow, professional political class whose only interest seemed to be how they appeared in the media.

Then came Kabul. When the last Russian soldier left Afghanistan in February 1989, the Russian Government was not preoccupied with airlifting rescue dogs.

The Western public(s) were shell-shocked after learning that we had, in fact, fought and died for over twenty years in far flung places for absolutely nothing. The victories against 20th Century fascism (two wars and the Cold War Soviet variant) had their high moral line compromised. The tail-tucking escapes from Iraq and Afghanistan were quickly followed by freedom-snatching abuse inflicted by elected governments in the West whose main effort, now that they have ‘discovered’ the correct response to dealing with Covid, seems how to mask their original errors.

No-one should be surprised now – with a President in the White House who makes Jimmy Carter look tough – that one half of the dangerous international duo, Russia, decides to ignore Washington’s whining and gets on with what they see as the manifestation of their national interests. The other half of the duo, China, will study the levels of whining to assess its next moves on Taiwan and the South China seas zone.

NATO is terribly damaged  —  the erstwhile Western Liberal Order stands fairly accused of splurging the hard-won peace dividend in favour of costly short-term ‘initiatives’ — stupid people (in public office) making short-term stupid decisions with one eye on reality and one on the polls, using the power of our State to disguise their stupidity.

Evolution demands a rebalancing – the question is whether short-to-medium term events will allow the same shallow politicians sufficient time to muddle their way out of this most egregious of situations. Whatever happens, expect plenty of maskirovka from both sides. Putin’s days are running out and he knows it. This makes him a very dangerous animal.

Dominic Wightman is the Editor of Country Squire Magazine.