In a field outside Moscow, workers armed with little more than green fabric and air compressors are creating an imposing weapon. A sleek, slate-gray MIG-31 fighter jet suddenly appears, its muscular, stubby wings spreading to reveal their trademark red star insignia. It is a decoy, lifelike in appearance from as close as 300 yards. This trick is another entry in Russia’s repertoire of deceit and disguise, known as maskirovka, a psychological warfare doctrine that’s becoming an increasingly critical element in the country’s geopolitical ambitions. “If you study the major battles of history, you see that trickery wins every time,” Aleksei A. Komarov, the military engineer in charge of this sleight of hand, said with a sly smile. “Nobody ever wins honestly.”
Mr. Komarov oversees army sales at Rusbal, or Russian Ball, a hot-air balloon company that also provides the Ministry of Defense with one of Russia’s lesser-known military threats: a growing arsenal of inflatable tanks, jets and missile launchers. As Russia under President Vladimir V. Putin has muscled its way back onto the geopolitical stage, the Kremlin has employed a range of stealthy tactics: silencing critics abroad, hitching the Orthodox Church to its conservative counterrevolution, spreading false information to audiences in Europe and even, according to the Obama administration, meddling in American presidential politics by hacking the Democratic Party’s computers.
One of the newer entries to that list is an updating of the Russian military’s set of lethal tricks known as maskirovka, or masking. Russia’s most recent military deployments began with operations involving this doctrine: with literally masked and mystery soldiers in Crimea in 2014, soldiers said to be “vacationing” or “volunteering” in eastern Ukraine and a “humanitarian airlift” to Syria in 2015.
As the Russian incursion in Ukraine unfolded, Moscow sent a “humanitarian” convoy of whitewashed military vehicles to the rebellious eastern provinces. The trucks were later found to be mostly empty, prompting speculation that they had been sent there to deter a Ukrainian counteroffensive against rebels. The idea behind maskirovka is to keep the enemy guessing, never admitting your true intentions, always denying your activities and using all means, both political and military, to maintain an edge of surprise for your soldiers. The doctrine, military analysts say, is in this sense “multilevel.” It draws no distinction between disguising a soldier as a bush or a tree with green and patterned clothing, a lie of a sort, and high-level political disinformation and cunning evasions.
CONTINUE READING ON THE NEXT PAGE..SCROLL DOWN!!