Use of deception in Warfare: Case of Russia

 By Ankit Kumar

Deception has been a potent tool since the inception of warfare. It is an integral part of any military doctrine. The most well-known book at any point was composed by Sun Tzu’, ‘The Art of War’ which underscores deception as key to victory.[1] It states that all warfare is based on deception. Earliest known utilisation of deception was in the Trojan War where the Greeks faked troop developments with the help of Trojan Horse. In recent, ‘Operation Fortitude’ has been one successful example of the use of deception during the World War II.[2] The Allies (Great Britain, France, and the Russian Empire) made a whole phony armed force and fooled the Germans into trusting that the attack of Europe would begin at Calais rather than Normandy.

Notwithstanding, no nation in history has ever set a greater accentuation on the utilisation of deception than Russia. This Russian doctrine of deception is called ‘Maskirovka’.[3] The word most intently means English word disguise or conceal and technically applies to everything including military camouflage. The term is used by the Western countries as a label to describe Russia’s use of deception. For Russia, this idea is substantially more than only a war fighting strategy. It is a belief system used in every part of its administration. It is utilised to hide its actual aims from adversaries whether it is in war, in global strategy or even in its domestic policies. It tends to be utilised to impact different nations to spread propaganda and advance their belief system or it can be used as disinformation tool to make uncertainty and doubt of a nation’s actual aims and aspirations.

This strategy was utilised broadly all throughout the Cold War. One well known model was the purported as ‘Bomber Gap’. The Russians made various efforts to make the appearance that they had developed countless nuclear capable aircraft. In 1955 at the Soviet Air Show, Russia flew a couple of its Bison Bombers overhead. Those planes rapidly flew far out, circled around and flew back over again making the appearance of many more planes than they actually had. They additionally pressed all their Bison Bombers in an airbase after they realised that the Americans would photograph giving the presence of a greater number of aircrafts than they had. In the end, further surveillance demonstrated that the Bomber Gap was non-existent however not before the US spent gigantic measures of cash working up its own Bomber Fleet of more than 2,000 aircrafts.

James Jesus Angleton, a well-known CIA head of Counter Intelligence portrayed the KGB as wilderness of mirrors with deceptions with inside other deceptions. They would even send counterfeit turncoats to the US to feed false information[4]. One notable case of this is with Anatoliy Golitsyn and Yuri Nosenko. Both men were KGB agents and both claimed to be genuine defectors. The information that each man gave to the CIA contradicted the others. It is for this reason it is believed that one of them was a fake used by the KGB to discredit the other.To this day it is still not clear which if any was a genuine defector or a double agent. Another example of Soviet propaganda was in 1983 when the KGB directed ‘Operation Infection’. The intention behind was to spread false propaganda asserting that the United States had invented HIV and AIDS in a US lab[5]. The issue was widely published by socialist papers and news sources crosswise over 80 nations. Likewise, during the Vietnam War, the Soviets Union spent more than 1 billion dollars on peace movements over the world with the objective of removing public support for the war. The KGB has reportedly helped fund every single anti-war movement during the Cold War to protect communist nations.

The KGB used deception so thoroughly that it was reported that after the assassination of US President Kennedy it had to investigate itself to see if they were behind it. Vasili Mitrokhin, a member of the KGB who later defected claimed that a portion of the paranoid notions in regards to the death was designed and advanced furtively by the KGB so as to create unrest and doubt about the US government and the CIA to its citizens[6]. This practice can also be seen today with President Putin in his administration. Russia allegedly tried to alter and intrude in the 2016 US Presidential race. Whether it deliberately worked with Trump to help him win or whether they just helped to set up meetings in order to give the appearance ofcollusion to split the American public and cause political unrest is still unclear. Whichever is true it is apparent that they were successful.

Another prime model is Ukraine in 2014.Para Troopers in green uniform with no emblem or identifications started appearing in the Crimea. Putin initially asserted that the soldier were not Russian. Not long after annexing Crimea, Putin at that point conceded that the troops were in actuality Russian Special Forces. Later on, again troops without symbols started appearing in eastern Ukraine and again the Russian government asserted that they were not their troops. A few of the fighters were caught by Ukrainian soldier and uncovered to be Russian officers. The Russian government clarified that these men were acting on their own.

Just recently the Russian Ministry of Defense released what it

claimed was proof that the US was working with ISIS.[7] They released images and video as evidence. These images were actually discovered to be taken from a video game and others being old footage released by the US military.

In short, while deception has practically been part of all military powers yet Russia has taken it to another dimension. Impacting the brains in battleground as well as in peace time has been one of the central features of Russia and former USSR.


Yuri Alexandrovich Bezmenov, a former KGB agent who defected to Canada in 1970 revealed about “ideological subversion, active measures, or psychological warfare by USSR”. In his interview to G. Edward Griffin in 1984, Bezmenov also talked about various issues related to Soviet psychological propaganda such as great brainwashing, destabilisation, targeting of essential structural elements of a nation: economy, foreign relations, and defense systems.

Interestingly, some analogies are also being drawn between recent Mueller Reports and Yuri Bezmenov as to how the Russian interference in US election could be a part of Russian propaganda to destabilise the United States.[8]

While deception is practiced by every nation on some level the Russians have taken it to the next level. They have mastered the use of deception to conceal their true intentions where Maskirovka is applied at every level to every aspect.  Vulnerability, equivocalness and gigantic power projection much before the genuine crisis is a traditional practice for the Russian forces.



[1] (2019). [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Jun. 2019].
[2] (2019). Fortitude South - D-Day Deception. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Jun. 2019].
[4]2019. [Accessed 11 Jun. 2019]
[5]2019. Cia.Gov. [Accessed 11 Jun. 2019]
[6]2019. Cia.Gov. . [Accessed 11 Jun. 2019]
[7]Walker, S. (2019). Russia's 'irrefutable evidence' of US help for Isis appears to be video game still. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 14 Jun. 2019].
[8]Lawfare. (2019). Full Text of the Mueller Report's Executive Summaries. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Jun. 2019].