The 600 Years of History Behind Those Ukrainian Masks

Have you always wondered why Russians and even these protestors wore these masks? The article here describes this culture of the mask that goes back centuries, when Russian princes had to hide their true intentions from their outside enemies, including the Mongols. Called the Maskirovka, it even attracted the attention of Ronald Reagan, who commended the Russians on this tactic of espionage and secrecy. A student of the intelligence fields would find this a fascinating insight into the culture of Russian national security, where we are denied even a glimpse of the frontline soldiers.

Even little bits of knowledge like this help us understand a society and country we have very little understanding of. It should be within American interests to build a relationship of understanding Russia, going beyond Vladimir Putin. However, I believe many of us wear “masks” and engage in our own “maskirovka” when looking at our adversaries (and even our friends). Sun Tzu said on the subject: “…to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.” These words of wisdom should encourage us to reach out pry off the mask of ignorance. That is the supreme purpose of foreign policy and intelligence.

TIME

The reporter asked the masked pro-Russian separatist in the Ukrainian city of Slavyansk a simple question: why are you wearing a mask?

“I’m sorry,” he responded, “but it’s a stupid question.”

It sure is for anyone who pays attention to how Russia fights.

The mask-wearing militants who have appeared in eastern Ukraine and taken over government buildings represent the latest face of Russia’s tradition of maskirovka (mas-kir-OAF-ka). It’s a word literally translated as disguise, but Russia has long used it in a broader sense, meaning any military tactic that incorporates camouflage, concealment, deception, disinformation—or any combination thereof.

It describes everything from manufacturing tanks in automobile factories to shielding them under tree branches near the battlefield. It can be used to hide soldiers with smoke screens, and to build warships under awnings. It includes sending soldiers in white uniforms to invade snowbound Finland during World War II and creating mock…

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