By Rostislav Ishchenko
Translated by Ollie Richardson and Angelina Siard
cross posted with

June 22nd – the day the most bloody war in the history of Russia began. The day a series of the largest military catastrophes not only in Russian history, but also in the history of mankind began. The Kiev cauldron in September, 1941 and the triple encirclement near Bryansk and Vyazma in October of the same year neither in terms of the number of surrounded armies, nor the number of lost people (those who died and those who went missing), nor the number of equipment captured by the enemy were surpassed up to the end of the war. Taking into account the technologisation of armies and the reduction in the quantity of staff in favor of a bigger saturation of troops by high-precision robotised weapons systems and automatic control systems, we can confidently state that these catastrophes won’t be surpassed in the foreseeable future. It is enough to say that in one month the USSR lost 1.5 million people in these cauldrons (killed, wounded, and captured).

And before this there were border battles, which were also lost by the USSR (the most part of troops and equipment of the Soviet Western front was lost in the Belostok and Minsk-Vitebsk cauldrons). All of this taken together led to a loss in the campaign of 1941.

In Russia there are often debates about who indeed was to blame for this most terrifying crushing defeat. And it indeed was terrifying. The country lost the most part of its army personnel (except the divisions covering the Far East and Transcaucasia) and huge territories on which before the war half the general population lived and where over 60% of industrial production was concentrated. Up to the second half of 1942 the USSR couldn’t restore the losses of equipment it suffered in 1941. And the fact that to this day the discussion about the culprits responsible for this catastrophe still continues testifies to the force of the moral blow.

We won’t consider the narratives about conspiracy among Generals, freemasons, or reptiles dreaming of betraying the country in favour of Hitler. Except General Pavlov – who was executed together with his staff, and who unlike other commanders wasn’t able in principle to organise a resistance and lost control over the troops already during the first hours of war – and also except the perished commanders (including the commander of the Southwest front Colonel General Kirponos with his staff), most of the Generals who suffered crushing defeats in 1941-1942 remained in the ranks and eventually grew into Marshals and Generals of Victory, commanding fronts and armies.

They say that Stalin is guilty. But if we look at the technical equipment of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, then we will find out that the units concentrated near the border, being inferior by 1.3-1.5 times in terms of number of personnel, surpassed the invading German army in terms of the number of planes twofold; cannons and mortars – by 20%; and tanks – fourfold. Moreover, if the weapons that were in the arsenal of aviation (even the new designs) in general were qualitatively inferior to German ones – although not critically, then the tank fleet possessed unambiguous superiority.

For all the ~4,000 German tanks – only a half of which were T3 and T4 (the other half consisted of light and thinly-armoured Czech ones and light German ones, which were more like mini tanks) – there were nearly 2,000 T-34 and KV tanks alone. Although German tanks in principle couldn’t battle as equals with these Soviet tanks until “Tigers” and “Panthers” appeared at the front in large quantities in 1943.

The number of divisions from 1939 to 1941 also grew from 99 to 303. The total number in the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, without carrying out mobilisation, reached 5.3 million people. The motor transport equipment of the army was much better than the Germans’. The groupings concentrated near the border had sufficient forces and means to hold off the enemy until mobilisation will be carried out.

But the task of the government and Stalin as its leader was precisely this – to provide the army with the forces and means necessary for a successful defense and a transition to counterattacks. Moreover, the Soviet industry, which managed to overcome the catastrophe of 1941 and establish up to the second half of 1942 (having being evacuated to the rear) the production of equipment, weapons, and ammunition in the necessary volumes, and the fact that already from 1943 it surpassed German production once again proves that the country’s leaders were well prepared for war — they created a huge margin of safety.

They say that Generals gave bad commands and that allegedly they weren’t able to use the tools placed in their hands. This is only partly true. Like it is in any army, during the first months of the beginning of war those commanders who perfectly served during peacetime, but were unsuitable for military operations were filtered out. A parade-ground and a trench are different things. Yes, such selection had already happened for the Germans during the Polish and French campaigns. But the existence in the army of incapable Generals can’t lead the entire front to a full-scale catastrophe – especially to a series of catastrophes.

In general, if we look at the planning of operations we will find out that directional commanders-in-chief and frontline commanders and armies generally made the correct decisions. In the summer of 1941 the German army already faced a number of crises in all strategic directions. Nevertheless, the Germans managed in all cases, even in the most critical ones, to come out the winners.

Responsibility is also put on the suddenness of attack, on bad communication (a lack of handheld transceivers among troops), and other minor technical problems. It should be said that everything was far from perfect for the Germans. In the summer of 1941 their Generals very often noted with frank envy the excellent hardware of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army. Indeed, the Wehrmacht entered into war with a higher degree of readiness, because it was already tried and tested in two campaigns and was completely mobilised and deployed. But this superiority was also temporary and non-critical. During military operations bottlenecks are discovered and quickly widened. But concerning tactical suddenness (there was never a strategic suddenness — the Germans were waited on the border by the deployed Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army), its effect ended already in the first half of the day of June 22nd, when divisions covering the border from the first echelons of the Soviet fronts began to approach and engage.

It is also possible to say, and sometimes it is said, that it is a sum of factors that harmfully influenced the course of military operations in 1941. They say that, allegedly, every separate military action wasn’t that significant, but collectively they made up the critical mass. This assessment is closer to the truth. It can explain the defeats of 1941, but not of 1942.

Meanwhile May-July, 1942 was again a catastrophe, on a scale comparable with 1941. The 2nd Shock Army near Leningrad was crushed, the Crimean front was destroyed, a severe defeat was suffered during the Kharkov operation, Sevastopol was lost, and the Germans approached Voronezh and started an offensive on Stalingrad and the Caucasus.

There was no suddenness of attack here. Numerical and technical superiority was on the side of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, which during all the first third of the year tried to move forward, building on the winter successes. The victory in the battle of Moscow showed that with all its technical and other shortcomings, the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army can beat the Wehrmacht. And by the time of the battle of Moscow the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army was seriously weaker in terms of personnel and equipment in comparison with how it was when it met the Germans at the border. By the summer of 1942 the situation was corrected, and then suddenly again defeat after defeat.

In reality the main weakness of the Red Army was the low educational level of personnel. I will remind that back then recruits who had seven classes of education were sent to officer schools. The schools gave secondary specialised (military) education. I.e., it was a kind of military technical school. Most recruits had an education lower than seven classes. They knew how to read and write, illiteracy in the USSR by this time had indeed been almost completely liquidated, but they had no systemic knowledge of any subjects, therefore they possessed a rather narrow outlook.

For the army this means that a huge number of junior and middle commanders (from squad leader to battalion commander) were afraid of showing the initiative. They were able to remain standing and die perfectly well, but couldn’t counter the manoeuvres of German units with anything. By the way, most German Generals directly wrote about this in their memoirs, specifying that Soviet troops were brave, disciplined, well-trained, and well skilled with weapons that met the most strict requirements of the time (it is enough to remember that Soviet trophies – from autoloading rifles to tanks and cannons – were actively used by the Wehrmacht during all the war), but their commanders were lacking initiative and didn’t posses the art of manoeuvre.

It is precisely manoeuvres and initiative that German commanders attribute all their victories to during the first two years of war. As soon as Soviet troops learned by 1943 to minimally manoeuvre on the battlefield, the victories of the Wehrmacht ended. The natural question of the miracle near Moscow, when the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army – repeatedly beaten both before and after – stopped and chased away the Wehrmacht, can be explained quite simply. “General Frost”, the wrong greasing of equipment, the fatigue of troops, and other things that the German Generals and their nowadays adherents like to refer to played a minimum role. For the Soviet troops the frost was no less frosty, the previous defeats didn’t help with moral stability, the losses of equipment suffered in the first months of war couldn’t be replaced, the last personnel divisions that arrived from Siberia that the command was able to scrape together were in the reserve, and the frontline was held by the remains of the defeated units and divisions of the people’s militia.

The Germans lost the battle of Moscow not because it was cold, but because deep snow deprived them of the possibility to manoeuvre, they were obliged to attack head-on using the few remaining roads. Well, and Russians were always able to remain standing and to die. I.e., during the winter period the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army indeed received an advantage, because it allowed it to rely on its strength — stability in defense, having nullified the strength of the Germans — the art of manoeuvre.

So, a conclusion: the strongest and most prepared army can lose war (or appear on the verge of defeat) if it doesn’t possess the art of manoeuvre both on the battlefield and away from it. In order for the manoeuvre to be feasible it is necessary not only to prepare Kutuzovs, Suvorovs, Zhukovs, Rokossovskys, Gerasimovs, and Makarovs in military academies, but also to provide them with subordinated staff – from the Colonel to the ordinary fighter – capable of understanding the general idea of command and putting themselves in their shoes and within the framework of their powers, and to creatively develop them depending on the place and time, completing the set task in the most effective way that doesn’t damage the general blueprint of the operation.

Poorly educated people won’t show an initiative, and if they do show it, then it would’ve been better if they hadn’t. The person without an education (even those who have a diploma, but aren’t really filled with knowledge and practice) can’t understand the depth of the conception of command. They act rectilinearly, without thinking about neighbors, about the rear, about the consequences. They aren’t sure about their own decisions and prefer not to depart from the framework of order. If in the order of things each step isn’t outlined, then they fall into a stupor. Such people don’t see the most important thing — a diversity of ways of completing the task. They determine their intentions so accurately that the enemy doesn’t even need to strain themselves to understand how exactly they will act in a specific situation. Meanwhile, it is precisely the ability at every subsequent stage and after each following move to keep the possibility of multiple actions that leads to victory. The enemy must see that you have 3-5-10 possible moves (all of them are victorious for you) and mustn’t understand what move you will choose. Ingenious commanders always find one more non-evident move over an obvious package. But it’s because of this that they are ingenious. But for a simple victory it is enough to have some options and the opportunity to quickly change the direction of the main blow.

However, we have said many times that modern wars substantially moved to the information sphere as a result of both the high destructive power of weapons and the highest informational saturation of modern society, allowing not only central command to control war in real-time, but also the population – even in the deep rear – to virtually be present on the battlefield and to influence via their emotions the course and outcome of war, often even more so than the most beautiful, verified, economical, and effective operation on the battlefield. This means that the demands presented to the army start extending also to the media sphere.

Not in the sense that journalists should be dressed in uniforms and taught to march in rank and unconditionally execute orders, but in the sense that journalists, politicians, members of the expert community, and analysts must understand the manoeuvre of command and everyone must be able to adapt to the place and time, and to creatively develop it without perverting the essence and without threatening general interaction.

At the same time it is necessary to understand that the media structure is much more complicated than the army. The latter also becomes more complicated during the process of increasing the complexity of the equipment that the army uses and its saturation by automated, robotised, and computer systems. Today’s army critically differs from the army not only of the 18th century, but also of the times of the Great Patriotic War. Ekaterina and Stalin’s armies are more similar than both of them are to modern armies. Back then there was a need to summon the soldier for service, to train them to a regime, to determine their regiment, to dress, shoe, feed, arm, and teach them to remain standing under fire, to come under fire, to open fire, and to retreat without violating the system. The scale changed, but the essence didn’t. Now fewer and fewer soldiers are physically present on that battlefield on which their weapons are at war, and the process of removing the human element of the battlefield happens at an increasing speed. The army studies interaction in a virtual space.

Nevertheless, the severe relationship between those who give the order and those who execute the order in the modern army so far remains inviolable and, obviously, in this plan it’s not soon that something will change, if something will change at all. After all, the army is a structure that is too specific and intended for specific tasks.

At the same time, effective ordered combat operations in the media sphere are impossible. The order will always be late. Moreover, it will be critically late. The difference between an informational attack and a tank attack is that tanks, for creation of a real threat, need to breakthrough defenses and arrive at the operating space. I.e., they need time – from the beginning of the action up to its success, when they start making a critical impact on the stability of the enemy troops. The command manages to receive information about the danger and react to it. In an informational attack information starts working at the time of its creation, even before its dissemination.

The created information or disinformation already becomes a factor in public life, because it will be surely disseminated. And an informational task consists precisely in having an impact on society and the processes going inside it in the long-term. I.e., being created today and disseminated tomorrow, information starts making a continuous impact on society. It can be large in the beginning and decrease over time, and can, on the contrary, be imperceptible at first but increase over time. A accumulative effect is also possible – when tens, hundreds, and thousands of imperceptible messages that formally have nothing in common with each other and have no serious effect when taken individually suddenly come together in the media space to create a single mosaic and flip the consciousness of society upside down.

This is one of the highest forms of the art of working with information. Thousands of people who aren’t connected among themselves and aren’t connected to you receive from different sources that they trust information messages that are thematically not connected to each other, which they start duplicating among their audience. When each of these messages, having broken through a narrow circle, comes to a wide nation-wide audience, suddenly it becomes clear that all of them strike one point – either discrediting a politician or political force or, on the contrary, extolling them.

The obvious non-involvement of thousands of primary sources and millions of voluntary distributors doesn’t allow the tracing of information planting [the deliberate introduction of ideas in the media – ed] under any circumstances. Especially since there isn’t any information planting. Real people who are really interested in a certain topic were simply helped with certain information. Any frequenter of social networks perfectly knows how many voluntary helpers every day, every hour, and nearly every minute send in the format of personal correspondence news, demotivators, articles etc. The art consists only in knowing exactly what message will interest a specific leader of public opinion and the corresponding group of persons and how to present this message to them so that they are convinced that they found it themselves and also made the decision to spread it further themselves. At some point it should be understood at what exact moment the beginning of dissemination started and what cumulative effect the little stones will have, having assembled into a mosaic. A talented media manager feels this intuitively like a talented commander intuitively feels the moment when the attack of the enemy entered a crisis phase and it is necessary to counterattack. But in principle, presently, a sensible and fairly clever team can calculate in advance the corresponding algorithms with the help of a computer connected to the Internet.

It is precisely the ability of an information attack to have such concealment before the blow arrives that demands from the media sphere a high level of professional education and excellent intuition. In order to disrupt an attack that hasn’t even been prepared yet (because when it is ready, it is too late to undertake counter-measures, there is a need to think about the minimisation of its destructive consequences), it is necessary to know for sure and to understand your own bottlenecks and to start a counterattack before the enemy will find them and prepare their own attack. In this case in the classic form it’s not just an offensive that becomes the best type of defense, but a preventive informational attack can be the only available way of defending against an informational offensive.

In addition, it is necessary to understand that it’s not only the distribution of information that can be an effective media weapon, but also the refusal to distribute information. This is about not blocking, since in the modern world nothing can be blocked, but namely about non-participation. In a whole number of cases, especially when working with an audience that is inclined to reflect on things, a refusal to participate in the informational campaign of any leader of public opinion or group can have a bigger effect than a direct counterattack (in the form of the revelation of the information itself or its distributors). In media wars, like in real ones, a rejection of public conflict is practically always more favorable than a conflict.

In general, preventive suppression, rapid response, and evasion from direct clashes are the same main forms of manoeuvre that are used during military operations, and are the basis of the media standoff too. The latter becomes more complicated only because the information matrix of the “army” system in the “war” system has essential limitations (military censorship). While the information matrix of the “media” system in the “war” system has no limitations. Any term, any news, any event, practically any word can be used both “pro” and “against”. The media conflict is the endless lateral flowing of information in a multi-dimensional space where each of the fighting subjects tries to format it into the shape needed by them.

The general rules can be taught to future media managers at specialised universities or during special courses. This will provide trained non-commissioned officers with staff capable of creatively reacting to noticeable irritants. For further improvement there is a need to live it. So then the person easily does what nobody will teach anywhere else — any information, even information that hasn’t yet appeared, is considered from the point of view of the efficiency of its use in the interests of their own side against the enemy’s side. Then the person easily sees the multi-dimensionality and ambiguity of any information. In this case the bible expression “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1) ascertains the primacy of the God of Word in relation to our consciousness.

Having realised this, it will be easy to understand that it is impossible to close yourself off from information. Deaf defense is the worst method of combat in the information war. The USSR tried to hide behind a block and completely lost the information war. This happened because foreign information attacks achieved their objectives anyway, and forbidden fruit is the sweetest. In addition, Soviet propagandists couldn’t fight against something that seemingly didn’t exist in the Soviet reality (after all, “enemy voices” were allegedly reliably blocked and the Soviet people allegedly didn’t listen to them). As a result, hostile propaganda didn’t receive an adequate answer. Moreover, foreign media managers, regularly facing Soviet ones on their home field, were taught to conduct discussions at all levels, while in the USSR there were 5-10 certified experts who had the official license to repulse bourgeois insinuators. The others remained in a warm bath. They had nobody to argue with. They expressed the only correct thought, and they gradually became disenabled.

It’s not a coincidence that the historians of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, who became political scientists en masse during perestroika, appeared to be in their mass this same lousy bourgeois political scientists in the same way that they were lousy communist propagandists.

Thus, the openness of the Russian media space to discussion with almost any enemy is not only and not so much the acquisition of liberal democracy, as some are inclined to think – it is a beautiful irreplaceable training ground for the practical training of young media staff. The attempt to close the space off will lead to this same informational impotence as the one that ruined the Soviet Union.

The essence of controlling information consists not in having achieved an information monopoly in some collective, territory, or State and to create a closed information space. It will give nothing. It’s impossible to either tame information or to cage it. Independently of us, it already exists in its entirety. We can only get to know a part of it within the framework of our opportunities and share this knowledge with others. Of course, this knowledge is subjective, but it doesn’t become false because of it. Attempts to create false information are counterproductive. Even disinformation must be based on absolutely truthful information. Here it’s a question of the art of presentation and having knowledge of the psychological composition of an opponent, who will be ready to be deceived.

For example, the more detailed and more honest I described to Ukrainian nationalists what will happen to them and the Ukrainian State if they achieve their goals, the more furiously they rejected my warnings and rushed towards the destruction of the Ukrainian State. Taking into account the fact that Ukrainian independence didn’t inspire me already before it became a political fact, I rather honestly specified to them the only way that it can be preserved. But as some features of this path (a compromise with the Russian population inside the country and normal relations with Russia in the international arena) didn’t please them, they simply couldn’t recognise the validity of this information and always acted contrary to these warnings, destroying the very State that they considered to be super valuable.

Exactly in the same way, Putin offered Ukraine federalisation, he offered the European Union (even before the signing of the agreement on association with Ukraine) tripartite negotiations on a compromise, and he offered the US an agreement on overcoming the Ukrainian crisis on the condition of the actual establishment of spheres of influence, depending on the sympathies of the population in specific region (Moscow and Washington had to act as the guarantors of the security of the allies). These were very good offers that were very compromising. Neither Kiev, nor Brussels, nor Washington will receive better ones. Moreover, now for them the situation is much worse than it was at the time when these proposals were made. But they rejected them in the hope for bigger things. Because they created their own information matrix, within the framework of which “weak Russia” had to capitulate. As a result, by building a false information matrix they deceived themselves.

Now what lies ahead is building an effective nation-wide mechanism of information war, like the Russian army as a mechanism of ordinary war. The main clusters of such an information mechanism are:

1. Educated personnel for who knowledge and practical experience provides the ability to effectively manoeuvre within the framework of the available powers;

2. Feedforward and feedback vertical connections, when the bottom is well aware of the strategic objective of the top, and the top is constantly aware of what tactical steps are currently being made at the bottom.

The last point that I want to give special attention to: the army is a purely State institute. In the media space State media occupies the leading position, but it doesn’t control it completely. At the same time, carrying out informational “combat” operations demands the utmost coordination of all links. That’s why the question of the soft coordination of State and non-State media demands special elaboration.

Everything said above isn’t idle philosophising. This is actual, because in our century those who aren’t able to work with information inevitably quickly degrade. But once degradation starts, it covers all public and State institutes and leads to a national catastrophe.


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