The 600 Years of History Behind Those Ukrainian Masks

An armed man stands next to a barricade in front of the police headquarters in Slaviansk
A masked separatist stands guard outside a government building in Slavyansk. Gleb Garanich / Reuters

`Maskirovka’ has been a part of the Russian military since before there was a Russia

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 weapons and bridges in hopes of drawing enemy fire away from the real thing.

The Soviets bought 100mm artillery pieces from Germany before the war. The Germans cranked the Russians’ use of those guns in their planning on how to invade Russian as part of Operation Barbarossa. But when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Soviets surprised them with much more powerful 130mm guns. In a classic maskirovka move, the Russians had scrapped the guns they bought from Germany as they built their own bigger weapons.

Maskirovka (which is rooted in the English word, mask) is designed to sow confusion and frustration among opponents by denying them basic information.

A pro-Russia protester stands at a barricade outside a regional government building in Donetsk
A pro-Russian protester mans a barricade outside a government building in Donetsk. Konstantin Chernichkin / Reuters

The anonymous troops in eastern Ukraine say only that they’re “Cossacks,” but Ukrainian and Western officials believe many of them are led by Russian special forces. Yet the murkiness of their origin and sponsors inflates their menace, and makes it more difficult to figure out how to deal with them. Snipping puppet strings between Ukraine and Moscow may be easier than controlling indigenous separatists operating independently. A combination of both complicates matters still further.

Maskirovka may be conducted in any environment to deny information to sensors,” a 1988 Pentagon study of the technique said. What’s on display in Ukraine is maskirovka in its most basic form: physical masks, known as balaclavas (named for their use at the Battle of Balaclava, a Ukrainian town near Sevastopol, during the Crimean War) are designed to deny humans’ most fundamental sensor—the eye—critical information about the person on the other side (to complicate matters, some Ukrainian supporters also are wearing masks).

If the West won’t come to Ukraine’s aid even if columns of Russian tanks are streaming toward the capital of Kiev, they’re sure not going to lift a (trigger) finger against masked men operating in the shadows.

Think of it as a crafty way of getting your way. Russia is conducting a slow-motion invasion of Ukraine without thousands of troops riding hundreds of tanks. Instead, handfuls of Russian agents are whipping up nationalistic fervor among disgruntled eastern Ukrainians of Russian stock. Beyond the masks, the “troops” wear no insignia to betray under whose flag they’re acting.

It used to be that states waged wars. But since the end of the Cold War, so-called “non-state actors”—like al Qaeda—have loomed large. Now on the streets of Ukraine, non-state actors are acting on behalf of a state.

Maskirovka, Russian military texts say, must be seamless and complete. The Soviet Union used it to sneak their nuclear-tipped missiles into Cuba in 1962. But the Soviets didn’t bother to conceal the construction of their launch sites, which led U.S. intelligence to figure out what was happening.

Some Russian scholars say maskirovka dates back to the 1380 Battle of Kulikovo Field, 120 miles south of Moscow. Russian Dmitri Ivanovich divided his mounted fighters into two groups: one stood in the open field, vulnerable to attack from the Mongols’ Golden Horde, while the second hid in a nearby forest. Seeing only the Russians on the plains, the Horde’s soldiers attacked, only to be overwhelmed when the second Russian force rushed from their hiding place.

The technique certainly got Ronald Reagan’s attention.

“The Soviet Union has developed a doctrine of `maskirovka’ which calls for the use of camouflage, concealment and deception (CC&D) in defense-related programs and in the conduct of military operations,” Reagan wrote in October 1983’s National Security Decision Directive 108. “Several recent discoveries reveal that the Soviet maskirovka program has enjoyed previously unsuspected success and that it is apparently entering a new and improved phase.” The Top Secret document, declassified by the U.S. government three years ago, didn’t detail those successes.

Fast-forwarding to today, how can the West combat Russia’s penchant for maskirovka in Ukraine? Seeing as some credit Reagan for prevailing in the original Cold War, perhaps his orders in that 1983 directive offer a clue. “The Director of Central Intelligence,” he wrote, “in cooperation with other Departments and Agencies as appropriate, will:”

The rest of the directive is blacked out.

Think of it as a bit of Amerimaskitovka.



Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant

Speaking at an event with her mother and 2016 potential presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the former first daughter said she and her husband Marc Mezvinsky are very excited about the arrival of their first child

Chelsea Clinton is expecting her first child, the former first daughter announced Thursday.

Clinton, speaking at the “Girls: A No Ceilings Conversation” event with her mother Hillary Clinton, said she and her husband Marc Mezvinsky are looking forward to parenthood.

“Marc and I are very excited that we have our first child arriving later this year, and I certainly feel all the better whether it’s a girl or a boy that she or he will grow up in a world full of so many strong young female leaders,” she said. “So thank you for inspiring me and inspiring future generations including the one that we’ll be lucky enough to welcome into our family later this year.”

Clinton insiders have said a Chelsea pregnancy is the “big wildcard” for whether Hillary Clinton will pull the trigger on a 2016 presidential campaign.

The daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been in public life for more than 30 years, nodded to her parents as role models for her own parenting. “I just hope that I will be as good a mom to my child and hopefully children as my mother was to me,” she said.

Clinton had hinted last year that she and her husband were trying to get pregnant. In an interview with Glamour magazine about the Clinton Foundation and her plans for 2014, she said: “We sat down and said, ‘Here’s what we want to do.’ The first thing on the list was simple: We want, God willing, to start a family. So we decided we were going to make 2014 the Year of the Baby. … And please call my mother and tell her that. She asks us about it every single day.”

After the big reveal, Clinton let her Twitter followers know the news:

Both grandparents-to-be Bill and Hillary Clinton also tweeted shortly after the announcement:

-with reporting from Zeke J Miller

Health Care

Obamacare Enrollment Hits 8 Million

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks from the Brady Press Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 17, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks from the Brady Press Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 17, 2014. Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

President Obama announced that over 8 million Americans have signed up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act, exceeding projections. He said that more than 1 in 4 who signed up for coverage are between the ages of 18 and 34

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that over 8 million Americans have signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

Obama trumpeted the figure, which exceeded projections, during an unannounced visit to the White House Briefing Room, saying that more than one in four (28 percent) who signed up for coverage on federally-controlled marketplaces are between 18 and 34 years old. The first enrollment period concluded at the end of March, but those who began applications for coverage before that date had until this week to complete them.

The 28 percent figure is below administration targets for young and healthy individuals, but the White House has said they are confident that the exchanges will still function at that rate, noting that the figure is almost identical to that in Massachusetts when the state instituted its exchange in 2006/7.

As the midterm elections approach, Obama encouraged his party to hold their ground on the law, even as some vulnerable Democrats seek to hide from it. “I think that Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud [of the law]“, Obama said. “I don’t think we should apologize for it, I don’t think we should be defensive about it.”

Obama criticized states that have rejected federal funds to expand Medicaid, saying the decision by Republican governors and legislatures “frustrates” him. “You got 5 million people who could be having health insurance right now at no cost to these states—zero cost to these states—other than ideological reasons they have chosen not to provide health insurance for their citizens.”

“This thing is working,” Obama said, highlighting the rise in the number of insured Americans and a slowing in healthcare cost increases, before attacking congressional Republicans who are focused on repealing the law. “I think we can all agree that it’s well past time to move on,” he said.

“The point is the repeal debate is, and should be, over,” he added.

Congressional Republicans rejected Obama’s call within minutes of the announcement:

Brendan Buck, a spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner, said that the White House was hiding the true, negative impact of the law. “Beyond refusing to disclose the number of people who’ve actually enrolled by paying premiums, the president ignores the havoc that this law has wreaked on private plans that people already had and liked,” he said. “Surveys have consistently shown that the overwhelming majority of those who signed up already had insurance. Had this law not led to millions of Americans receiving cancelation notices, many would not have had to sign up for this government-run program. What America really needs is a health care system that is more affordable, more accessible, and of the highest quality, and that’s what House Republicans are working toward.”


Why Are U.S. Oil Imports Falling?

The United States is less reliant on foreign oil than it has been for almost a decade

According to data from ­­­­­The Energy Information Administration (EIA) in their 2014 Early Release Overview, oil imports decreased from 12.55 million barrels per day in 2005, (60 percent of daily U.S. consumption), to 7.45 million barrels per day, (40 percent of daily U.S. consumption), in 2012. Preliminary data from the same report shows that imports dropped even further in 2013, to 32 percent of overall consumption.

U.S. Energy Information Administration

So what accounts for the drop in imports? There are two likely reasons.

First, domestic supplies have increased due to a new drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, which involves the injection of more than a million gallons of water at high pressure into drilled wells thousands of feet below the surface. The pressure causes the rock layer to crack so that crude (unrefined) oil flows up the well.

Because hydraulic fracturing freed up oil that was previously inaccessible, U.S. production boomed, particularly in states like Texas, North Dakota, and Alaska.

According to more EIA data, total spending by oil (and natural gas) companies grew 11 percent on average per year from 2000-2012, and spending on development activities increased by 5 percent ($18 billion) in 2013. All this culminated in the U.S. production of 7.9 million barrels of crude oil per day in 2013, a level the country hasn’t hit since 1988.

U.S. production is expected to continue rising, to 8.4 million barrels per day in 2014, and 9.1 million barrels per day in 2015.

Second, imports decreased because high gasoline costs, fuel efficient cars, and the 2008 recession all led to lower national oil consumption, which decreased from 20.8 million barrels per day in 2005, to 18.64 million barrels per day in 2013. Although consumption hasn’t recovered to pre-2005 levels, it started to pick up in 2012, and the EIA predicts that consumption will continue to rise along with domestic production in 2014.

Despite increased domestic oil production and lower oil consumption, the US remains the largest importer of oil in the world, and spent $427 billion on imports in 2013.

The U.S spent almost as much on imports in 2013 as the sixth through tenth largest oil importing countries (Korea, The Netherlands, Germany, The United Kingdom, and Spain) combined.

However, the U.S. is only the 34th largest consumer of imported oil per capita. Countries that rank before it as the top importers per capita include Singapore, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands.


This article was written for TIME by Kiran Dhillon of FindTheBest.


Report Slams Government’s Cybersecurity Fix

James Clapper
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on current and projected national security threats against the US. Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

Despite warnings from security experts that the nation's critical infrastructure is vulnerable to cyber attacks, the report's authors lambast the government's “rigid” response to a threat they say is overblown

A new study calls the threat of catastrophic cyber-security failures overblown and says the government’s plan for fixes will ultimately make the Internet less secure.

“This is a really complex and dynamic system,” said the study’s lead author Eli Dourado, a tech policy research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, a libertarian-leaning think tank. “What they’re trying to do is just beyond the capacity of humans to plan and control.”

The study lambasts the Commerce Department’s “Cybersecurity Framework,” which was released in February and recommends a series of voluntary measures to help “operators of critical infrastructure”—like power plants, phone networks, financial services—develop better defenses against cyber-attacks. The framework, implemented by President Barack Obama through an executive order, seeks to impose a bit of order on the historically anarchic and ad hoc processes by which the Internet has been secured in the decades since it came into being.

“The framework would replace this creative process with one rigid incentive toward compliance with recommended federal standards,” the study says. In short, the authors argue it would shift the emphasis to complying with a federal standard rather than “the spontaneous, creative sources of experimentation and feedback that drive Internet innovation.”

The plan for a federally sponsored, public-private partnership to establish a national cyber-security protocol grew out of the fear that human society, ever more digitized and interconnected, sits tenuously on the precipice of disaster should the machines ever stop working. The fear of collapse has been stoked by the likes of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta—who has warned of a possible “cyber-Pearl Harbor”—and intelligence chief James Clapper, who asserted that cyber-threats “cannot be overstated.”

“There’s not really any good evidence for cyber doom scenarios, the digital pearl harbor that everyone talks about,” Dourado said. “There’s people who benefit, of course, from the perception that there could be cyber doom scenarios, such as government contractors and people who have hitched their wagons to this idea that we need huge programs in order to stop these things from happening.”

Dourado concedes there may be evidence to support “cyber doom” alarmism that is classified. “If it exists it should be declassified,” he said. “This isn’t the cold war. We can have an open conversation about this.”

Among the authors’ recommendations for improving web security in lieu of the Cybersecurity Framework—which they believe, not without reason, may someday become compulsory—is addressing this issue of over-classification.

MORE: Should President Obama be on the 2014 Time 100? Vote now.

The study notes that, according to one research group, 2013 was the worst year ever for data breaches, but not of the sort that might send a wall of water crashing through an incapacitated Hoover Dam. Rather, the U.S. has seen more of the smaller scale security failures like customer credit card data being stolen or the IRS losing track of employee records. The study recommends jump-starting the development of a market for cyber-threat insurance to mitigate the damage from those incidents in addition to more narrowly defining what constitutes “critical infrastructure”

“We’re not saying ‘Stop securing our resources,’” Dourado said. “We’re just saying we need to think about this as a system that can’t be controlled or planned by the government.”

2016 Election

Beau Biden, VP’s Son, Says He’ll Run for Delaware Governor

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden attends the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 6, 2012.
Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden attends the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 6, 2012. Chris Keane—Reuters

The eldest son of Vice President Joe Biden, Beau, has announced plans to run for governor of Delaware in 2016, backtracking on running for a third term as the state's attorney general. The 45-year-old suffered a stroke in 2010 but was recently given a clean bill of health

Beau Biden, the eldest son of Vice President Joe Biden, said he will run for governor of Delaware in 2016, the Associated Press reports.

Biden said he won’t seek a third term as attorney general. Instead, he’ll make a go for the top job in the state his father represented in the U.S. Senate for more than three decades.

The 45-year-old attorney general suffered a stroke in 2010 and underwent surgery last year at a Texas cancer center, where doctors removed what they described as a small lesion. A doctor at the Texas hospital gave him “a clean bill of health” in November, the AP reports.


2016 Election

Beau Biden Plans 2016 Run for Governor in Delaware

(DOVER, Del.) — Vice President Joe Biden’s eldest son, Beau Biden, says he won’t seek re-election as Delaware attorney general this year but plans to run for governor in 2016.

Biden, who underwent surgery at a Texas cancer center last year, announced his intentions in a statement issued Thursday.

The 45-year-old Biden had said previously that he would seek a third term as attorney general.

Biden, who suffered a mild stroke in 2010, was hospitalized last August after becoming weak and disoriented during an Indiana vacation.

He was later flown to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, where doctors removed what was described as a small lesion.

Biden has refused to discuss his latest health scare, but the Texas center’s head of neuro-oncology gave him “a clean bill of health” in November.

Christie to Biden: Welcome to Instagram, Here’s a Throwback Thursday

Biden joined Instagram on Wednesday with a bang, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie now appears to be showing him the ropes.

Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie welcomed Vice President Joe Biden to Instagram Thursday a day after Joe Biden made waves with his first selfie that also starred President Barack Obama.

“#tbts always trump #selfies,” Christie wrote in an Instragram post, a “Throwback Thursday” picture of himself and Biden from back in the day. The photo’s date was unclear, though the duo appear to be standing at their shared alma mater, the University of Delaware.

Biden and Christie are considered possible contenders in the race for president in 2016, but for today, at least, it’s all #smiles.

Barack Obama

Obama: ‘We Don’t Need a War’ With Russia

President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

President Obama downplayed the chance of a military conflict with Russia over the escalating tension in eastern Ukraine, in an interview that aired Thursday, saying it's not up to either country to decide what kind of relationships Ukraine has with its neighbors

President Barack Obama said in an interview that aired Thursday that “we don’t need a war” with Russia, downplaying the chance of military conflict between the U.S. and Russia over tensions in Ukraine.

“What we do need is a recognition that countries like Ukraine can have relationships with a whole range of their neighbors, and it is not up to anybody, whether it’s Russia or the United States or anybody else, to make decisions for them,” Obama said in an interview with CBS Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett on Thursday’s broadcast of CBS This Morning.

Obama’s comments came days after a Russian fighter jet made multiple close-range passes near a U.S. Navy ship in the Black Sea. When asked if the aircraft “buzz” represented Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to send a signal to Washington, Obama said Russia is “not interested in any kind of military confrontation with us, understanding that our conventional forces are significantly superior to the Russians.”

“As commander-in-chief, I don’t make decisions based on perceived signals. We make decision very deliberately, based on what’s required for our security and for the security of our allies,” Obama added. “And the Russians understand that.”

Putin has amassed Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern border and threatened to invade amid tensions between the pro-Western government and a large ethnic Russian minority in the region, despite the threat of increased economic sanctions from the U.S. and Western European powers.

Zeke Miller contributed reporting.

Morning Must Reads: April 17

The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Ukraine forces engage pro-Russian separatists; Rescuers search for hundreds of missing people after a South Korean ferry capsized; Democrats want former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to run for Senate; the Tea Party radio network; what's prettier in print

  • “Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he hoped not to send Russian troops into Ukraine but didn’t rule it out, accusing the Kiev government of committing ‘a serious crime’ by using the military to quell unrest.” [WSJ]
    • Ukrainian forces engaged pro-Russian separatists Thursday in what appeared to be the most intense battle yet in the restive east, killing three militants and wounding 13 after what the Interior Ministry described as a siege on a military base in the southeastern city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.” [WashPost]
    • Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Geneva Wednesday evening to prepare for four-party talks with European, Russian and Ukrainian officials…Although the president did not definitely say whether Russia would face further sanctions if the meeting failed, he said, ‘What I’ve said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps, that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, that there are going to be consequences.’” [CBS]
    • Russian Economy Worsens Even Before Sanctions Hit [NYT]
    • NATO’s Back in Business, Thanks to Russia’s Threat to Ukraine [TIME]
  • Rescuers fought rising wind, strong waves and murky water on Thursday as they searched for hundreds of people, most of them teenaged schoolchildren, missing after a South Korean ferry capsized more than 24 hours ago.” [Reuters]
  • “Democrats are dying to have Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius enter the Senate race in Kansas.” [Hill]
  • The Tea Party Radio Network [Politico]
  • Prettier in Print

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