Nikita Ivanov

Russian speaking U.S. soldiers on exercise in Estonia is brilliant information work

Sometimes it is surprisingly simple to achieve strategic effect with a good information plan. That was exemplified this Friday in the Voenno-Promyshlennyi Kurier (VPK). They ran a short story about a military exercise in Estonia with participation of an American unit.

The exercise itself was pretty rudimentary. The Kuperjanov Infantry Battalion did some winter training in a forest, and the Americans showed up with an impressive force of around 20 soldiers. The Americans were to find enemy forces in the snow and report their position to the Estonians. That hardly sounds like something that should reach the pages of a major Russian defense publication.

But apparently there were Russian speakers among the American soldiers. VPK made a deal out of it with the pointed comment that “[it] is worth noticing that some of the American soldiers mastered the Russian language very well.” Now that is interesting. How did VPK know this? Had local Russians overheard secret conversations and reported on the American activity? For the militarily concerned Russian reader of VPK there could be little doubt what the exercise was really about.

Nikita Ivanov
Sergeant Nikita Ivanov was born in Uzbekistan and speaks Russian at home.

Turns out the reality is less spectacular. VPK had ripped off the story from ERR, which is the Estonian Public Broadcasting network.1 Their Russian language channel made a report on the exercise, and two Russian speaking Americans did interviews on TV. One of them is an immigrant from Uzbekistan, and the other has Israeli roots. They gladly explained about the exercise and their Russian language skills which they use to communicate with their Estonian hosts. They also explained that most of the Americans are from Texas, so it is wonderful to get some winter practice in Estonia.

I trust that the Americans would have gotten by just fine in Estonia without a Russian interpreter, let alone two. Most Estonians speak English, and only a minority knows Russian. But the two soldiers did an outstanding performance for the Russian speaking journalist. They got almost three minutes of air time on TV during which they killed two birds with one stone. For Estonians with a Russian vernacular, the interview created a positive relation to the American soldiers. It was evidence of kinship between Russian speakers in Estonia and Russian speakers in the American Army. And for the audience in Russia, the interview was a clear warning that America is ready to face a Russian speaking enemy. They managed to send a message about strategic deterrence with a unit of about 20 soldiers on a routine exercise.

Whoever came up with this idea deserves praise. It is just marvelous info ops work.

  1. In fact the VPK article is so plagiarized that it pains me to give them the benefit of a link. And then they added a link to ERR’s front page – not even the direct link to the article and TV interview. But for completeness, the VPK article can be found here




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