Russian Lt.Col. Aleksandr Olegovich Koshel, head of the Information Countermeasures and Operations Cover-up Department of the 58th Army of the Southern Military District of the Russian Armed Forces, was discovered and offered to surrender near the town of Polohy in Zaporizhzhia Region on March 22. He immediately became a Ukrainian media darling for his love for underpants and socks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine which he proudly wore that day. To be fair, they are made of a really good quality cotton.
Koshel turned out to be a very valuable cadre, so much so that the Russian army raised aviation to free him, but to no avail.
The lieutenant colonel has already been exchanged by now. However, Ukraine gave him a thumb-up for allowing to peek into the underworld of the Russian information and psychological warfare with insights on how it has been structured and how psychological operations (PsyOps) are carried out.
The fact that Koshel was in direct contact with the commander of the 58th Army, Mikhail Zusk, testifies to the prominence of PsyOps units in the Russian Army. Commander Zusk himself is a no stranger to the Ukrainian readers as he is known for a failed Russian offensive near Mykolaiv.
What are Russian information and psychological troops doing at the front
PsyOps units in the Russian Army operate at all levels. According to the PoW, their main tasks include:
- Setting up monitoring of the info sphere in order to provide the senior commander (e.g., commander of the military district) with daily updates on social and political situation in the area of responsibility.
- Protecting own assets (commanders and personnel, info infrastructure) from any adverse influence of the enemy.
- Producing and distributing information materials with the aim of influencing the local population.
To achieve these goals, each PsyOps group has appropriate equipment at its disposal. In particular, three “ZS-88” PsyOps vehicles with loudspeakers based on “BTR-80” APC. Lt.Col. Koshel said though that all his machines had been out of order and not in use.
A PsyOps group is capable of developing, printing and distributing printed products. It operates “Etan” mobile printing complex installed on the “Ural” truck. Each PsyOps group has one such complex.
The “Etan” complex includes a digital duplicator capable of printing daily up to the maximum of 10,000 leaflets (if b/w, with no images) and a TV signal monitoring system that includes a TV set and a 4-meter antenna installed on the machine. As per obtained information, the distribution of printed products is typically carried out in person by the Russian Guard troops and not via propaganda shells fired by the artillery to the enemy positions.
Also, the personnel of the PsyOps group can be involved in sending SMS messages using the Leer-3 complex. These complexes are assigned to electronic warfare (EW) units of conventional troops but are used in the interests of the PsyOps group if there is an order of the military district. Within the 58th Field Army of the Southern Military District, the Leer-3 complexes are in service in the 19th and 42nd Motorized Rifle Divisions, one complex per division.
Russian PyOps troops are also proactive on the Internet. So, special Telegram app channels were created, targeting all occupied cities. Koshel mentioned the following channels:
- New Melitopol (t.me/NowMelitopol)
- Administration of the city of Melitopol (t.me/melitopoladmin)
- Melitopol incident (t.me/melitopol_in)
- Berdyansk Z-tomorrow (t.me/brd_zavtra)
- Berdyansk. Officially (t.me/glava_brd)
- Zaporizhzhia Today (t.me/ZAPOROZHIE24)
- Southern Bridgehead (t.me/yug_plazdarm)
- De-Nazifying UA (t.me/denazi_UA)
- Mariupol Z (t.me/mariupol_z)
- Inside Donetsk (t.me/inside_donetsk)
How the Russian PsyOps troops are organized
Lt.Col. Koshel kindly confirmed and supplemented the already available data on the org chart of the Russian PsyOps troops.
So, within the Main Department of Russia’s General Staff (formerly, GRU), the 12th Department carries out special measures in info sphere through subordinate military units sprinkled across the armed forces. There are at least four military units – #03138 in Yekaterinburg, #03134 in Khabarovsk, # 03126 in Sertolovo-2 close to St Petersburg, and #03128 in Rostov-on-Don – that apparently conduct special measures to achieve psychological influence. As per various information sources, the clandestine name of these units is the “Military Foreign Information and Communications Center” or “separate group of psychological operations.” However, according to A.Koshel, units with the clandestine name “Center of Military Foreign Information and Communications” do not exist at all. Also, A.Koshel noted that information about the Main Department of the General Staff and its subordinate military units is very secretive, and servicemen of the Russian armed forces hardly ever discuss these topics among themselves due to the fear of persecution by law enforcement agencies.
Koshel was so kind as to share the names of his immediate superiors at the 58th Army. Those are:
- The Department Head is Col. Sergey Valeryevich Smirnov.
- The Department Deputy Head – information Warfare Section Head is Col. Ivan Vasilyevich Semenov.
- Operations Cover-up Section Head is Col. Igor Aleksandrovich Yershov.
Based on A.Koshel’s data and other intel, it is possible to reproduce the complete management structure of the Russian PsyOps troops.