On 5 September 2022, the Ukrainians launched a counterattack retaking an estimated 3,000 square kilometres and growing in the Kharkiv region (as of 10 September 2022).

This counter-offensive is such a huge achievement for the Ukrainians that Ben Hodges, retired lieutenant general and former commander US Army in Europe described it as ‘operational art’. In contrast for the Russians, it has been assessed as one of the worst setbacks since the first weeks of the war and led to panic amongst the Russian troops and the abandonment of much of their equipment.

In this article, I aim to discuss a key element of the success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive; being their implementation of information operations via utilisation of mainstream media and deception tactics which caused mass Russian confusion and, ultimately, success for the Ukrainians.

Information operations

The Military Appreciation Process highlights the importance of considering various battlespace operating systems such as ‘command and control’ and ‘offensive support’. One element that can be utilised as a consideration is ‘information operations’, which is defined by doctrine as the following:

‘The operational level planning and execution of coordinated, synchronised and integrated lethal and non-lethal actions against the capability, will and understanding of target systems and/or target audiences, particularly decision-making, while protecting and enhancing our own.’

Information operations can be a useful tactical consideration that could be used to manipulate or influence the opposing force by making a decision that could lead to the success of the operation for friendly forces.

In the context of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, an example can be seen with ‘Operation Fortitude’ during World War Two. The operation was a deception plan in preparation of the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944. The Allies created a falsehood of rubber tanks, landing craft of wood and fabric, various air bases with dummy buildings, as well as aircraft in the southern and eastern counties of the United Kingdom. The effect of the operation led to Hitler believing that the invasion was going to occur in Calais, France and in turn the Germans shifted a majority of their forces there. Such a deception proved to be a key element leading to the success of the Normandy Landings.

The example of ‘Operation Fortitude’ demonstrates that information operations should play a pivotal role in military planning and can be a key element for a success in battle.

Information operations and the Ukrainian counter-offensive

The Ukrainian general staff utilised information operations by harnessing the mainstream media to talk about a major counter-offensive in the south (being the Kherson frontline) when at the same time, they were shifting almost five brigades of troops and equipment to the Kharkiv region.

In particular, Taras Berezovets, a former national security adviser turned press officer for the Bohun brigade of Ukraine’s special forces, described it as a ‘big special disinformation operation’ and he described the effect as the following:

“[Russia] thought it would be in the south and moved their equipment. Then, instead of the south, the offensive happened where they least expected, and this caused them to panic and flee.”

The ‘big special disinformation operation’ contained the following key elements (that have been disclosed so far):

  1. On 29 August 2022, the Ukrainian Southern Command announced that the long-anticipated offensive in the Kherson region had started. Despite the announcement, there was no evidence of any action to take any villages.
  1. Thereafter the previous two weeks from 11 September 2022, the Southern Ukrainian forces took several villages, and in turn, it became headline international news.
  1. The Ukrainians also took steps in rooting out Russian informants in the Kharkiv region to prevent any leaking of information.

The effect of the above events caused the Russians to move equipment and personnel to the southern front, including some from the Kharkiv region.

It is evident that the information operation was a key element in ensuring the success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive due it affecting the decision making of the Russians. Distraction led the Russians to believe and accept that the main offensive of the Ukrainians was occurring at the Kherson frontline and, to that end, provoking the Russians to move additional personnel and equipment to that frontline.

The Russian’s decision to shift personnel and equipment arguably weakened the Kharkiv area and in turn allowed the Ukrainians to advance significantly, leading to a Russian ‘large-scale retreat from Kharkiv’.

A key takeaway from the information operation by the Ukrainians is that it caused a disproportionate effect that led to the success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive. By causing the Russians to be more cautious in their decisions and shift personnel and equipment to the Kherson frontline, it played an integral part to the Ukrainian’s success.

The actions of the Ukrainians also highlighted the potential lack of intelligence gathering and reconnaissance from the Russians. By accepting the announcements from the Ukrainians and being unable to rely on their human intelligence sources to verify it, the Russian military was limited in their ability to counter such an information campaign. The Ukrainians likely knew this and exploited this weakness to great effect.


The information operation or the ‘big special disinformation operation’ showed how successful such a consideration can be in an operation by shaping Russian movements towards a potentially fatal operational decision. By shifting personnel and equipment to the Southern/Kherson frontline, the Russians weakened their defences in the Kharkiv area and enabled the Ukrainian forces to conduct a very successful counter-offensive.