Red Storm Risingby Tom Clancy
With that shrill cry, three Muslim terrorists blow up a key Soviet oil complex, creating a critical oil shortage that threatens the stability of the USSR.
To offer the effects of this disaster, members of the Politburo and the KGB devise a brilliant plan of diplomatic trickery - a sequence of events designed to pit the NATO allies against each… See more details below
With that shrill cry, three Muslim terrorists blow up a key Soviet oil complex, creating a critical oil shortage that threatens the stability of the USSR.
To offer the effects of this disaster, members of the Politburo and the KGB devise a brilliant plan of diplomatic trickery - a sequence of events designed to pit the NATO allies against each other - a distraction calculated to enable the Soviets to seize all the oil in the Persian Gulf.
But as this spellbinding story of international intrigue and global politics nears its climax, the Soviets are faced with another prospect, one they hadn't planned on: a full-scale conflict in which nobody can win.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - The Slow Fuse
Chapter 2 - Odd Man In
Chapter 3 - Correlation of Forces
Chapter 4 - Maskirovka 1
Chapter 5 - Sailors and Spooks
Chapter 6 - The Watchers
Chapter 7 - Initial Observations
Chapter 8 - Further Observations
Chapter 9 - A Final Look
Chapter 10 - Remember, Remember
Chapter 11 - Order of Battle
Chapter 12 - Funeral Arrangements
Chapter 13 - The Strangers Arrive and Depart
Chapter 14 - Gas
Chapter 15 - The Bastion Gambit
Chapter 16 - Last Moves/First Moves
Chapter 17 - The Frisbees of Dreamland
Chapter 18 - Polar Glory
Chapter 19 - Journeys End/Journeys Begin
Chapter 20 - The Dance of the Vampires
Chapter 21 - Nordic Hammer
Chapter 22 - Ripostes
Chapter 23 - Returns
Chapter 24 - Rape
Chapter 25 - Treks
Chapter 26 - Impressions
Chapter 27 - Casualties
Chapter 28 - Breakthroughs
Chapter 29 - Remedies
Chapter 30 - Approaches
Chapter 31 - Demons
Chapter 32 - New Names, New Faces
Chapter 33 - Contact
Chapter 34 - Feelers
Chapter 35 - Time on Target
Chapter 36 - Shoot-out at 31 West!
Chapter 37 - The Race of the Cripples
Chapter 38 - Stealth on the Rocks
Chapter 39 - The Shores of Stykkisholmur
Chapter 40 - The Killing Ground
Chapter 41 - Targets of Opportunity
Chapter 42 - The Resolution of Conflict
Chapter 43 - A Walk in the Woods
A CHILLING RING OF TRUTH.”
Red Storm Rising
A chillingly authentic vision of modern war,
Red Storm Rising is as powerful as it is ambitious.
Using the latest advancements in military technology the world’s superpowers battle on land, sea, and air for ultimate global control. It is a story you will never forget. Hard-hitting. Suspenseful. And frighteningly real.
“EXCITING...FAST AND FURIOUS.”
“A RATTLING GOOD YARN...
LOTS OF ACTION.”
—THE NEW YORK TIMES
Novels by Tom Clancy
THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER
RED STORM RISING
THE CARDINAL OF THE KREMLIN
CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS
DEBT OF HONOR
THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON
THE TEETH OF THE TIGER
SSN: STRATEGIES OF SUBMARINE WARFARE
Created by Tom Clancy
TOM CLANCY’S SPLINTER CELL
TOM CLANCY’S SPLINTER CELL: OPERATION BARRACUDA
TOM CLANCY’S SPLINTER CELL: CHECKMATE
TOM CLANCY’S SPLINTER CELL: FALLOUT
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The quote on page vii is from Keepers of the Sea, copyright © 1983, U.S. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
RED STORM RISING
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 1986 by Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd. and Larry Bond.
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It is impossible for Larry and me to thank all those who assisted us in so many ways in the preparation of this book. Were we to try, we would leave out the names of people whose contributions were more than merely important. To all those who gave freely of their time, answering endless questions, then explaining their answers at length—we know who you are and what you did. All of you are in this book. Particular thanks, however, are due to the captain, officers, and the men of FFG-26, who for one marvelous week showed an ignorant landlubber something of what it means to be a sailor.
From time immemorial, the purpose of a navy has been to influence, and sometimes decide, issues on land. This was so with the Greeks of antiquity; the Romans, who created a navy to defeat Carthage; the Spanish, whose armada tried and failed to conquer England; and, most eminently, in the Atlantic and Pacific during two world wars. The sea has always given man inexpensive transport and ease of communication over long distances. It has also provided concealment, because being over the horizon meant being out of sight and effectively beyond reach. The sea has supplied mobility, capability, and support throughout Western history, and those failing in the sea-power test—notably Alexander, Napoleon and Hitler—also failed the longevity one.
—Edward L. Beach, in Keepers of the Sea
This book began sometime ago. I got to know Larry Bond through an advertisement in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, when I purchased his war game, “Harpoon.” It turned out to be amazingly useful, and served as a primary source for The Hunt for Red October. I was intrigued enough about it that I drove to a wargamers’ convention that summer (1982) to meet him in person, and we ended up becoming close friends.
In 1983, while Red October was in pre-production, Larry and I started talking about one of his projects: “Convoy-84,” a macrowargame or “campaign” game which, using the “Harpoon” system, would fight out a new Battle of the North Atlantic. I thought this was fascinating and we began talking about building a book around the idea, since, we both agreed, no one outside the Defense Department had ever examined in adequate detail what such a campaign would be like with modern weapons. The more we talked, the better the idea got. Soon we were fiddling with an outline and trying to find a way to limit the scenario to a manageable scope—but to do so without removing any essential elements from the stage. (This proved to be a problem without a really adequate solution, despite endless discussion and not a few violent disagreements!)
Although Larry’s name does not appear on the title page, this book is his as much as mine. We never did figure out the division of labor, but what Larry and I accomplished was to complete a book as co-authors when our only contract was a handshake—and have a whole lot of fun doing it! It is for the reader to decide how successful we have been.
The Slow Fuse
They moved swiftly, silently, with purpose, under a crystalline, star-filled night in western Siberia. They were Muslims, though one could scarcely have known it from their speech, which was Russian, though inflected with the singsong Azerbaijani accent that wrongly struck the senior members of the engineering staff as entertaining. The three of them had just completed a complex task in the truck and train yards, the opening of hundreds of loading valves. Ibrahim Tolkaze was their leader, though he was not in front. Rasul was in front, the massive former sergeant in the MVD who had already killed six men this cold night—three with a pistol hidden under his coat and three with his hands alone. No one had heard them. An oil refinery is a noisy place. The bodies were left in shadows, and the three men entered Tolkaze’s car for the next part of their task.
Central Control was a modern three-story building fittingly in the center of the complex. For at least five kilometers in all directions stretched the cracking towers, storage tanks, catalytic chambers, and above all the thousands of kilometers of large-diameter pipe which made Nizhnevartovsk one of the world’s largest refining complexes. The sky was lit at uneven intervals by waste-gas fires, and the air was foul with the stink of petroleum distillates: aviation kerosene, gasoline, diesel fuel, benzine, nitrogen tetroxide for intercontinental missiles, lubricating oils of various grades, and complex petrochemicals identified only by their alphanumeric prefixes.
They approached the brick-walled, windowless building in Tolkaze’s personal Zhiguli, and the engineer pulled into his reserved parking place, then walked alone to the door as his comrades crouched in the back seat.
Inside the glass door, Ibrahim greeted the security guard, who smiled back, his hand outstretched for Tolkaze’s security pass. The need for security here was quite real, but since it dated back over forty years, no one took it more seriously than any of the pro forma bureaucratic complexities in the Soviet Union. The guard had been drinking, the only form of solace in this harsh, cold land. His eyes were not focusing and his smile was too fixed. Tolkaze fumbled handing over his pass, and the guard lurched down to retrieve it. He never came back up. Tolkaze’s pistol was the last thing the man felt, a cold circle at the base of his skull, and he died without knowing why—or even how. Ibrahim went behind the guard’s desk to get the weapon the man had been only too happy to display for the engineers he’d protected. He lifted the body and moved it awkwardly to leave it slumped at the desk—just another swingshift worker asleep at his post—then waved his comrades into the building. Rasul and Mohammet raced to the door.
“It is time, my brothers.” Tolkaze handed the AK-47 rifle and ammo belt to his taller friend.
Rasul hefted the weapon briefly, checking to see that a round was chambered and the safety off. Then he slung the ammunition belt over his shoulder and snapped the bayonet in place before speaking for the first time that night: “Paradise awaits.”
Tolkaze composed himself, smoothed his hair, straightened his tie, and clipped the security pass to his white laboratory coat before leading his comrades up the six flights of stairs.
Ordinary procedure dictated that to enter the master control room, one first had to be recognized by one of the operations staffers. And so it happened. Nikolay Barsov seemed surprised when he saw Tolkaze through the door’s tiny window.
“You’re not on duty tonight, Isha.”
“One of my valves went bad this afternoon and I forgot to check the repair status before I went off duty. You know the one—the auxiliary feed valve on kerosene number eight. If it’s still down tomorrow we’ll have to reroute, and you know what that means.”
Barsov grunted agreement. “True enough, Isha.” The middle-aged engineer thought Tolkaze liked the semi-Russian diminutive. He was badly mistaken. “Stand back while I open this damned hatch.”
The heavy steel door swung outward. Barsov hadn’t been able to see Rasul and Mohammet before, and scarcely had time now. Three 7.62mm rounds from the Kalashnikov exploded into his chest.
The master control room contained a duty watch crew of twenty, and looked much like the control center for a railroad or power plant. The high walls were crosshatched with pipeline schematics dotted with hundreds of lights to indicate which control valve was doing what. That was only the main display. Individual segments of the system were broken off onto separate status boards, mainly controlled by computer but constantly monitored by half the duty engineers. The staff could not fail to note the sound of the three shots.
But none of them were armed.
With elegant patience, Rasul began to work his way across the room, using his Kalashnikov expertly and firing one round into each watch engineer. At first they tried to run away—until they realized that Rasul was herding them into a corner like cattle, killing as he moved. Two men bravely got on their command phones to summon a fast-response team of KGB security troops. Rasul shot one of them at his post, but the other ducked around the line of command consoles to evade the gunfire and bolted for the door, where Tolkaze stood. It was Boris, Tolkaze saw, the Party favorite, head of the local kollektiv, the man who had “befriended” him, making him the special pet native of the Russian engineers. Ibrahim could remember every time this godless pig had patronized him, the savage foreigner imported to amuse his Russian masters. Tolkaze raised his pistol.
“Ishaaa!” the man screamed in terror and shock. Tolkaze shot him in the mouth, and hoped Boris didn’t die too quickly to hear the contempt in his voice: “Infidel.” He was pleased that Rasul had not killed this one. His quiet friend could have all the rest.
The other engineers screamed, threw cups, chairs, manuals. There was nowhere left to run, no way around the swarthy, towering killer. Some held up their hands in useless supplication. Some even prayed aloud—but not to Allah, which might have saved them. The noise diminished as Rasul strode up to the bloody corner. He smiled as he shot the very last, knowing that this sweating infidel pig would serve him in paradise. He reloaded his rifle, then went back through the control room. He prodded each body with his bayonet, and again shot the four that showed some small sign of life. His face bore a grim, content expression. At least twenty-five atheist pigs dead. Twenty-five foreign invaders who would no longer stand between his people and their God. Truly he had done Allah’s work!
The third man, Mohammet, was already at his own work as Rasul took his station at the top of the staircase. Working in the back of the room, he switched the room systems-control mode from computer-automatic to emergency-manual, bypassing all of the automated safety systems.
A methodical man, Ibrahim had planned and memorized every detail of his task over a period of months, but still he had a checklist in his pocket. He unfolded it now and set it next to his hand on the master supervisory control board. Tolkaze looked around at the status displays to orient himself, then paused.
From his back pocket he took his most treasured personal possession, half of his grandfather’s Koran, and opened it to a random page. It was a passage in The Chapter of the Spoils. His grandfather having been killed during the futile rebellions against Moscow, his father shamed by helpless subservience to the infidel state, Tolkaze had been seduced by Russian schoolteachers into joining their godless system. Others had trained him as an oil-field engineer to work at the State’s most valuable facility in Azerbaijan. Only then had the God of his fathers saved him, through the words of an uncle, an “unregistered” imam who had remained faithful to Allah and safeguarded this tattered fragment of the Koran that had accompanied one of Allah’s own warriors. Tolkaze read the passage under his hand:
And when the misbelievers plotted to keep thee prisoner, or kill thee, or drive thee forth, they plotted well; but God plotted, too. And God is the best of plotters.
Tolkaze smiled, certain that it was the final Sign in a plan being executed by hands greater than his own. Serene and confident, he began to fulfill his destiny.
First the gasoline. He closed sixteen control valves—the nearest of them three kilometers away—and opened ten, which rerouted eighty million liters of gasoline to gush out from a bank of truck-loading valves. The gasoline did not ignite at once. The three had left no pyrotechnic devices to explode this first of many disasters. Tolkaze reasoned that if he were truly doing the work of Allah, then his God would surely provide.
And so He did. A small truck driving through the loading yard took a turn too fast, skidded on the splashing fuel, and slid broadside into a utility pole. It only took one spark . . . and already more fuel was spilling out into the train yards.
With the master pipeline switches, Tolkaze had a special plan. He rapidly typed in a computer command, thanking Allah that Rasul was so skillful and had not damaged anything important with his rifle. The main pipeline from the nearby production field was two meters across, with many branchlines running to all of the production wells. The oil traveling in those pipes had its own mass and its own momentum supplied by pumping stations in the fields. Ibrahim’s commands rapidly opened and closed valves. The pipeline ruptured in a dozen places, and the computer commands left the pumps on. The escaping light crude flowed across the production field, where only one more spark was needed to spread a holocaust before the winter wind, and another break occurred where the oil and gas pipelines crossed together over the river Ob’.
“The greenskins are here!” Rasul shouted a moment before the quick-response team of KGB border guards stormed up the staircase. A short burst from the Kalashnikov killed the first two, and the rest of the squad stopped cold behind a turn in the staircase as their young sergeant wondered what the hell they had walked into.
Already, automatic alarms were erupting around him in the control room. The master status board showed four growing fires whose borders were defined by blinking red lights. Tolkaze walked to the master computer and ripped out the tape spool that contained the digital control codes. The spares were in the vault downstairs, and the only men within ten kilometers who knew its combination were in this room—dead. Mohammet was busily ripping out every telephone in the room. The whole building shook with the explosion of a gasoline storage tank two kilometers away.
The crashing sound of a hand grenade announced another move by the KGB troops. Rasul returned fire, and the screams of dying men nearly equaled the earsplitting fire-alarm klaxons. Tolkaze hurried over to the corner. The floor there was slick with blood. He opened the door to the electrical fusebox, flipped the main circuit breaker, then fired his pistol into the box. Whoever tried to set things aright would also have to work in the dark.
He was done. Ibrahim saw that his massive friend had been mortally hit in the chest by grenade fragments. He was wobbling, struggling to stay erect at the door, guarding his comrades to the last.
“‘I take refuge in the Lord of the worlds,’ ” Tolkaze called out defiantly to the security troops, who spoke not a word of Arabic. “ ‘The King of men, the God of men, from the evil of the whispering devil—’ ”
The KGB sergeant leaped around the lower landing and his first burst tore the rifle from Rasul’s bloodless hands. Two hand grenades arched through the air as the sergeant disappeared back around the corner.
There was no place—and no reason—to run. Mohammet and Ibrahim stood immobile in the doorway as the grenades bounced and skittered across the tiled floor. Around them the whole world seemed to be catching fire, and because of them, the whole world really would.
“God almighty!” the chief master sergeant breathed. The fire which had begun in the gasoline/diesel section of the refinery had been sufficient to alert a strategic early-warning satellite in geosynchronous orbit twenty-four thousand miles above the Indian Ocean. The signal was downlinked to a top-security U.S. Air Force post.
The senior watch officer in the Satellite Control Facility was an Air Force colonel. He turned to his senior technician: “Map it.”
“Yes, sir.” The sergeant typed a command into his console, which told the satellite cameras to alter their sensitivity. With the flaring on the screen reduced, the satellite rapidly pinpointed the source of the thermal energy. A computer-controlled map on the screen adjacent to the visual display gave them an exact location reference. “Sir, that’s an oil refinery fire. Jeez, and it looks like a real pisser! Colonel, we got a Big Bird pass in twenty minutes and the course track is within a hundred twenty kilometers.”
“Uh-huh,” the colonel nodded. He watched the screen closely to make sure that the heat source was not moving, his right hand lifting the Gold Phone to NORAD headquarters, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado.
“This is Argus Control. I have Flash Traffic for CINC-NORAD.”
“Wait one,” said the first voice.
“This is CINC-NORAD,” said the second, Commander-in-Chief of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
“Sir, this is Colonel Burnette at Argus Control. We show a massive thermal energy reading at coordinates sixty degrees fifty minutes north, seventy-six degrees forty minutes east. The site is listed as a POL refinery. The thermal source is not, repeat not moving. We have a KH-11 pass close to the source in two-zero minutes. My preliminary evaluation, General, is that we have a major oil-field fire here.”
“They’re not doing a laser-flash on your bird?” CINC-NORAD asked. There was always a possibility the Soviets were trying to play games with their satellite.
“Negative. The light source covers infrared and all of the visible spectrum, not, repeat not, monochromatic. We’ll know more in a few minutes, sir. So far everything is consistent with a massive ground fire.”
Thirty minutes later they were sure. The KH-11 reconnaissance satellite came over the horizon close enough for all of its eight television cameras to catalog the chaos. A side-link transmitted the signal to a geosynchronous communications satellite, and Burnette was able to watch it all “in real time.” Live and in color. The fire had already engulfed half of the refinery complex and more than half of the nearby production field, with more burning crude oil spreading from the ruptured pipeline onto the river Ob’. They were able to watch the fire spread, the flames carried rapidly before a forty-knot surface wind. Smoke obscured much of the area on visible light, but infrared sensors penetrated it to show many heat sources that could only be vast pools of oil products burning intensely on the ground. Burnette’s sergeant was from east Texas, and had worked as a boy in the oil fields. He keyed up daylight photographs of the site and compared them with the adjacent visual display to determine what parts of the refinery had already ignited.
“Goddamn, Colonel.” The sergeant shook his head reverently. He spoke with quiet expertise. “The refinery—well, it’s gone, sir. That fire’ll spread in front of that wind, and ain’t no way in hell they’ll stop it. The refinery’s gone, total loss, burn maybe three, four days—maybe a week, parts of it. And unless they find a way to stop it, looks like the production field is going to go, too, sir. By next pass, sir, it’ll all be burnin’, all those wellheads spillin’ burnin’ o’l . . . Lordy, I don’t even think Red Adair would want any part of this job!”
“Nothing left of the refinery? Hmph.” Burnette watched a tape rerun of the Big Bird pass. “It’s their newest and biggest, ought to put a dent in their POL production while they rebuild that from scratch. And once they get those field fires put out, they’ll have to rearrange their gas and diesel production quite a bit. I’ll say one thing for Ivan. When he has an industrial accident, he doesn’t screw around. A major inconvenience for our Russian friends, Sergeant.”
This analysis was confirmed the next day by the CIA, and the day after that by the British and French security services.
They were all wrong.
Odd Man In
DATE-TIME 01/31-06: 15 COPY 01 of 01 SOVIET FIRE
BC-Soviet Fire, Bjt, 1809•FL•
Disastrous Fire Reported in Soviet Nizhnevartovsk Oil Field•FL•
EDS: Moved in advance for WEDNESDAY PMS•FL• By William Blake •FC•
AP Military/Intelligence Writer
WASHINGTON (AP)—“The most serious oil field fire since the Mexico City disaster of 1984, or even the Texas City fire of 1947,” sundered the darkness in the central region of the Soviet Union today, according to military and intelligence sources in Washington.
The fire was detected by American “National Technical Means,” a term that generally denotes reconnaissance satellites operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. CIA sources declined comment on the incident.
Sources in the Pentagon confirmed this report, noting that the energy given off by the fire was sufficient to cause a brief stir in the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which was concerned that the fire was a possible missile launch directed at the United States, or an attempt to blind American Early-Warning satellites with a laser or other ground-based device.
At no time, the source pointed out, was there any thought of increasing American alert levels, or of bringing American nuclear forces to higher states of readiness. “It was all over in less than thirty minutes,” the source said.
No confirmation was received from the Russian news agency, TASS, but the Soviets rarely publish reports of such incidents.
The fact that American officials referred to two epic industrial accidents is an indication that many fatalities might result from this major fire. Defense sources were unwilling to speculate on the possibility of civilian casualties. The city of Nizhnevartovsk is bordered by the petroleum complex.
The Nizhnevartovsk oil production field accounts for roughly 31.3 percent of total Soviet crude oil, according to the American Petroleum Institute, and the adjacent, newly built Nizhnevartovsk refinery for approximately 17.3 percent of petroleum distillate production.
“Fortunately for them,” Donald Evans, a spokesman for the Institute explained, “oil underground is pretty hard to burn, and you can expect the fire to burn itself out in a few days.” The refinery, however, depending on how much of it was involved, could be a major expense. “When they go, they usually go pretty big,” Evans said. “But the Russians have sufficient excess refining capacity to take up the slack, especially with all the work they’ve been doing at their Moscow complex.”
Evans was unable to speculate on the cause of the fire, saying, “The climate could have something to do with it. We had a few problems in the Alaskan fields that took some careful work to solve. Beyond that, any refinery is a potential Disneyland for fire, and there simply is no substitute for intelligent, careful, well-trained crews to run them.”
This is the latest in a series of setbacks to the Soviet oil industry. It was admitted only last fall at the plenum of the Communist Party Central Committee that production goals in both the Eastern Siberian fields “had not entirely fulfilled earlier hopes.”
This seemingly mild statement is being seen in Western circles as a stinging indictment of the policies of now-departed Petroleum Industry minister Zatyzhin, since replaced by Mikhail Sergetov, former chief of the Leningrad Party apparatus, regarded as a rising star in the Soviet Party. A technocrat with a background of engineering and Party work, Sergetov’s task of reorganizing the Soviet oil industry is seen as a task that could last years. AP-BA-01-31 0501EST•FL•
* *END OF STORY* *
Mikhail Eduardovich Sergetov never had a chance to read the wire service report. Summoned from his official dacha in the birch forests surrounding Moscow, he’d flown at once to Nizhnevartovsk and stayed for only ten hours before being recalled to make his report in Moscow. Three months on the job, he thought, sitting in the empty forward cabin of the IL-86 airliner, and this has to happen!
His two principal deputies, a pair of skilled young engineers, had been left behind and were trying even now to make sense of the chaos, to save what could be saved, as he reviewed his notes for the Politburo meeting later in the day. Three hundred men were known to have died fighting the fire, and, miraculously, fewer than two hundred citizens in the city of Nizhnevartovsk. That was unfortunate, but not a matter of great significance except insofar as those trained men killed would eventually have to be replaced by other trained men drawn from the staffs of other large refineries.
The refinery was almosty totally destroyed. Reconstruction would take a minimum of two to three years, and would account for a sizable percentage of national steel pipe production, plus all the other specialty items unique to a facility of this type: Fifteen thousand million rubles. And how much of the special equipment would have to be purchased from foreign sources—how much precious hard currency and gold would be wasted?
And that was the good news.
The bad news: the fire that had engulfed the production field had totally destroyed the welltops. Time to replace: at least thirty-six months!
Thirty-six months, Sergetov reflected bleakly, if we can divert the drillrigs and crews to redrill every damned well and at the same time rebuild the EOR systems. For a minimum of eighteen months the Soviet Union will have an enormous shortfall in oil production. Probably more like thirty months. What will happen to our economy?
He pulled a pad of lined paper from his briefcase and began to make some calculations. It was a three-hour flight, and Sergetov did not notice it was over until the pilot came back to announce they had landed.
He looked with squinted eyes at the snow-covered landscape of Vnukovo-2, the VIP-only airport outside of Moscow, and walked alone down the boarding stairs to a waiting ZIL limousine. The car sped off at once, without stopping at any of the security checkpoints. The shivering militia officers snapped to attention as the ZIL passed, then returned to the business of keeping warm in the subzero temperatures. The sun was bright, the sky clear but for some thin, high clouds. Sergetov looked vacantly out the windows, his mind mulling over figures he had already rechecked a half-dozen times. The Politburo was waiting for him, his KGB driver told him.
Sergetov had been a “candidate,” or nonvoting member, of the Politburo for just six months, which meant that, along with his eight other junior colleagues, he advised the thirteen men who alone made the decisions that mattered in the Soviet Union. His portfolio was energy production and distribution. He had held that post since September, and was only beginning to establish his plan for a total reorganization of the seven regional and all-union ministries that handled energy functions—and predictably spent most of their time battling one another—into a full department that reported directly to the Politburo and Party Secretariat, instead of having to work through the Council of Ministers bureaucracy. He briefly closed his eyes to thank God—there might be one, he reasoned—that his first recommendation, delivered only a month earlier, had concerned security and political reliability in many of the fields. He had specifically recommended further Russification of the largely “foreign” workforce. For this reason, he did not fear for his own career, which up to now had been an uninterrupted success story. He shrugged. The task he was about to face would decide his future in any case. And perhaps his country’s.
The ZIL proceeded down Leningradskiy Prospekt, which turned into Gor’kogo, the limousine speeding through the center lane that policemen kept clear of traffic for the exclusive use of the vlasti. They motored past the Intourist Hotel into Red Square, and finally approached the Kremlin gate. Here the driver did stop for the security checks, three of them, conducted by KGB troops and soldiers of the Taman Guards. Five minutes later the limousine pulled to the door of the Council of Ministers building, the sole modern structure in the fortress. The guards here knew Sergetov by sight, and saluted crisply as they held open the door so that his exposure to the freezing temperatures would last but a brief span of seconds.
The Politburo had been holding its meetings in this fourth-floor room for only a month while their usual quarters in the old Arsenal building were undergoing a belated renovation. The older men grumbled at the loss of the old Czarist comforts, but Sergetov preferred the modernity. About time, he thought, that the men of the Party surrounded themselves with the works of socialism instead of the moldy trappings of the Romanovs.
The room was deathly quiet as he entered. Had this been in the Arsenal, the fifty-four-year-old technocrat reflected, the atmosphere would have been altogether like a funeral—and there had been all too many of those. Slowly, the Party was running out of the old men who had survived Stalin’s terror, and the current crop of members, all “young” men in their fifties or early sixties, was finally being heard. The guard was being changed. Too slowly—too damned slowly—for Sergetov and his generation of Party leaders, despite the new General Secretary. The man was already a grandfather. It sometimes seemed to Sergetov that by the time these old men were gone, he’d be one himself. But looking around this room now, he felt young enough.
“Good day, Comrades,” Sergetov said, handing his coat to an aide, who withdrew at once, closing the doors behind him. The other men moved at once to their seats. Sergetov took his, halfway down the right side.
The Party General Secretary brought the meeting to order. His voice was controlled and businesslike. “Comrade Sergetov, you may begin your report. First, we wish to hear your explanation of exactly what happened.”
“Comrades, at approximately twenty-three hundred hours yesterday, Moscow Time, three armed men entered the central control complex of the Nizhnevartovsk oil complex and committed a highly sophisticated act of sabotage.”
“Who were they?” the Defense Minister asked sharply.
“We only have identification for two of them. One of the bandits was a staff electrician. The third”—Sergetov pulled the ID card from his pocket and tossed it on the table—“was Senior Engineer I.M. Tolkaze. He evidently used his expert knowledge of the control systems to initiate a massive fire which spread rapidly before high winds. A security team of ten KGB border guards responded at once to the alarm. The one traitor still unidentified killed or wounded five of these with a rifle taken from the building guard, who was also shot. I must say, having interviewed the KGB sergeant—the lieutenant was killed leading his men—that the border guards responded quickly and well. They killed the traitors within minutes, but were unable to prevent the complete destruction of the facility, both the refinery and production fields.”
“And if the guards responded so fast, how then did they fail to prevent this act?” the Defense Minister demanded angrily. He examined the photographic pass with palpable hatred in his eyes. “What was this black-ass Muslim doing there in the first place?”
“Comrade, work in the Siberian fields is arduous, and we have had serious difficulties in filling the posts we have there. My predecessor decided to conscript experienced oil-field workers from the Baku region to Siberia. This was madness. You will recall that my first recommendation last year was to change this policy.”
“We have noted it, Mikhail Eduardovich,” the Chairman said. “Go on.”
“The guard post records all telephone and radio traffic. The response team was moving in under two minutes. Unfortunately, the guard post is located adjacent to the original control building. The current building was constructed three kilometers away when new computerized control equipment was obtained from the West two years ago. A new guard post was also supposed to have been built, and the proper materials were allocated for this purpose. It would appear that these building materials were misappropriated by the complex director and local Party secretary, for the purpose of building dachas on the river a few kilometers away. Both of these men have been arrested by my order, for crimes against the State,” Sergetov reported matter-of-factly. There was no reaction around the table. By unspoken consensus, those two men were sentenced to death; the formalities would be worked out by the proper ministries. Sergetov continued: “I have already ordered greatly increased security at all petroleum sites. Also on my orders, the families of the two known traitors have been arrested at their homes outside Baku and are being rigorously interrogated by State Security, along with all who knew and worked with them.
“Before the border guards were able to kill the traitors, they were able to sabotage the oil-field control systems in such a way as to create a massive conflagration. They were also able to wreck the control equipment so that even if the guard troops had been able to get a crew of engineers in to restore control, it is unlikely that anything would have been saved. The KGB troops were forced to evacuate the building, which was later consumed by the fire. There was nothing more they could have done.” Sergetov remembered the sergeant’s badly burned face, the tears flowing down over the blisters as he told his story.
“The fire brigade?” the General Secretary asked.
“More than half of them died fighting the fire,” Sergetov replied. “Along with over a hundred citizens who joined the battle to save the complex. Truly there is no blame to be assessed here, Comrade. Once this bastard Tolkaze began his devil’s work, it would have been as easy to control an earthquake. For the most part, the fire has been put out by now, due to the fact that most of the fuels stored in the refinery were consumed in about five hours; also because of the destruction of the wellheads in the oil field.”
“But how was this catastrophe possible?” a senior member asked. Sergetov was surprised by the quiet mood in the room. Had they met and discussed this affair already?
“My report of December 20 described the dangers here. This room quite literally controlled the pumps and valves for over a hundred square kilometers. The same is true of all of our large oil complexes. From the nerve center, a man familiar with control procedures could manipulate the various systems throughout the field at will, causing the entire complex quite simply to self-destruct. Tolkaze had such skill. He was an Azerbaijani chosen for special treatment for his intelligence and supposed loyalty, an honor student educated at Moscow State University and a member in good standing of the local Party. It would also seem that he was a religious fanatic capable of astounding treachery. All the people killed in the control room were friends of his—or so they thought. After fifteen years in the Party, a good salary, the professional respect of his comrades, even his own automobile, his last words were a shrill cry to Allah,” Sergetov said dryly. “The reliability of people from that region cannot be accurately predicted, Comrades.”
The Defense Minister nodded again. “So, what effect will this have on oil production?” Half the men at the table leaned forward to hear Sergetov’s answer:
“Comrades, we have lost thirty-four percent of our total crude oil production for a period of at least one year, possibly as many as three.” Sergetov looked up from his notes to see the impassive faces cringe as though from a slap. “It will be necessary to redrill every production well and finally reconstruct the pipelines from the fields to the refinery and elsewhere. The concurrent loss of the refinery is serious, but not an immediate concern since the refinery can be rebuilt, and in any case represents less than a seventh of our total refining capacity. The major injury to our economy will come from the loss of our crude oil production.
“In real terms, due to the chemical makeup of the Nizhnevartovsk oil, the net total production loss understates the actual impact on our economy. Siberian oil is ‘light, sweet’ crude, which means that it contains a disproportionately large amount of the most valuable fractions—those which we use to make gasoline, kerosene, and diesel fuel, for example. The net loss in these particular areas is forty-four percent of our gasoline production, forty-eight percent of kerosene, and fifty percent of diesel. These figures are rough calculations I made on the flight back, but they should be accurate to within two percent. My staff will have more precise figures ready in a day or so.”
“Half?” the General Secretary asked quietly.
“Correct, Comrade,” Sergetov responded.
“And how long to restore production?”
“Comrade General Secretary, if we bring in every drilling rig and operate them around the clock, my rough estimate is that we can begin to restore production in twelve months. Clearing the site of wreckage will take at least three months, and another three will be needed to relocate our equipment and commence drilling operations. Since we have exact information for well locations and depths, the usual element of uncertainty is not part of the equation. Within a year—that is, six months after we commence the redrilling—we will begin to bring the production wells back on stream, and full restoration of the wells will be achieved within two more years. While all this is going on, we will need to replace the EOR equipment also—”
“And what might that be?” Defense asked.
“Enhanced Oil Recovery systems, Comrade Minister. Had these been relatively new wells, pressurized from underground gas, the fires might have lasted for weeks. As you know, Comrades, these are wells from which a good deal of oil has already been extracted. To enhance production we have been pumping water into the wells, which has the effect of forcing more oil out. It may also have had the effect of damaging the oil-bearing strata. This is something our geologists are even now attempting to evaluate. As it was, when power was lost, the force driving the oil from the ground was removed, and the fires in the production fields rapidly began to run out of fuel. They were for the most part dying out when my flight left for Moscow.”
“So even three years from now production may not be completely restored?” the Minister of the Interior asked.
“Correct, Comrade Minister. There is simply no scientific basis for making an estimate of total production. The situation we have here has never happened before, either in the West or the East. We can drill some test wells in the next two or three months that will give us some indications. The staff engineers I left behind are making arrangements to begin the process as quickly as possible with equipment already at the site.”
“Very well,” the General Secretary nodded. “The next question is how long the country can operate on this basis.”
Sergetov went back to his notes. “Comrades, there is no denying that this is a disaster of unprecedented scale for our economy. The winter has drawn down our heavy oil inventories more than usual. Certain energy expenditures must remain relatively intact. Electrical power generation last year, for example, accounted for thirty-eight percent of our oil products, far more than planned, due to past disappointments in coal and gas production, which we had expected to reduce oil demand. The coal industry will require at least five years to restore due to failures in modernization. And gas drilling operations are currently slowed by environmental conditions. For technical reasons it is extremely hard to operate such equipment in extreme cold weather—”
“So make those lazy bastards on the drilling crews work harder!” suggested the chief of the Moscow Party.
“It is not the workers, Comrade.” Sergetov sighed. “It is the machines. Cold temperature affects metal more than men. Tools and equipment break simply because they are brittle with cold. Weather conditions make resupply of spare parts to the camps more difficult. Marxism-Leninism cannot dictate the weather.”
“How difficult would it be to conceal the drilling operations?” Defense asked.
Sergetov was surprised. “Difficult? No, Comrade Minister, impossible. How can one conceal several hundred drilling rigs, each twenty to forty meters high? One might as easily attempt to conceal Plesetsk’s missile launch complexes.” Sergetov noticed for the first time the glances being exchanged by Defense and the General Secretary.
“Then we must reduce the consumption of oil by the electrical industry,” the General Secretary pronounced.
“Comrades, allow me to give you some rough figures on the way in which we consume our oil products. Please understand that I am going from memory, since the annual departmental report is in the process of formulation at this time.
“Last year we produced 589 million tons of crude oil. This fell short of planned production by thirty-two million tons, and the amount actually produced was only possible due to the artificial measures that I have already discussed. Roughly half of that production was semirefined into mazut, or heavy fuel oil, for use in electrical power plants, factory boilers, and the like. Most of this oil simply cannot be used otherwise, since we have only three—excuse me, now only two—refineries with the sophisticated catalytic cracking chambers needed to refine heavy oil into light distillate products.
“The fuels we produce serve our economy in many ways. As we have already seen, thirty-eight percent goes for electrical and other forms of power generation, and fortunately much of this is mazut. Of the lighter fuels—diesel, gasoline, and kerosene—agricultural production and the food industries, transportation of goods and commodities, public consumption and passenger transportation, and finally military uses, these alone absorbed more than half of last year’s production. In other words, Comrades, with the loss of the Nizhnevartovsk field the end users I just mentioned account for more than we are able to produce, leaving nothing at all for metallurgy, heavy machinery, chemical, and construction uses, not to mention what we customarily export to our fraternal socialist allies in Eastern Europe and throughout the world.
“To answer your specific question, Comrade General Secretary, we can make perhaps a modest reduction in the use of light oils in electrical power usage, but even now we have a serious shortfall in electric power production, resulting in occasional brownouts and complete power outages. Further cuts in power generation will adversely affect such crucial State activities as factory production and rail transport. You will recall that three years ago we experimented with altering the voltage of generated power to conserve fuels, and this resulted in damage to electric motors throughout the Donets industrial basin.”
“What about coal and gas?”
“Comrade General Secretary, coal production is already sixteen percent below planned output, and getting worse, which has caused conversion of many coal-fired boilers and power plants to oil. Moreover, the conversion of such facilities from oil back to coal is costly and time-consuming. Conversion to gas is a much more attractive and cheaper alternative that we have been vigorously pursuing. Gas production is also under-plan, but it is improving. We had expected to exceed planned targets later this year. Here we must also account for the fact that much of our gas goes to Western Europe. It is from this that we gain Western currency with which to purchase foreign oil, and, of course, foreign grain.”
The Politburo member in charge of agriculture winced at this reference. How many men, Sergetov wondered, had been done in by their inability to make the Soviet agricultural industry perform? Not the current General Secretary, of course, who had somehow managed to advance despite his failures there. But good Marxists weren’t supposed to believe in miracles. His elevation to the titular chairmanship had had its own price, one which Sergetov was only beginning to understand.
“So, what is your solution, Mikhail Eduardovich?” the Defense Minister inquired with unsettling solicitude.
“Comrades, we must bear this burden as best we can, improving efficiency at every level of our economy.” Sergetov didn’t bother talking about increasing imports of oil. The shortfall he had explained would result in more than a thirtyfold increase in imports, and hard currency reserves would scarcely allow a doubling of foreign oil purchases. “We will need to increase production and quality control at the Barricade drilling rig factory in Volgograd, and to purchase more drilling equipment from the West so that we can expand exploration and exploitation of known fields. And we need to expand our construction of nuclear reactor plants. To conserve what production we do have, we can restrict supplies available to trucks and personal automobiles—there is much waste in this sector, as we all know, perhaps as much as a third of total usage. We can temporarily reduce the amount of fuel consumed by the military, and perhaps also divert some heavy machine production from military hardware to necessary industrial areas. We face three very hard years—but only three,” Sergetov summarized on an upbeat note.
“Comrade, your experience in foreign and defense areas is slim, no?” the Defense Minister asked.
“I have never pretended otherwise, Comrade Minister,” Sergetov answered warily.
“Then I will tell you why this situation is unacceptable. If we do what you suggest, the West will learn of our crisis. Increased purchases of oil production equipment and unconcealable signs of activity at Nizhnevartovsk will demonstrate to them all too clearly what is happening here. That will make us vulnerable in their eyes. Such vulnerability will be exploited. And, at the same time”—he pounded his fist on the heavy oak table—“you propose reducing the fuel available to the forces who defend us against the West!”
“Comrade Defense Minister, I am an engineer, not a soldier. You asked me for a technical evaluation, and I gave it.” Sergetov kept his voice reasonable. “This situation is very serious, but it does not, for example, affect our Strategic Rocket Forces. Cannot they alone shield us against the Imperialists during our recovery period?” Why else had they been built? Sergetov asked himself. All that money sunk into unproductive holes. Wasn’t it enough to be able to kill the West ten times over? Why twenty times? And now this wasn’t enough?
“And it has not occurred to you that the West will not allow us to purchase what we need?” the Party theoretician asked.
“When have the capitalists refused to sell us—”
“When have the capitalists had such a weapon to use against us?” the General Secretary observed. “For the first time, the West has the ability to strangle us in a single year. What if now they also prevent our purchase of grain?”
Sergetov hadn’t considered that. With yet another disappointing grain harvest, the seventh out of the last eleven years, the Soviet Union needed to make massive purchases of wheat. And this year America and Canada were the only reliable sources. Bad weather in the Southern Hemisphere had damaged Argentina’s harvest, and to a lesser extent Australia’s, while the U.S. and Canada had enjoyed their customary record crops. Negotiations were even now under way in Washington and Ottawa to secure such a purchase, and the Americans were making no trouble at all, except that the high value of the dollar made their grain disproportionately expensive. But that grain would take months to ship. How easy would it be, Sergetov wondered, for “technical difficulties” in the grain ports of New Orleans and Baltimore to slow or even stop shipments entirely at a crucial moment?
He looked around the table. Twenty-two men, of whom only thirteen really decided matters—and one of those was missing—were silently contemplating the prospect of over two hundred fifty million Soviet workers and peasants, all hungry and in the dark, at the same time that the troops of the Red Army, the Ministry of the Interior, and the KGB found their own fuel supplies—and because of it, their training and mobility—restricted.
The men of the Politburo were among the most powerful in the world, far more so than any of their Western counterparts. They answered to no one, not the Central Committee of the Communist Party, not the Supreme Soviet, certainly not the people of their nation. These men had not walked on the streets of Moscow for years, but been whisked by chauffeured, handmade cars to and from their luxury apartments within Moscow, or to their ceremonial dachas outside the city. They shopped, if at all, in guarded stores restricted to the elite, were served by doctors in clinics established only for the elite. Because of all this, these men regarded themselves as masters of their destiny.
It was only now beginning to strike them that like all men, they too were subject to a fate which their immense personal power merely made all the more intractable.
Around them was a country whose citizens were poorly fed and poorly housed, whose only abundant commodities were the painted signs and slogans praising Soviet Progress and Solidarity. Some of the men at this table actually believed those slogans, Sergetov knew. Sometimes he still did, mainly in homage to his idealistic youth. But Soviet Progress had not fed their nation, and how long would Soviet Solidarity endure in the hearts of people hungry, cold, in the dark? Would they be proud of the missiles in the Siberian forests then? Of the thousands of tanks and guns produced every year? Would they then look to the sky that held a Salyut space station and feel inspired—or would they wonder what kind of food was being eaten by that elite? Less than a year before, Sergetov had been a regional Party chieftain, and in Leningrad he had been careful to listen to his own staff people’s description of the jokes and grumblings in the lines which people endured for two loaves of bread, or toothpaste, or shoes. Detached even then from the harsher realities of life in the Soviet Union, he had often wondered if one day the burden of the ordinary worker would become too heavy to endure. How would he have known then? How would he know now? Would the older men here ever know?
Narod, they called it, a masculine noun that was nonetheless raped in every sense: the masses, the faceless collection of men and women who toiled every day in Moscow and throughout the nation in factories and on collective farms, their thoughts hidden behind unsmiling masks. The members of the Politburo told themselves that these workers and peasants did not grudge their leaders the luxuries that accompanied responsibility. After all, life in the country had improved in measurable terms. That was the compact. But the compact was about to be broken. What might happen then? Nicholas II had not known. These men did.
The Defense Minister broke the silence. “We must obtain more oil. It is as simple as that. The alternative is a crippled economy, hungry citizens, and reduced defense capacity. The consequences of which are not acceptable.”
“We cannot purchase oil,” a candidate member pointed out.
“Then we must take it.”
FORT MEADE, MARYLAND
Bob Toland frowned at his spice cake. I shouldn’t be eating dessert, the intelligence analyst reminded himself. But the National Security Agency commissary served this only once a week, and spice cake was his favorite, and it was only about two hundred calories. That was all. An extra five minutes on the exercise bike when he got home.
“What did you think of that article in the paper, Bob?” a co-worker asked.
“The oil-field thing?” Toland rechecked the man’s security badge. He wasn’t cleared for satellite intelligence. “Sounds like they had themselves quite a fire.”
“You didn’t see anything official on it?”
“Let’s just say that the leak in the papers came from a higher security clearance than I have.”
“Top Secret—Press?” Both men laughed.
“Something like that. The story had information that I haven’t seen,” Toland said, speaking the truth, mostly. The fire was out, and people in his department had been speculating on how Ivan had put it out so fast. “Shouldn’t hurt them too bad. I mean, they don’t have millions of people taking to the road on summer vacations, do they?”
“Not hardly. How’s the cake?”
“Not bad.” Toland smiled, already wondering if he needed the extra time on the bike.
The Politburo reconvened at nine-thirty the next morning. The sky outside the double-paned windows was gray and curtained with the heavy snow that was beginning to fall again, adding to the half-meter already on the ground. There would be sledding tonight on the hills of Gorkiy Park, Sergetov thought. The snow would be cleared off the two frozen lakes for skating under the lights to the music of Tschaikovskiy and Prokofiev. Moscovites would laugh and drink their vodka and savor the cold, blissfully ignorant of what was about to be said here, of the turns that all of their lives would take.
The main body of the Politburo had adjourned at four the previous afternoon, and then the five men who made up the Defense Council had met alone. Not even all of the full Politburo members were privy to that decision-making body.
Overseeing them at the far end of the room was a full-length portrait of Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov—Lenin, the revolutionary saint of Soviet Communism, his domed forehead thrown back as though in a fresh breeze, his piercing eyes looking off toward the glorious future which his stern face confidently proclaimed, which the “science” of Marxism-Leninism called a historic inevitability. A glorious future. Which future? Sergetov asked himself. What has become of our Revolution? What has become of our Party? Did Comrade Ilych really mean it to be like this?
Sergetov looked at the General Secretary, the “young” man supposed by the West to be fully in charge, the man who was even now changing things. His accession to the highest post in the Party had been a surprise to some, Sergetov among them. The West still looked to him as hopefully as we once had, Sergetov thought. His own arrival in Moscow had changed that rapidly enough. Yet another broken dream. The man who had put a happy face on years of agricultural failure now applied his superficial charm to a larger arena. He was laboring mightily—anyone at this table would admit that—but his task was an impossible one. To get here he had been forced to make too many promises, too many deals with the old guard. Even the “young” men of fifty and sixty he’d added to the Politburo had their own ties to former regimes. Nothing had really changed.
The West never seemed to absorb the idea. Not since Khrushchev had one man held sway. One-man rule held dangers vividly remembered by the older generation of the Party. The younger men had heard the tales of the great purges under Stalin often enough to take the lesson to heart, and the Army had its own institutional memory of what Khrushchev had done to its hierarchy. In the Politburo, as in the jungle, the only rule was survival, and for all collective safety lay in collective rule. Because of this the men selected for the titular post of General Secretary were not elected so much for their personal dynamism as for their experience in the Party—an organization that did not reward people for standing out too distinctly from the crowd. Like Brezhnev, and Andropov, and Chernenko, the current chief of the Party lacked the power of personality to dominate this room with his will alone. He’d had to compromise to be in his chair, and he would have to compromise to remain there. The real power blocs were amorphous things, relationships among men, loyalties that changed with circumstance and knew only expediency. The real power lay within the Party itself.
The Party ruled all, but the Party was no longer the expression of one man. It had become a collection of interests represented here by twelve other men. Defense had its interest, the KGB, and Heavy Industry, and even Agriculture. Each interest held its own brand of power, and the chief of each allied himself with others in order to secure his own place. The General Secretary would try to change this, would gradually appoint men loyal to himself to the posts that death made vacant. Would he then learn, as his predecessors had, that loyalty so easily died around this table? For now, he still carried the burden of his own compromises. With his own men not yet fully in place, the General Secretary was only the foremost member of a group that could unseat him as easily as it had unseated Khrushchev. What would the West say if it learned that the “dynamic” General Secretary mainly served as executor for the decisions of others? Even now, he did not speak first.
“Comrades,” began the Defense Minister. “The Soviet Union must have oil, at least two hundred million tons more than we can produce. Such oil exists, only a few hundred kilometers from our border in the Persian Gulf—more oil than we will ever need. We have the ability to take it, of course. Inside of two weeks, we could assemble enough aircraft and airborne troops to swoop down on those oil fields and gobble them up.
“Unfortunately, there could not fail to be a violent Western response. Those same oil fields supply Western Europe, Japan, and to a lesser extent, America. The NATO countries do not have the ability to defend those fields with conventional means. The Americans have their Rapid Deployment Force, a hollow shell of headquarters and a few light troops. Even with their pre-positioned equipment at Diego Garcia, they could not hope to stop our airborne and mechanized forces. Were they to try, and they would have to try, their elite troops would be overwhelmed and exterminated in a few days—and they would be faced with a single alternative: nuclear weapons. This is a real risk that we cannot disregard. We know for a fact that American war plans call for nuclear weapons in this case. Such weapons are stored in quantity at Diego Garcia, and would almost certainly be used.
“Therefore, before we can seize the Persian Gulf, we must first do one other thing. We must eliminate NATO as a political and military force.”
Sergetov sat upright in his leather chair. What was this, what was he saying? He struggled to keep his face impassive as the Defense Minister continued.
“If NATO is first removed from the board, America will be in a most curious position. The United States will be able to meet its own energy needs from Western Hemisphere sources, removing the need to defend the Arab states, who are in any case not terribly popular with the American Jewish Zionist community.”
Did they really believe this, Sergetov wondered, did they actually believe the United States would sit on its hands? What went on at the late meeting yesterday?
At last one other person shared his concern. “So, the only thing we have to do is conquer Western Europe, Comrade?” a candidate member asked. “Are these not the countries against whose conventional forces you warn us every year? Every year you tell us of the threat the massed NATO armies present to us, and now you say casually that we must conquer them? Excuse me, Comrade Defense Minister, but do not France and England have their own nuclear arsenals? And why would America not fulfill its treaty promise to use nuclear weapons in the defense of NATO?”
Sergetov was surprised that a junior member had put the issues so quickly on the table. He was more surprised that the Foreign Minister answered. So, another piece of the puzzle. But what did the KGB think of this? Why were they not represented here? The chairman was recovering from surgery, but there should have been someone here—unless that had been taken care of last night.
“Our objectives must be limited, and obviously so. This presents us with several political tasks. First, we must engender a feeling of security in America, to put them off guard until it is too late for them to react forcefully. Second, we must attempt to unravel the NATO alliance in a political sense.” The Foreign Minister ventured a rare smile. “As you know, the KGB has been working on such a plan for the past several years. It is now in its final form. I will outline it for you.”
He did so, and Sergetov nodded at its audacity and also with a new understanding of the power balance in this room. So, it was the KGB. He should have known. But would the rest of the Politburo fall in line? The minister went on, “You see how it would work. One piece after another would fall into place. Given these preconditions, the waters so thoroughly muddied, and the fact that we would proclaim our unwillingness to threaten directly the two independent NATO nuclear powers, we feel that the nuclear risk, while real, is less than the risk that we already face in our economy.”
Sergetov leaned back in his leather chair. So, there it was: war was less risky than a cold, hungry peace. It had been decided. Or had it? Might some combination of other Politburo members have the power or prestige to reverse that decision? Could he dare to speak out against this madness? Perhaps a judicious question first.
“Do we have the ability to defeat NATO?” He was chilled by the glib reply.
“Of course,” Defense answered. “What do you think we have an army for? We have already consulted with our senior commanders.”
And when you asked us last month for more steel for more new tanks, Comrade Defense Minister, was your excuse that NATO was too weak? Sergetov asked himself angrily. What machinations had taken place? Have they even spoken with their military advisers yet, or had the Defense Minister exploited his vaunted personal expertise? Had the General Secretary allowed himself to be bullied by Defense? And by the Foreign Minister? Had he even objected? Was this how the decisions were made to decide the fate of nations? What would Vladimir Ilych have thought of this?
“Comrades, this is madness!” said Pyotr Bromkovskiy. The oldest man there, frail and past eighty, his conversation occasionally rambled about the idealistic times long before, when Communist Party members really believed that they were the leading wave of history. The Yezhovshchina purges had ended that. “Yes, we have a grave economic danger. Yes, we have a grave danger to the security of the State—but do we replace this with a greater danger? Consider what can happen—how long, Comrade Defense Minister, before you can initiate your conquest of NATO?”
“I am assured that we can have our army fully ready for combat operations in four months.”
“Four months. I presume that we will have fuel four months from now—enough fuel to begin a war!” Petya was old, but no one’s fool.
“Comrade Sergetov.” The General Secretary gestured down the table, dodging his responsibility yet again.
Which side to take? The young candidate member made a swift decision. “Inventories of light fuels—gasoline, diesel, et cetera—are high at the moment,” Sergetov had to admit. “We always use the cold-weather months—the time when usage of these fuels is lowest—to build up our stocks, and added to this are our strategic defense reserves, enough for forty-five—”
“Sixty!” insisted the Defense Minister.
“Forty-five days is a more realistic figure, Comrade.” Sergetov held his position. “My department has studied fuel consumption by military units as part of a program to increase the strategic fuel reserves, something neglected in past years. With savings in other consumption and certain industrial sacrifices, we might expand this to sixty days of war stocks, perhaps even seventy, plus giving you other stocks to expand training exercises. The near-term economic costs would be slight, but by midsummer this would change rapidly.” Sergetov paused, greatly disturbed at how easily he had gone along with the unspoken decision. I have sold my soul . . . Or have I acted like a patriot? Have I become like the other men around this table? Or have I merely told the truth—and what is truth? All he could be certain of, he told himself, is that he had survived. For now. “We do have the limited ability, as I told you yesterday, to restructure our distillate production. In this case, my staff feels that a nine-percent increase in the militarily important fuels can be accomplished—based on our reduced production. I caution, however, that my staff analysts also feel that all existing estimates of fuel usage in combat conditions are grossly optimistic.” A last, feeble attempt at protest.
“Give us the fuel, Mikhail Eduardovich,” the Defense Minister smiled coldly, “and we’ll see it is properly used. My analysts estimate that we can accomplish our goals in two weeks, perhaps less—but I will grant you the strength of the NATO armies, and double our estimates to thirty days. We will still have more than enough.”
“And what if NATO discovers our intentions?” old Petya demanded.
“They will not. Already we are preparing our maskirovka, our trickery. NATO is not a strong alliance. It cannot be. The ministers bicker over each country’s defense contribution. Their peoples are divided and soft. They cannot standardize their weapons, and because of it their supply situation is utter chaos. And their most important, most powerful member is separated from Europe by five thousand kilometers of ocean. The Soviet Union is only an overnight train ride from the German border. But, Petya, my old friend, I will answer your question. If everything fails, and our intentions are discovered, we can always stop, say that we were running an exercise, and return to peacetime conditions—and be no worse off than if we do nothing at all. We need strike only if all is ready. We can always draw back.”
Everyone at the table knew that was a lie, though a clever one, because no one had the courage to denounce it as such. What army had ever been mobilized to be called back? No one else spoke up to oppose the Defense Minister. Bromkovskiy rambled on for a few minutes, quoting Lenin’s stricture about endangering the home of World Socialism, but even that drew no response. The danger to the State—actually the danger to the Party and the Politburo—was manifest. It could not become graver. The alternative was war.
Ten minutes later, the Politburo voted. Sergetov and his eight fellow candidate members were mere spectators. The vote was eleven to two for war. The process had begun.
DATE-TIME 02/03 17: 15 COPY 01 OF 01 OF SOVIET-REPORT
BC-Soviet Report, Bjt, 2310•FL•
TASS Confirms Oil Field Fire•FL•
EDS: Moved in advance for SATURDAY PMs•FL•
BY: Patrick Flynn•FC•
AP Moscow Correspondent
MOSCOW (AP)—It was confirmed today by TASS, the Soviet news agency, that “a serious fire” had taken place in the western Siberian region of the Soviet Union.
A back-page article in Pravda, the official Communist Party newspaper, noted the fire, commenting that the “heroic fire brigade” had saved countless lives by its skill and devotion to duty, also preventing more serious damage to the nearby oil facilities.
The fire was reportedly begun by a “technical malfunction” in the automatic refinery control systems and spread rapidly, but was swiftly extinguished, “not without casualties among the brave men detailed to attack the fire, and the courageous workmen who raced heroically to their comrades’ side.”
Though somewhat at odds with Western reports, the fire in the area did go out more quickly than had been expected. Western officials are now speculating about a highly sophisticated firefighting system built into the Nizhnevartovsk facility that allowed the Soviets to extinguish the fire.
AB-BA-2-3 16: 01 EST•FL•
* *END OF STORY* *
Correlation of Forces
“They didn’t ask me,” explained Chief of the General Staff Marshal Shavyrin. “They didn’t ask for my evaluation. The political decision was already made when they called me in Thursday night. When was the last time the Defense Minister asked me for a substantive judgmental decision?”
“And what did you say?” asked Marshal Rozhkov, Commander-in-Chief of Ground Forces. The initial response was a grim, ironic smile.
“That the armed forces of the Soviet Union were able to carry out this task, given four months of preparation.”
“Four months . . .” Rozhkov stared out the window. He turned back. “We won’t be ready.”
“Hostilities will commence on 15 June,” Shavyrin replied. “We must be ready, Yuri. And what choice did I have? Would you have had me say, ‘I am sorry, Comrade General Secretary, but the Soviet Army is unable to carry out this task’? I would have been dismissed and replaced by someone more tractable—you know who my replacement will be. Would you rather answer to Marshal Bukharin—”
“That fool!” Rozhkov growled. It had been the then-Lieutenant General Bukharin whose brilliant plan had led the Soviet Army into Afghanistan. Professionally a nonentity, his political connections had not only saved him, but continued his career to near the pinnacle of uniformed power. A clever man, Bukharin. Never involved in the mountain campaigns himself, he could point to his brilliant paper plan and complain that it had been poorly executed, after he had moved on to command of the Kiev Military District, historically the shining gate to marshal’s rank.
“So, would you have him in this office, dictating your plans to you?” Shavyrin asked. Rozhkov shook his head. The two men had been friends and comrades since each had commanded a tank troop in the same regiment, just in time for the final surge toward Vienna in 1945.
“How are we to go about it?” Rozhkov asked.
“Red Storm,” the Marshal replied simply. Red Storm was the plan for a mechanized attack into West Germany and the Low Countries. Constantly updated for changes in the force structures of both sides, it called for a two- to three-week campaign commencing after a rapid escalation of tension between East and West. Despite this, in accordance with standard Soviet strategic doctrine, it called for strategic surprise as a precondition for success, and the use of conventional weapons only.
“At least they aren’t talking about atomic arms.” Rozhkov grunted. Other plans with other names applied to different scenarios, including many for the use of tactical and even strategic nuclear arms, something no one in uniform wished to contemplate. Despite all the saber-rattling of their political masters, these professional soldiers knew all too well that the use of nuclear arms made only for ghastly uncertainties. “And the maskirovka?”
“In two parts. The first is purely political, to work against the United States. The second part, immediately before the war begins, is from KGB. You know it, from KGB Group Nord. We reviewed it two years ago.”
Rozhkov grunted. Group Nord was an ad hoc committee of KGB department chiefs, first assembled by then-chief of the KGB Yuri Andropov in the mid-1970s. Its purpose was to research means of splitting the NATO alliance, and in general to conduct political and psychological operations aimed at undermining Western will. Its specific plan to shake the NATO military and political structure in preparation for a shooting war was Nord’s proudest example of legerdemain. But would it work? The two senior officers shared an ironic look. Like most professional soldiers, they distrusted spies and all their plans.
“Four months,” Rozhkov repeated. “We have much to do. And if this KGB magic fails to work?”
“It is a good plan. It need only deceive the West for a week, though two weeks would be better. The key, of course, is how quickly NATO can reach full readiness. If we can delay the mobilization process seven days, victory is assured—”
“And if not?” Rozhkov asked sharply, knowing that even a seven-day delay was no guarantee.
“Then it is not assured, but the balance of forces is on our side. You know that, Yuri.” The option of recalling the mobilized forces had never been discussed with the Chief of the General Staff.
“We will need to improve discipline throughout the force first of all,” CINC-Ground said. “And I need to inform our senior commanders at once. We need to implement intense training operations. Just how awful is this fuel problem?”
Shavyrin handed his subordinate the notes. “It could be worse. We have enough for extended unit training. Your task is no easy one, Yuri, but four months is a long time for this task, is it not?”
It wasn’t, but there was no point in saying so. “As you say, four months to instill fighting discipline. I will have a free hand?”
“It is one thing to make a private soldier snap to the orders of his sergeant. It might be another for officers conditioned to pushing paper to change into combat leaders.” Rozhkov skirted the issue, but his superior received the message clearly enough.
“A free hand on both, Yuri. But act carefully, for both our sakes.”
Rozhkov nodded briefly. He knew whom he’d use to get this done. “With the troops we led forty years ago, Andrey, we could do this.” Rozhkov sat down. “And in truth we have the same raw material now that we had then—and better weapons. The chief unknown remains the men. When we drove our tanks into Vienna, our men were tough, hard veterans—”
“And so were the SS bastards we crushed.” Shavyrin smiled, remembering. “Keep in mind that the same forces are at work in the West, even more so. How well will they fight, surprised, divided? It can work. We must make it work.”
“I’m meeting with our field commanders Monday. I will tell them myself.”
“I hope you take good care of it,” the Mayor said.
It was a moment before Commander Daniel X. McCafferty reacted. USS Chicago had been in commission for only six weeks, her completion delayed by a yard fire and her commissioning ceremony marred by the absence of the Mayor of Chicago due to a strike of city workers. Just back from five tough weeks of workups in the Atlantic, his crew was now loading provisions for their first operational deployment. McCafferty was still entranced with his new command, and never tired of looking at her. He’d just walked the Mayor along the curved upper deck, the first part of any submarine tour, even though there was almost nothing to be seen there. “Excuse me?”
“Take good care of our ship,” said the Mayor of Chicago.
“We call them boats, sir, and we’ll take good care of her for you. Will you join us in the wardroom?”
“More ladders.” The Mayor pretended to grimace, but McCafferty knew him to be a former fire chief. Would have been useful a few months back, the captain thought. “Where are you heading tomorrow?”
“To sea, sir.” The captain started down the ladder. The Mayor of Chicago followed him.
“I figured that.” For a man in his late fifties, he handled the steel ladder easily enough. They met again at the bottom. “What exactly do you do in these things?”
“Sir, the Navy calls it ‘Oceanographic Research.’ ” McCafferty led him forward, turning for a smile with his answer to the awkward question. Things were starting quickly for Chicago. The Navy wanted to see just how effective her new quieting systems were. Everything looked good in the acoustical test range off the Bahamas. Now they wanted to see how well things worked in the Barents Sea.
The Mayor laughed at that one. “Oh, I suppose you’ll be counting the whales for Greenpeace!”
“Well, I can say that there are whales where we’re heading.”
“What’s with the tile on your deck? I never heard of rubber decks on a ship.”
“It’s called anechoic tile, sir. The rubber absorbs sound waves. It makes us quieter to operate, and makes it harder to detect us on sonar if somebody pings at us. Coffee?”
“You’d think that on a day like this—”
The captain chuckled. “Me, too. But it’s against regulations.”
The Mayor hoisted his cup and clicked against McCafferty’s. “Luck.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
They met at the Main Officers Club of the Moscow Military District on Ulitsa Krasnokazarmennaya, a massively impressive building dating back to Czarist times. It was the normal time of year for senior field commanders to confer in Moscow, and such events were always punctuated by elaborate ceremonial dinners. Rozhkov greeted his fellow officers at the main entrance, and when all were assembled, he led them downstairs to the ornate steam baths. Present were all Theater commanders, each accompanied by his deputy, his air force commander, and the fleet commanders: a small galaxy of stars, ribbons, and braid. Ten minutes later, naked but for a pair of towels and a handful of birch branches each, they were just another group of middle-aged men, perhaps a bit fitter than was the average in the Soviet Union.
They all knew one another. Though many were rivals, they were members of the same profession nevertheless, and with an intimacy characteristic of the Russian steam baths they exchanged small talk for several minutes. Several of them were grandfathers now, and spoke with animation about the continuation of their lines. Regardless of personal rivalries, it was expected that senior officers would look out for the careers of their comrades’ sons, and so information was briefly exchanged on whose son was in which command and wanted advancement to what new posting. Finally came the classically Russian dispute over the “strength” of the steam. Rozhkov peremptorily settled the argument with a thin but steady stream of cold water onto the heated bricks in the center of the room. The resulting hiss would be sufficient to interfere with any listening devices in the room, if the foggy air hadn’t already corroded them to junk. Rozhkov had not given the first hint of what was happening. Better, he thought, to shock them into the situation and get candid reactions to the situation at hand.
“Comrades, I must make an announcement.”
Conversation stilled, and the men looked inquiringly in his direction.
Here we go. “Comrades, on 15 June of this year, just four months from now, we launch an offensive against NATO.”
For a moment, only the hiss of the steam could be heard, then three men laughed, having imbibed a few stiff drinks in the sanctity of their staff cars on the drive over from the Kremlin. Those close enough to see CINC-Ground’s face did not.
“You are serious, Comrade Marshal?” asked the Commander-in-Chief of the Western Theater. Receiving a nod in reply, he said, “Then perhaps you will be so kind as to explain the reason for this action?”
“Of course. You are all aware of the Nizhnevartovsk oil-field disaster. What you have not yet learned are its strategic and political implications.” It took six brisk minutes to outline everything the Politburo had decided. “In just over four months from now, we shall launch the most crucial military operation in the history of the Soviet Union: the destruction of NATO as a political and military force. And we will succeed.”
Finished, he stared at the officer in silence. The steam was having its desired effects on the assembly of flag officers. Its searing heat assaulted their breathing passages, sobering those who had been drinking. And it made them sweat. They’d be doing a lot of that in the next few months, Rozhkov thought.
Then Pavel Alekseyev, deputy commander of the South-western Theater, spoke. “I heard rumors,” he said. “But that bad?”
“Yes. We have sufficient POL supplies for twelve months of normal operations, or enough for sixty days of war operations after a brief period of increased training activity.” At the cost, he didn’t say, of crippling the national economy by mid-August.
Alekseyev leaned forward and swatted himself with his bundle of branches. The action was strangely like a lion’s swishing its tail. At fifty, he was the second-youngest officer there, a respected intellectual soldier and a fit, handsome man with the shoulders of a lumberjack. His intense, dark eyes squinted down through the rising cloud of steam.
“Yes,” Rozhkov said. “We have that long to prepare our plans and our troops.” CINC-Ground looked around the room. Already the ceiling had become partially obscured by a mist.
“I presume we are here so that we may speak frankly among ourselves, no?”
“This is so, Pavel Leonidovich.” Rozhkov replied, not the least surprised that Alekseyev had been the first to speak. CINC-GROUND had carefully advanced the man’s career over the last decade. He was the only son of a hard-charging tank general of the Great Motherland War, one of the many good men pensioned off during the bloodless purges under Nikita Khrushchev in the late 1950s.
“Comrades.” Alekseyev stood, climbing slowly down the benches to the marble floor. “I accept everything Marshal Rozhkov has told us. But—four months! Four months in which we may be detected, four months in which we may lose all the element of surprise. Then what may happen? No, we have a plan already for this: Zhukov-4! Instant mobilization! We can all be back to our command posts in six hours. If we are going to conduct a surprise attack, then let us make it one no one can detect in time—seventy-two hours from now!”
Again the only sound in the room was that of the water flashing to steam on the dun-colored bricks, then the room erupted with noise. Zhukov-4 was the winter variant of a plan which hypothesized discovery of NATO’s intention to launch a surprise attack of its own on the Warsaw Pact. In such a case, standard Soviet military doctrine was the same as anyone else’s: the best defense is a good offense—preempt the NATO armies by attacking at once with the Category-A mechanized divisions in East Germany.
“But we are not ready!” objected CINC-West. His was the “point” command with headquarters in Berlin, the single most powerful military command in the world. An attack into West Germany was primarily his responsibility.
Alekseyev held up his hands. “Neither are they. In fact, they are less ready than we,” he said reasonably. “Look, consider our intelligence data. Fourteen percent of their officers are on holidays. They are coming off a training cycle, true, but because of it much of their equipment will be down for maintenance, and many of their senior officers will be away in their respective capitals for consultations, just as we are now. Their troops are in winter quarters, on a winter routine. This is the time of year for maintenance and paperwork. Physical training is curtailed—who wants to run in the snow, eh? Their men are cold, and drinking more than usual. This is our time to act! We all know that historically the Soviet fighting man performs at his best in winter, and NATO is at its lowest state of readiness.”
“But so are we, you young fool!” CINC-Western Theater growled back.
“We can change that in forty-eight hours,” Alekseyev countered.
“Impossible,” observed West’s deputy, careful to back up his boss.
“To reach our maximum readiness will take some months,” Alekseyev agreed. His only chance to carry his point with his seniors was to reason with them. He knew that he was almost certainly doomed to failure, but he had to try. “It will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to conceal it.”
“As Marshal Rozhkov told us, Pavel Leonidovich, we are promised political and diplomatic maskirovka,” a general pointed out.
“I have no doubt that our comrades in the KGB, and our skillful political leadership, will perform miracles.” The room just might have functioning bugs, after all. “But is it not asking too much to expect that the Imperialists—as much as they fear and hate us, as active as their agents and spy satellites are—will fail to note a doubling of our training activity? We know that NATO increases its readiness when we go into major unit training, and their preparedness will automatically be increased by their own spring training cycles. If we continue our training beyond the normal pattern, they will be even more alert. Achieving full combat readiness requires that we do too many things out of the ordinary. If nothing else, East Germany is rife with Western spies. NATO will notice. NATO will react. They will meet us on the border with everything in their collective arsenals.
“If, on the other hand, we attack with what we have—now!—we have the advantage. Our men are not off skiing in the fucking Alps! Zhukov-4 is designed to cycle from peace to war in forty-eight hours. There is no way possible for NATO to react in so little time. They’ll take forty-eight hours to get their intelligence information organized and presented to their ministers. By that time our shells will be falling on the Fulda Gap, and our tanks will be advancing behind them!”
“Too many things can go wrong!” CINC-West rose so swiftly that the towel nearly came off his waist. His left hand grabbed downward while his right fist shook at the younger man. “What about traffic control? What about training our men in their new battle equipment? What about getting my Frontal Aviation pilots ready for combat operations against the Imperialists? There—right there is an insurmountable problem! Our pilots need at least a month of intensive training. And so do my tankers, and so do my gunners, and so do my riflemen.”
If you knew your job, they would be ready now, you worthless, whore-chasing son of a bitch! Alekseyev thought but did not dare to say aloud. CINC-West was a man of sixty-one who liked to demonstrate his manly prowess—boasted of it—to the detriment of his professional duties. Alekseyev had heard that story often enough, whispered jovially in this very room. But CINC-West was politically reliable. Such is the Soviet system, the younger general reflected. We need fighting soldiers and what do we get with which to defend the Rodina? Political reliability! He remembered bitterly what had happened to his father in 1958. But Alekseyev did not allow himself to begrudge the Party its control of the armed forces. The Party was the State, after all, and he was a sworn servant of the State. He had learned these truisms at his father’s knee. One more card to play:
“Comrade General, you have good officers commanding your divisions, regiments, and battalions. Trust them to know their duties.” It couldn’t hurt to wave the standards of the Red Army, Alekseyev reasoned.
Rozhkov stood, and everyone in the room strained to hear his pronouncement. “What you say has merit, Pavel Leonidovich, but do we gamble with the safety of the Motherland?” He shook his head, quoting doctrine exactly, as he had been doing for too many years. “No. We rely on surprise, yes, on the first weighted blow to blast open a path for the daring thrust of our mechanized forces. And we will have our surprise. The Westerners will not wish to believe what is happening, and with the Politburo soothing them even as we prepare the first blow, we will have our strategic surprise. The West will have perhaps three days—four at most—to know what is coming, and even then they will not be mentally prepared for us.”
The officers followed Rozhkov from the room to rinse the sweat from their bodies with cold-water showers. Ten minutes later, refreshed and dressed in full uniform, the officers reassembled in a second-floor banquet room. The waiters, many of them KGB informers, noted the subdued mood and quiet conversations that frustrated their efforts to listen in. The generals knew that KGB’s Lefortovo prison was a bare kilometer away.
“Our plans?” CINC-Southwest asked his deputy.
“How many times have we played this war game?” Alekseyev responded. “All the maps and formulae we have examined for years. We know the troop and tank concentrations. We know the routes, the highways, the crossroads that we must use, and those that NATO will use. We know our mobilization schedules, and theirs. The only thing we don’t know is whether our carefully laid plans will in fact work. We should attack at once. Then the unknowns will work against both sides equally.”
“And if our attack goes too well, and NATO relies on a nuclear defense?” the senior officer asked. Alekseyev acknowledged the importance and grave unpredictability of the point.
“They might do that anyway. Comrade, all of our plans depend heavily on surprise, no? A mixture of surprise and success will force the West to consider nuclear weapons—”
“Here you are wrong, my young friend,” CINC-Southwest chided. “The decision to use nuclear weapons is political. To prevent their use is also a political exercise for which time is required.”
“But if we wait over four months—how can we be assured of strategic surprise?” Alekseyev demanded.
“Our political leadership has promised it.”
“The year I entered Frunze Academy, the Party told us the date on which we would surely have ‘True Communism in our lifetime.’ A solemn promise. That date was six years ago.”
“Such talk is safe with me, Pasha, I understand you. But if you do not learn to control your tongue—”
“Forgive me, Comrade General. We must allow for the chance that surprise will not be achieved. ‘In combat, despite the most careful preparation, risks cannot be avoided,’ ” Alekseyev quoted from the syllabus of the Frunze Academy. “ ‘Attention must therefore be given, and the most detailed plans prepared, for every reasonable exigency of the overall operation. For this reason, the unsung life of a staff officer is among the most demanding of those honored to serve the State.’ ”
“You have the memory of a kulak, Pasha.” CINC-Southwest laughed, filling his deputy’s glass with Georgian wine. “But you are correct.”
“Failure to achieve surprise means that we are forcing a campaign of attrition on a vast scale, a high-technology version of the ‘14—’18 war.”
“Which we will win.” CINC-Ground sat down next to Alekseyev.
“Which we will win,” Alekseyev agreed. All Soviet generals accepted the premise that the inability to force a rapid decision would force a bloody war of attrition that would grind each side down equally. The Soviets had far more reserves of men and material with which to fight such a war. And the political will to use them. “If and only if we are able to force the pace of battle, and if our friends in the Navy can prevent the resupply of NATO from America. NATO has war stocks of materiel to sustain them for roughly five weeks. Our pretty, expensive fleet must close the Atlantic.”
“Maslov.” Rozhkov beckoned to the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy. “We wish to hear your opinion of the correlation of forces in the North Atlantic.”
“Our mission?” Maslov asked warily.
“If we fail to achieve surprise in the West, Andrey Petravich, it will be necessary for our beloved comrades in the Navy to isolate Europe from America,” Rozhkov pronounced. He blinked hard at the response.
“Give me a division of airborne troops, and I can fulfill that task,” Maslov responded soberly. He held a glass of mineral water, and had been careful to avoid drink on this cold February night. “The question is whether our strategic stance at sea should be offensive or defensive. The NATO navies—above all the United States Navy—is a direct threat to the Rodina. It alone has the aircraft and aircraft carriers with which to attack the homeland, at the Kola Peninsula. In fact, we know that they have plans to do exactly that.”
“So what?” CINC-Southwest observed. “No attack on Soviet soil is to be taken lightly, of course, but we will take severe losses in this campaign no matter how brilliantly we fight it. What matters is the final outcome.”
“If the Americans succeed in attacking Kola, they effectively prevent our closure of the North Atlantic. And you are wrong to shrug off these attacks. American entry into the Barents Sea will constitute a direct threat to our nuclear deterrent forces, and could have more dire consequences than you imagine.” Admiral Maslov leaned forward. “On the other hand, if you persuade STAVKA to give us the resources to execute Operation Polar Glory, we can seize the combat initiative and dictate the nature of operations in the North Atlantic on our chosen terms.” He held up a closed fist. “By doing this we can, first”—he raised a finger—“prevent an American naval attack against the Rodina; second”—another finger—“use the majority of our submarine forces in the North Atlantic basin where the trade routes are, instead of keeping them on passive defense; and, third”—a final finger—“make maximum use of our naval aviation assets. At one stroke this operation makes our fleet an offensive rather than a defensive weapon.”
“And to accomplish this you need only one of our Guards Air Rifle divisions? Outline your plan for us, please, Comrade Admiral,” Alekseyev said.
Maslov did so over a period of five minutes. He concluded, “With luck, we will with one blow give the NATO navies more than they can deal with, and leave us with a valuable position for postwar exploitation.”
“Better to draw their carrier forces in and destroy them.” CINC-West joined the discussion.
Maslov responded: “The Americans will have five or six carriers available to use against us in the Atlantic. Each one carries fifty-eight aircraft that can be used in an air superiority or nuclear strike role, aside from those used for fleet defense. I submit, Comrade, that it is in our interest to keep those ships as far from the Rodina as possible.”
“Andrey Petravich, I am impressed,” Rozhkov said thoughtfully, noting the respect in Alekseyev’s eyes as well. Polar Glory was both bold and simple. “I want a full briefing on this plan tomorrow afternoon. You say that if we can allocate the resources, success in this venture is highly probable?”
“We have worked on this plan for five years, with particular emphasis on simplicity. If security can be maintained, only two things need go right for success to be achieved.”
Rozhkov nodded. “Then you will have my support.”
The Foreign Minister entered stage left, as he always did, and walked to the lectern with a brisk step that belied his sixty years. Before him was a mob of reporters arrayed by the Soviet Guards into their respective groups, the print press grasping at their pads and backed up by their photographers, the visual media arrayed in front of their portable klieg lights. The Foreign Minister hated the damned things, hated the people in front of them. The Western press with its lack of manners, always prying, always probing, always demanding answers that he need not give to his own people. How odd, he thought, while looking up from his notes, that he often had to speak more openly to these paid foreign spies than to members of the Party Central Committee. Spies, exactly what they were . . .
They could be manipulated, of course, by a skilled man with a collection of carefully prepared disinformation—which was precisely what he was about to do. But on the whole they were a threat because they never stopped doing what it was they did. It was something the Foreign Minister never allowed himself to forget, and the reason he did not hold them in contempt. Dealing with them always held potential danger. Even while being manipulated, they could be dangerous in their quest for information. If only the rest of the Politburo understood.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, speaking in English. “I will be making a brief statement, and I regret that I cannot answer any questions at this time. A full handout will be given to everyone as you leave—that is, I think they are ready by now—” He gestured to a man at the back of the room, who nodded emphatically. The Foreign Minister arranged his papers one more time and began to speak with the precise diction for which he was known.
“The President of the United States has often asked for ‘deeds not words’ in the quest for control of strategic arms.
“As you know, and to the disappointment of the entire world, the ongoing arms negotiations in Vienna have made no significant progress for over a year, with each side blaming the other for the lack of it.
“It is well known by peace-loving people the world over that the Soviet Union has never wished for war, and that only a madman would even consider nuclear war a viable policy option in our modern world of overkill, fallout, and ‘nuclear winter.’ ”
“Damn,” muttered AP bureau chief Patrick Flynn. The Soviets scarcely acknowledged “nuclear winter” and had never mentioned the concept in so formal a setting. His antennae were already twitching at whatever there was in the wind.
“The time has come for substantive reductions in strategic arms. We have made numerous, serious, sincere proposals for real arms reductions, and despite this the United States has proceeded with the development and deployment of its destabilizing, openly offensive weapons: the MX first-strike missile, so cynically called the ‘Peacekeeper’; the advanced Trident D-5 first-strike sea-launched ballistic missile; two separate varieties of cruise missiles whose characteristics conspire to make arms control verification almost totally impossible; and of course, the so-called Strategic Defense Initiative, which will take offensive strategic weapons into space. Such are America’s deeds.” He looked up from his notes and spoke with irony. “And through it all, America’s pious words demand Soviet deeds.
“Starting tomorrow, we will see once and for all if America’s words are to be believed or not. Starting tomorrow we will see how great a difference there is between America’s words about peace and Soviet deeds for peace.
“Tomorrow, the Soviet Union will put on the table at Vienna a proposal to reduce existing arsenals of strategic and theater nuclear weapons by fifty percent, this reduction to be accomplished over a period of three years from ratification of the agreement, subject to on-site verification conducted by third-party inspection teams whose composition will be agreed upon by all signatories.
“Please note that I say ‘all signatories.’ The Soviet Union invites the United Kingdom, the French Republic, and”—he looked up—“the People’s Republic of China to join us at the negotiating table.” The explosion of flashbulbs caused him to look away for a moment.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please—” He smiled, holding his hand up to shield his face. “These old eyes are not up to such abuse as this, and I have not memorized my speech—unless you want me to continue in Russian!”
There was a wave of laughter, then a sprinkling of applause at the jibe. The old bastard was really turning on the charm, Flynn thought, furiously taking notes. This was potential dynamite. He wondered what would come next, and he especially wondered what the precise wording on the proposal was. Flynn had covered arms talks before, and knew all too well that general descriptions of proposals could grossly distort the nuts-and-bolts details of the real issues to be negotiated. The Russians couldn’t be this open—they just couldn’t be.
“To proceed.” The Foreign Minister blinked his eyes clear. “We have been accused of never making a gesture of our good faith. The falsehood of the charge is manifest, but this evil fiction continues in the West. No longer. No longer will anyone have cause to doubt the sincerity of the Soviet people’s quest for a just and lasting peace.
“Beginning today, as a sign of good faith which we challenge the United States and any other interested nation to match, the Soviet Union will remove from service an entire class of nuclear-powered missile submarines. These submarines are known to the West as the Yankee class. We call them something else, of course,” he said with an ingenuous grin that drew another wave of polite laughter. “Twenty of the vessels are presently in service, each carrying twelve sea-launched ballistic missiles. All active members of the class are assigned to the Soviet Northern Fleet based on the Kola Peninsula. Beginning today, we will deactivate these vessels at a rate of one per month. As you know, complete deactivation of so complex a machine as a missile submarine requires the services of a shipyard—the missile compartment must be physically removed from the body of the vessel—and so these vessels cannot be fully disarmed overnight. However, to make the honesty of our intentions undeniable, we invite the United States to do one of two things:
“First, we will permit a selected team of six American naval officers to inspect these twenty vessels to verify that their missile tubes have been filled with concrete ballast pending removal of the entire missile rooms from all of the submarines. In return for this, we would require that a comparable inspection visit by an equal number of Soviet officers to American yards would be allowed at a later date to be agreed on.
“Second, as an alternative should the United States be unwilling to allow reciprocal verification of arms reductions, we will permit another group of six officers to perform this service, these officers to be from a country—or countries—upon which the United States and the Soviet Union can agree within the next thirty days. A team from such neutral countries as Sweden or India would be acceptable in principle to the Soviet Union.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come to put an end to the arms race. I will not repeat all of the flowery rhetoric we’ve all heard over the past two generations. We all know the threat that these ghastly weapons represent to every nation. Let no one ever say again that the government of the Soviet Union has not done its part to reduce the danger of war. Thank you.”
The room suddenly fell silent but for the sound of motor-driven still cameras. The Western press representatives assigned to their respective Moscow bureaus were among the best in their profession. Uniformly bright, uniformly ambitious, uniformly cynical about what they found in Moscow and the conditions under which they were forced to work, all were stunned to silence.
“Goddamn,” muttered Flynn after a full ten seconds.
“One must admire your understatement, old boy,” agreed Reuters correspondent William Calloway. “Wasn’t it your Wilson who spoke of open covenants openly arrived at?”
“Yeah, my granddad covered that peace conference. Remember how well it worked out?” Flynn grimaced, watching the Foreign Minister depart, smiling at the cameras. “I want to see the handout. Want to ride back with me?”
“Yes on both.”
It was a bitterly cold day in Moscow. Snow piles were heaped at the roadsides. The sky was a frigid crystal blue. And the car’s heater didn’t work. Flynn drove while his friend read aloud from the handout. The draft treaty proposal took up nineteen annotated pages. The Reuters correspondent was a Londoner who had begun as a police reporter, and since covered assignments all over the world. He and Flynn had met many years before at the famous Caravelle Hotel in Saigon, and shared drinks and typewriter ribbons on and off for more than two decades. In the face of a Russian winter, they remembered the oppressive heat of Saigon with something akin to nostalgia.
“It’s bloody fair,” Calloway said wonderingly, his breath giving ghostly substance to his words. “They propose a builddown with elimination of many existing weapons, allowing both sides to replace obsolete launchers, both sides to reach a total of five thousand deliverable warheads, that number to remain stable for five years after the three-year reduction period. There is a separate proposal to negotiate complete removal of ‘heavy’ missiles, replacing them with mobile missiles, but to limit missile flight tests to a fixed number per year—” He flipped that page and rapidly scanned the remainder. “Nothing in the draft treaty about your Star Wars research . . .? Didn’t he mention that in his statement? Patrick, old son, this is, as you say, dynamite. This could as easily have been written in Washington. It will take months to work out all the technical points, but this is a bloody serious, and bloody generous, proposal.”
“Nothing about Star Wars?” Flynn frowned briefly as he turned right. Did that mean that the Russians had made a breakthrough of their own? Have to query Washington about that . . . “We got us a story here, Willie. What’s your lead? How’s ‘Peace’ grab you?” Calloway just laughed at that.
FORT MEADE, MARYLAND
American intelligence agencies, like their counterparts throughout the world, monitor all news wire services. Toland was examining the AP and Reuters reports before most news bureau chiefs, and comparing them with the version transmitted over Soviet microwave circuits for publication in the regional editions of Pravda and Isvestia. The way items of hard news were reported in the Soviet Union was intended to show Party members how their leaders felt.
“We’ve been down this road before,” his section chief said. “The last time, things broke down on this issue of mobile missiles. Both sides want them, but both sides are afraid of the other side having them.”
“But the tone of the report—”
“They’re always euphoric about their arms-control proposals, dammit! Hell, Bob, you know that.”
“True, sir, but it’s the first time that I know of that the Russians have unilaterally removed a weapons platform from service.”
“The ‘Yankees’ are obsolete.”
“So what? They never throw anything away, obsolete or not. They still have World War II artillery pieces sitting in warehouses in case they need them again. This is different, and the political ramifications—”
“We’re not talking politics, we’re talking nuclear strategy,” the section chief growled back.
As if there were a difference, Toland said to himself.
KIEV, THE UKRAINE
“Comrade General, we truly have a man’s work before us,” Alekseyev answered, standing at attention in the Kiev headquarters of the Southwest Theater.
“Our troops need extensive unit training. Over the weekend I read through more than eighty regimental readiness reports from our tank and motor-rifle divisions.” Alekseyev paused before going on. Tactical training and readiness was the bane of the Soviet military. Their troops were almost entirely conscripts, in and out in two years, half of whose uniformed service was occupied just in acquiring basic military skills. Even the noncoms, the backbone of every army since the Roman legions, were conscripts selected for special training academies, then lost as soon as their enlistment periods ended. For that reason, the Soviet military leaned heavily on its officers, who often performed what in the West was sergeants’ work. The professional officer corps of the Soviet Army was its only permanent, only dependable feature. In theory. “The truth of the matter is that we don’t know our readiness posture at the moment. Our colonels all use the same language in their reports, without the slightest deviation. Everyone reports meeting norms, with the same amount of training hours, the same amount of political indoctrination, the same number of practice shots fired—that is, a deviation of under three percent!—and the requisite number of field exercises run, all of course of the proper type.”
“As prescribed in our training manuals,” the Colonel General noted.
“Naturally. Exactly—too damned exactly! No deviation for adverse weather. No deviation for late fuel deliveries. No deviation for anything at all. For example, the 703rd Motor-Rifle Regiment spent all of last October on harvesting duty south of Kharkov—yet somehow they met their monthly norms for unit training at the same time. Lies are bad enough, but these are stupid lies!”
“It cannot be as bad as you fear, Pavel Leonidovich.”
“Do we dare to assume otherwise, Comrade?”
The General stared down at his desk. “No. Very well, Pasha. You’ve formulated your plan. Let me hear it.”
“For the moment, you will be outlining the plan for our attack into the Muslim lands. I must get into the field to whip our field commanders into shape. If we wish to accomplish our goals in time for the attack west, we must make an example of the worst offenders. I have four commanders in mind. Their conduct has been grossly and undeniably criminal. Here are the names and charges.” He handed over a single sheet of paper.
“There are two good men here, Pasha,” the General objected.
“They are guardians of the State. They enjoy positions of the greatest trust. They have betrayed that trust by lying, and in doing so, they have endangered the State,” Alekseyev said, wondering how many men in his country could have that said of them. He dismissed the thought. There were problems enough right here.
“You understand the consequences of the charges you bring?”
“Of course. The penalty for treason is death. Did I ever falsify a readiness report? Did you?” Alekseyev looked away briefly. “It is a hard thing, and I take no pleasure in it—but unless we snap our units into shape, how many young boys will die for their officers’ failings? We need combat readiness more than we need four liars. If there is a gentler way to achieve this, I don’t know what that might be. An army without discipline is a worthless mob. We have the directive from STAVKA to make examples of unruly privates and restore the authority of our NCOs. It is fitting that if privates must suffer for their failings, then their colonels must suffer too. Theirs is the greater responsibility. Theirs is the greater reward. A few examples here will go a long way to restoring our army.”
“The best choice,” Alekseyev agreed. That way blame would not necessarily be traced back to the senior commanders themselves. “I can send teams from the Inspector General’s service out to these regiments day after tomorrow. Our training memoranda arrived in all divisional and regimental headquarters this morning. The news of these four traitors will encourage our unit commanders to implement them with vigor. Even then, it will be two weeks before we have a clear picture of what we need to focus on, but once we can identify the areas that need buttressing, we should have ample time to accomplish what we need to accomplish.”
“What will CINC-West be doing?”
“The same, one hopes.” Alekseyev shook his head. “Has he asked for any of our units yet?”
“No, but he will. We will not be ordered to launch offensive operations against NATO’s southern flank—part of the continuing maskirovka. You may assume that many of our Category-B units will be detailed to Germany, possibly some of our ‘A’ tank forces also. However many divisions that fool has, he’ll want more.”
“Just so we have enough troops to seize the oil fields when the time comes,” Pasha observed. “Which plan are we supposed to execute?”
“The old one. We’ll have to update it, of course.” The old plan predated Soviet involvement in Afghanistan, and now the Red Army had a whole new perspective on sending mechanized forces into an area occupied by armed Muslims.
Alekseyev’s hands bunched into fists. “Marvelous. We must formulate a plan without knowing when it will be implemented or what forces we’ll have available to execute it.”
“Remember what you told me about the life of a staff officer, Pasha?” CINC-Southwest chuckled.
The younger man nodded ruefully, hoist on his own petard. “Indeed, Comrade General: we will do our sleeping after the war.”
Sailors and Spooks
THE CHESAPEAKE BAY, MARYLAND
His eyes squinted painfully at the horizon. The sun was only half a diameter above the green-brown line of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a reminder, if he needed one, that he’d worked late the day before, gone to bed later still, then arisen at four-thirty so that he could get in a day’s fishing. A slowly receding sinuslike headache also let him know about the six-pack of beer he’d consumed in front of the TV.
But it was his first fishing day of the year, and the casting rod felt good in his hand as he gave it a gentle swing toward a ripple on the calm surface of the Chesapeake Bay. A blue or a rockfish? Whatever it was, it didn’t nibble at his Bucktail lure. But there was no hurry.
“Thanks, Pop.” Robert Toland set his rod in its holder and leaned back into the ‘midships swivel chair of his Boston Whaler Outrage. His father-in-law, Edward Keegan, held out the plastic cup-cap from a large thermos jug. Bob knew the coffee would be good. Ned Keegan was a former naval officer who appreciated a good cup, preferably flavored with brandy or Irish whiskey—something to open the eyes and put a fire in the belly.
“Cold or not, damn if it ain’t nice to get out here.” Keegan sipped at his cup, resting one foot on the bait box. It wasn’t just the fishing, both men agreed, getting out on the water was one sure cure for civilization.
“Be nice if the rock really are coming back, too,” Toland observed.
“What the hell—no phones.”
“What about your beeper?”
“I must have left it with my other pants.” Keegan chuckled. “DIA will have to manage without me today.”
“Think they can?”
“Well, the Navy did.” Keegan was an academy graduate who had put in his thirty and retired to become a double-dipper. In uniform, he’d been an intelligence specialist, and now he had essentially the same job, which added civil service salary to his pension.
Toland had been a lieutenant (j.g.) serving aboard a destroyer based at Pearl Harbor when he’d first noticed Martha Keegan, a junior at the University of Hawaii, majoring in psychology and minoring in surfing. They’d been happily married for fifteen years now.
“So.” Keegan stood and lifted his rod. “How are things at the Fort?”
Bob Toland was a middle-level analyst at the National Security Agency. He’d left the Navy after six years when the adventure of uniformed service had palled, but he remained an active reservist. His work at NSA dovetailed nicely with his naval reserve service. A communications expert with a degree in electronics, his current job was monitoring Soviet signals gathered by the NSA’s numerous listening posts and ferret satellites. Along the way he’d also gotten a masters in the Russian language.
“Heard something real interesting last week, but I couldn’t convince my boss it meant anything.”
“Who’s your section chief?”
“Captain Albert Redman, U.S. Navy.” Toland watched a bay-built fishing boat motoring a few miles away, her captain laying out his crab pots. “He’s an asshole.”
Keegan laughed. “You want to be careful saying stuff like that out loud, Bob, especially seeing how you go on active duty next week. Bert worked with me, oh, must have been fifteen years ago. I had to slap him down a few times. He does tend to be slightly opinionated.”
“Opinionated?” Toland snorted. “That bastard’s so friggin’ narrow-minded his scratch pads are only an inch wide! First there was this new arms control thing, then I came up with something really unusual last Wednesday and he circular-filed it. Hell, I don’t know why he even bothers looking at new data—he made his mind up five years ago.”
“I don’t suppose you could tell me what it was?”
“I shouldn’t.” Bob wavered for a moment. Hell, if he couldn’t talk with his kids’ own grandfather . . . “One of our ferret birds was over a Soviet military district headquarters last week and intercepted a microwaved telephone conversation. It was a report to Moscow about four colonels in the Carpathian Military District who were being shot for gundecking readiness reports. The story on their court-martial and execution was being set up for publication, probably in a Red Star this week.” He had entirely forgotten about the oil-field fire.
“Oh?” Keegan’s eyebrows went up. “And what did Bert say?”
“He said, ‘It’s Goddamned about time they cleaned their act up.’ And that was that.”
“And what do you say?”
“Pop, I’m not in Trends and Intentions—those idiot fortune-tellers! —but I know that even the Russians don’t kill people for jollies. When Ivan kills people publicly, he does it to make a point. These were not manpower officers taking bribes to fake deferments. They weren’t popped for stealing diesel fuel or building dachas with pilfered lumber. I checked our records, and it turned out we have files on two of them. They were both experienced line officers, both with combat experience in Afghanistan, both Party members in good standing. One was a graduate of Frunze Academy, and he even had a few articles published in Military Thought, for God’s sake! But all four were court-martialed for falsifying their regimental readiness reports—and shot three days later. That story will hit the streets in Krasnaya Zvezda over the next few days as a two- or three-part story under ‘The Observer’s’ by-line—and that makes it a political exercise with a capital P.”
The Observer was the cover name for any number of high-ranking officers who contributed to Red Star, the daily newspaper of the Soviet armed services. Anything on the front page and under that by-line was taken quite seriously, both in the Soviet military services and by those whose job it was to watch them, because this by-line was used explicitly to make policy statements approved by both the military high command and the Politburo in Moscow.
“A multipart story?” Keegan asked.
“Yeah, that’s one of the interesting things about it. The repetition means they really want this lesson to sink in. Everything about this is out of pattern, Pop. Something funny is happening. They do shoot officers and EMs—but not full colonels who’ve written for the journal of the general staff, and not for faking a few lines in a readiness statement.” He let out a long breath, happy to have gotten this off his chest. The workboat was proceeding south, her wake rippling out toward them in parallel lines on the mirrored surface. The image made Toland wish for his camera.
“Makes sense,” Keegan mumbled.
“What you just said. That does sound out of pattern.”
“Yep. I stayed in late last night, running down a hunch. In the past five years, the Red Army has published the names of exactly fourteen executed officers, none higher than a full colonel, and even then only one—a manpower officer in Soviet Georgia. The guy was taking payoffs for deferments. The others broke down into one case of spying, for us or somebody, three derelictions of duty while under the influence of alcohol, and nine conventional corruption cases, selling everything from gasoline to a whole mainframe computer nalyevo, ‘on the left,’ the shadow market. Now all of a sudden they waste four regimental commanders, all in the same military district.”
“You could take that to Redman,” Keegan suggested.
“Waste of time.”
“Those other cases—I seem to remember the three guys who—”
“Yeah, that was part of the temperance campaign. Too many guys turn up drunk on duty, and they pick three volunteers, pour encourager les autres.” Bob shook his head. “Jeez, Voltaire would have loved these guys.”
“You talk with people who’re into civilian intelligence?”
“No, my crowd is all military telecommunications.”
“At lunch last—Monday, I think, I was talking with a guy from Langley. Ex-Army, we go way back. Anyway, he was joking that there’s a new shortage over there.”
“Another one?” Bob was amused. Shortages were nothing new in Russia. One month toothpaste, or toilet paper, or windshield wipers—he had heard of many such things over lunch at the NSA commissary.
“Yeah, car and truck batteries.”
“Yeah, for the last month you can’t get a battery for your car or truck over there. A lot of cars are not moving, and batteries are being stolen left and right, so people are disconnecting their batteries at night and taking them home, would you believe?”
“But Togliattishtadt—” Toland said, and stopped. He referred to the massive auto factory-city in European Russia, the construction of which was a “Hero Project” for which thousands of workers had been mobilized. Among the most modern auto complexes in the world, it had been built mainly with Italian technology. “They have a hell of a battery manufacturing facility there. Hasn’t blown up, has it?”
“Working three shifts. What do you think of that?”
Toland examined himself in the full-sized mirror in the Norfolk BOQ complex. He’d made the drive down the evening before. The uniform still fit, he noted, maybe a little tight at the waist, but that was nature at work, wasn’t it? His “salad bar” of decorations was a bleak row and a half, but he had his surface warfare officer’s badge, his “water wings”—he hadn’t always been a glorified radio operator. His sleeves bore the two and a half stripes of a lieutenant commander. A final swipe of a cloth across his shoes and he was out the door, ready on this bright Monday morning for his annual two weeks of duty with the fleet.
Five minutes later, he was driving down Mitcher Avenue toward headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet—CINCLANTFLT—a flat, thoroughly undistinguished building that had once been a hospital. An habitual early riser, Toland found the Ingersoll Street parking lot half empty, but he was still careful to take an unmarked space lest he incur the wrath of a senior officer.
“Bob? Bob Toland!” a voice called.
It was now Commander Edward Morris, USN, Toland noted, and a shiny gold star on his uniform jacket designated him as the commander of some ship or other. Toland saluted his friend before shaking hands.
“Still playing bridge, Bob?” Toland, Morris, and two other officers had once established the most regular bridge foursome at the Pearl Harbor officers’ club.
“Some. Marty isn’t much of a card player, but we got a bunch at work that meets once a week.”
“Good as we used to be?” Morris asked as they headed off in the same direction.
“Are you kidding? You know where I work now?”
“I heard you ended up at Fort Meade after you hung it up.”
“Yeah, and there’s bridge players at NSA who’re wired into the damn computers—I’m talking assassins!”
“So how’s the family?”
“Just great. How’s yours?”
“Growing up too damned fast—makes you feel old.”
“That’s the truth,” Morris chuckled. He jabbed a finger at his friend’s star. “Now you can tell me about your new kid.”
“Look at my car.”
Toland turned around. Morris’s Ford had a personalized license plate: FF-1094. To the uninitiated it was an ordinary license number, but to a sailor it advertised his command: antisubmarine frigate number one thousand ninety-four, USS Pharris.
“You always were nice and modest,” Toland noted with a grin. “That’s all right, Ed. How long you had her?”
“Two years. She’s big, she’s pretty, and she’s mine! You should have stayed in, Bob. The day I took command—hell, it was like the day Jimmy was born.”
“I hear you. The difference, Ed, is that I always knew you’d have your ship, and I always knew I wouldn’t.” In Toland’s personnel jacket was a letter of admonishment for grounding a destroyer while he had the deck. It had been no more than bad luck. An ambiguity on the chart and adverse tidal conditions had caused the error, but it didn’t take much to ruin a Navy career.
“So, doing your two weeks?”
“Celia is off visiting her parents, and I’m baching it. What’re you doing for dinner tonight?”
“McDonald’s?” Toland laughed.
“Like hell. Danny McCafferty’s in town, too. He’s got the Chicago, tied up at Pier 22. You know, if we can scare up a fourth, maybe we can play a little bridge, just like the old days.” Morris poked his friend in the chest. “I gotta head along. Meet me in the O-Club lobby at 1730, Bob. Danny invited me over to his boat for dinner at 1830, and we’ll have an hour’s worth of Attitude Adjustment before we drive over. We’ll have dinner in the wardroom and a few hours of cards, just like old times.”
“Aye aye, Commander.”
“Anyway, there I was on Will Rogers,” McCafferty said. “Fifty days out on patrol and I got the watch, right? Sonar says they have a goofy signal, bearing zero-five-two. We’re at periscope depth, so I put the search scope up, train it out to zero-five-two, and sure enough, there’s this Gulfstream-36 sailboat, moving along at four or five knots with the autosteering rig set. What the hell, it’s a dull day, so I flip the scope to hi-power, and guess what? The captain and the mate—there’s one gal who’ll never drown!—are on top the deckhouse, horizontal and superimposed. The boat was maybe a thousand yards away—just like being there. So we turn on the scope TV camera and get the tape machine running. Had to maneuver for a better view, of course. Lasted fifteen minutes. The crew ran the tape for the next week. Great for morale to know just what you’re fighting for.” All three officers laughed.
“Like I always told you, Bob,” Morris noted. “These sub-drivers are a nasty, sneaky bunch. Not to mention perverts.”
“So how long you had the Chicago, Danny?” Toland asked over his second cup of after-dinner coffee. The three had the submarine’s wardroom to themselves. The only officers aboard were either standing watch or asleep.
“Three busy months, not counting yard time,” McCafferty said, finishing off his milk. He was the first skipper for the new attack sub, the best of all possible worlds, a captain and a “plankowner.” Toland noted that Dan had not joined him and Morris for “attitude adjustment” at the base officers’ club, during which they’d tossed down three stiff drinks apiece. It wasn’t like the McCafferty of old. Perhaps he was unwilling to leave his sub, lest the dream of his career somehow end while he was away from her.
“Can’t you tell from the pale, pasty look common to cave-dwellers and submariners?” Morris joked. “Not to mention the faint glow associated with nuclear reactor types?” McCafferty grinned, and they waited for their fourth to arrive. He was a junior engineer, just about to come off reactor watch. Chicago’s reactor wasn’t operating. She was drawing electrical power from the dock, but regulations demanded a full reactor watch whether the teakettle was working or not.
“I tell you guys, I was a little pale four weeks ago.” McCafferty turned serious—or about as serious as he ever got.
“How so?” Bob Toland asked.
“Well, you know the kinda shit we do with these boats, right?”
“If you mean inshore intelligence gathering, Dan, you ought to know that that electronic intelligence stuff you collect comes to my office. Hell, I probably know the people who originate a lot of the data requests that generate your op-orders. How’s that for a revolting thought!” Bob laughed. He fought the urge to look around too obviously. He’d never been aboard a nuclear submarine before. It was cold—nuclear subs have nuclear-powered air conditioning—and the air was heavy with the smell of machine oil. Everything he could see sparkled both from being almost new, and from the fact that McCafferty had undoubtedly made sure that his crew had gotten things looking especially good for his friends. So, this was the billion-dollar machine that gathered all that ELINT data. . . .
“Yeah, well, we were up in the Barents Sea, you know, northeast of the Kola Fjord, trailing a Russian sub—an Oscar—about, oh, ten miles back of her—and all of a sudden we find ourselves in the middle of a friggin’ live-fire exercise! Missiles were flying all over the damned place. They wasted three old hulks, and blasted hell out of a half-dozen target barges.”
“Just the Oscar?” Morris asked.
“Turned out there was a Papa and a Mike out there, too. That’s one problem with us being so quiet in these babies. If they don’t know we’re there, we can find ourselves in the middle of some really unpleasant shit! Anyway, sonar starts screaming ‘Transients! Transients!’ from all the missile tubes being flooded. No way we could be sure they weren’t getting ready to put some real torpedoes in the water, but we stuck up the ESM and picked up their periscope radars, then I saw some of the things whipping over our heads. Damn, guys, for about three minutes there it was just a little hairy, y’know?” McCafferty shook his head. “Anyway, two hours after that, all three boats crack on twenty knots and head back to the barn. Your basic out-and-in live-fire. How’s that for a lively first deployment?”
“You get the feeling that the Russians are doing anything out of the ordinary, Dan?” Toland asked, suddenly interested.
“You didn’t hear?”
“They’ve cut back their diesel sub patrols up north, quite a bit, too. I mean, normally they’re pretty hard to hear, but mostly over the past two months they just ain’t there. I heard one, just one. Wasn’t like that the last time I was up north. There have been some satellite photos of them, a lot of diesel boats tied up alongside for some reason or another. In fact, their patrol activity up north is down across the board, with a lot of maintenance activity going on. The current guess is that they’re changing their training cycle. This isn’t the usual time of year for live-firing.” McCafferty laughed. “Of course, it could be that they finally got tired of chippin’ and paintin’ those old ‘cans, and decided to use ’em up—best thing to do with a ’can anyway.”
“Bubblehead,” Morris snorted.
“Give me a reason you’d have a bunch of diesel boats out of service all at once,” Toland said. He was wishing that he’d passed on the second and third rounds during Happy Hour. Something important was flashing lights inside his head, and the alcohol was slowing his thinking down.
“Shit,” McCafferty observed. “There isn’t any.”
“So what are they doing with the diesel boats?”
“I haven’t seen the satellite photos, Bob, just heard about them. No special activity in the drydocks, though, so it can’t be too major.”
The light bulb finally went off in Toland’s head. “How hard is it to change batteries in a sub?”
“It’s a nasty, heavy job. I mean, you don’t need special machinery or anything. We do it with Tiger Teams, and it takes something like three or four weeks. Ivan’s subs are designed with larger battery capacities than ours, and also for easier battery replacement—they’re supposed to go through their batteries faster than Western subs, and they compensate for it by making replacement easier, hard-patches on the hull, things like that. So for them it’s probably an all-hands evolution. What exactly are you getting at, Bob?”
Toland related the story about the four Soviet colonels who had been shot, and why. “Then I hear this story about how the supply of batteries in Russia has dried up. No batteries for cars and trucks. The car batteries I can understand, but the trucks—hey, every truck in Russia is government-owned. They all have mobilization uses. Same sort of batteries, right?”
“Yeah, they all use lead-acid batteries. The factory burn-down?” Commander Morris asked. “I know Ivan likes One Big Factory rather than a bunch of little ones.”
“It’s working three shifts.”
McCafferty sat back, away from the table.
“So, what uses batteries?” Morris asked rhetorically.
“Submarines,” McCafferty pronounced. “Tanks, armored vehicles, command cars, starter carts for planes, lots of stuff painted green, y’know? Bob, what you’re saying—shit, what you’re saying is that all of a sudden Ivan has decided to increase his readiness across the board. Question: Do you know what the hell you’re talking about?”
“You can bet your ass on it, Danny. The bit on the four colonels crossed my desk, I eyeballed that report myself. It was received on one of our ferret satellites. Ivan doesn’t know how sensitive those Hitchhiker birds are, and he still sends a lot of stuff in the clear on surface microwave nets. We listen in to voice and telex transmissions all the time—you guys can forget you heard that, okay?” Toland got nods from the others. “The thing about the batteries I picked up by accident, but I confirmed it with a guy I know in the Pentagon. Now we have your story about increased live-fire exercises, Dan. You just filled in a blank space. Now if we can confirm that those diesel boats really are down for battery replacement, we have the beginnings of a picture. Just how important are new batteries for a diesel boat?”
“Very important,” the sub skipper said. “Depends a lot on quality control and maintenance, but new ones can give you up to double the range and power of old ones, and that’s obviously an important tactical factor.”
“Jesus, you know what this sounds like? Ivan’s always ready to go to sea, and now it looks like he wants to be real ready,” Morris observed. “But the papers all say that they’re acting like born-again angels with this arms-control stuff. Something does not compute, gentlemen.”
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