MOSCOW, GRU HEADQUARTERS, DECEMBER 2014
All the relevant parties were assembled in the plush bureau of General Sergei Ivanov, the head of the agency’s foreign operations unit. Ivanov, a former commander of a division of special forces, had moved to military intelligence just four years earlier. His daring and guile served him well in his current post, too. The military intelligence agency, the GRU, had worked for decades beyond the borders of the Soviet Union, in parallel with the KGB in its various incarnations. That was the way in which the Soviet leaders, Lenin, and Stalin thereafter, were able to divide and rule, and to ensure that no single organization gained exclusive power. And the GRU continued to operate outside the empire even after Stalin’s departure, employing methods that were not typical of a military intelligence agency, and this same tradition accompanied Russia into the twenty-first century, too.
Ivanov had never really felt comfortable in his gilt-edged bureau. He had always been more at home in a rangers’ tent or camouflaged foxhole. But GRU headquarters were located in a palace from the days of czars, and he was now one of the organization’s senior commanders. The palace’s splendor had indeed faded and crumbled over the years, but the bureaus were still immense, with gold work adorning their ceilings, and colorful timeworn carpets enhancing the brown wooden floors that shone with polish. He had learned to pretend to be one of the family. Right now, he was fully focused on the words coming from his colleague’s mouth.
Colonel Denis Kovanyov, a short, thin, gray-haired and pale-faced man, was addressing the restricted forum: “I’m pleased to inform you that the forces in Ireland and Germany are almost ready for action. The Irish team will arrive in England immediately after Christmas, and then split up and operate simultaneously in London, Birmingham, and Manchester. Three pubs, three bombs. The German team will also split up, and its members will lie in wait on New Year’s Eve near the homes of three senior bank officials—the CEO of Commerzbank, the CEO of DZ Bank, and the deputy CEO of Deutsche Bank. As you know, the CEO of Deutsche Bank has been under tight security ever since the incident involving the extortion attempt by the Serbian gang, and it’s impossible to get to him directly, and certainly not with the forces at our disposal. That’s why we’re targeting his deputy. In Italy, I regret to say, we aren’t making as much progress. Apparently, abducting a president these days is a lot more complicated than it was almost forty years ago. So we’re working on an alternative operation, too, aimed at the director of the central bank. An abduction would be our best option, but it appears to be too complex at this stage. We’ll make do with a targeted killing.”
General Ivanov glanced to his right and saw the astonished face of the head of the research department. Before the current meeting, he hadn’t been privy to the operation, and he had been invited to the present assembly only by virtue of a personal and adamant instruction from the GRU chief, and much to the displeasure of the head of the foreign operations unit. “He must be in on things,” the GRU chief had ruled. “Europe is going to go up in flames and he has to understand why. If he doesn’t get to see the overall picture, all the research under his purview will be distorted and misleading.”
“But we agreed to involve as few people as possible,” Ivanov argued angrily.
“Correct, and I’m adding another one. Just one,” his superior officer said, thus ending the discussion.
“What are you up to?” whispered the head of the research department, General Professor Vasily Lavarov, seemingly conversing with himself only.
“Does it remind you of anything?” asked Ivanov, who heard his question.
“Yes, it does. It reminds me of the madness that gripped Europe in the 1970s.”
He saw a faint smile appear on the face of Ivanov, who also raised one of his eyebrows. Lavarov switched from the second to the first person, but it did nothing to dull the intensity of the shock in his voice.
“Are we reconstructing the chaos that prevailed then? Is that what we’re doing?”
The rest of the room’s occupants remained silent.
“From what you’ve described,” Lavarov continued, “it appears we’re re-creating the IRA’s terror attacks in Thatcher’s England, the murders committed by the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, and the abductions and assassinations carried out by the Red Brigades in Italy.”
“You’ve hit the nail on the head,” Ivanov drily confirmed.
“But to what end? What’s the idea behind this theater of blood?”
Ivanov explained, his voice cool and didactic. “We’re at a point in time,” he said, “at which we need to remind the Europeans of our ability to cause damage. They’ve grown accustomed to a comfortable and secure life. Yes, they can see the early manifestations of the Islamic threat, and they’re adopting certain measures to counter it, as partial and as panicky as they may be. But they’ve forgotten about us. We’ve become taken for granted. Taken for granted!” Ivanov reiterated, raising his voice and slamming his palm down on the table. The water in the glass next to him shook. “Look at how they dare to respond when we show even just the first signs of realizing our most basic rights in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. They have no regard for our interests. They belittle them, and treat us as second rate at best, like a nation that may have been a superpower at some point in the past but has now become a marginal player. We can’t allow things to go on like that. They need to be reminded of what could happen if we’re pushed into a corner. We have no intention of setting Europe ablaze. On the contrary. We’ll have the ability to contain the madness that erupts. That’s the only way to show them just how crucial we are to the stability and quiet to which they are so addicted. But before then, they’re going to have to wake up. To understand just how easy it would be to go back to the nightmare they experienced back then.”
“But what’s going to happen if they find out that we were behind all those terror attacks and assassinations and abductions?”
“I realize it’s hard for you to digest what I’ve just said. That’s the whole point. We want them to suspect that we’re involved. That we’re connected to the incidents and that we can stop them. That we’re the only ones with any sway over this wave of terror that’s going to sweep across Europe like a nightmare. They need to come to terms with our power to take Europe—the entire world—back to a time to which none of them wants to return. To ensure success, however, our actions have to remain in the shadows, we have to be like ghosts. So we’re working with proxies, others to do our work. We have genuine Irish and German and Italian agents. And if rumors arise to say that Russian intelligence officers could have some pull, and perhaps even put an end to it, even better. And if the rumors don’t sprout unaided, our psychological warfare personnel will put things right.”
“It’s a crazy idea!”
General Ivanov looked at him with a cold glint in his eyes. “You have the right to express your thoughts in person to the individual who came up with the idea,” Ivanov said. “You’re familiar with his address. The Kremlin, Red Square, Moscow. The guards will be happy to allow you in. No need to worry.”
“Surely he didn’t mean the things we’re doing.”
“I have to say, to his credit, that he added the sting to the plan we formulated. He instructed us to also try to recruit individuals who have a personal connection to the generation of terrorists that operated back then, some forty years ago. The team in Ireland includes three men who were members of the IRA at the time. They’re in their sixties today, but just as tough and dedicated. And we also recruited the sons of veterans of the Catholic Republican Army. The granddaughter of the woman who handled the financial side of Klaus Baader and Ulrike Meinhof’s activities is part of the team that’s operating in Germany, alongside someone who at the time was a young and devilishly talented man, and one of the group’s ideologists. Today he’s a sixty-seven-year-old revolutionary. In Italy, too, we’ve managed to recruit two women who were once members of the Red Brigades in Turin and are now involved again in underground activity. Can you see the poetic beauty in all of this? Not to mention the affection of the masses for the children of the famous. Only this time, the famous will be notorious terrorists.”
Lavarov remained silent.
“That’s the genius of this operation,” Ivanov continued. “The more convincing we are about our ability to do damage, the less damage we will ultimately need to inflict. The sooner they get the message, the sooner we’ll be able to restore order. All we have to do is present them with the alternatives—a violent, fragmented Europe in the throes of madness once again, or a world in which we are treated with respect and appreciation. A pretty simple choice, right? But in order for them to make the correct choice, they first need to be shown the price of making a mistake. And our message has to be clear, clear and forcefully convincing. A collective flashback to the horrors of the 1970s will make things clear. And if it doesn’t, the glimpse of the bloody past will become a prolonged look. The infrastructure is almost ready, and things will begin within a few days.” Ivanov turned to look at his subordinate.
“Good work,” he said to Colonel Kovanyov. “Precision is essential. Don’t deviate from your plans. The operation has to be a model of perfection. Polished like the Bolshoi Ballet. Let it be clear to one and all that there is someone pulling the strings and orchestrating every move.”
All the occupants of the room stood up to leave. The general gestured to Lavarov to remain behind. They were left alone.
“You look as pale as death,” the general said to him. “You should rest for a day or two. Take care of yourself.”