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The day the trial of Brezhnev's son-in-law on charges of corruption opened in Moscow, Yegor Kuzmich Tverdolobov, an employee of Aeroflot in Washington DC, came to the cafe on the ground floor of the Watergate Complex to have his habitual screwdriver and savoury blintzes for lunch. He liked the place partly because the FBI, knowing the popularity of the place with the international clientele, had thoughtfully supplied it with a few Russian-speaking waitresses, and partly because the blintzes were so good.
Looking at this portly and relaxed figure few would have guessed that Yegor Kuzmich was actually a major in the GRU, the Soviet military intelligence. His cover was the position of life jacket maintenance man with Aeroflot's Washington ground staff. His codename was Wink, due to his occasionally disconcerting habit of winking rapidly when confronting a stranger for the first time.
Wink had been in a foul mood ever since he heard the news of the trial on the Russian Service of the BBC. The country was going to the dogs. What next? Soon, they'd start digging corpses out of their graves, just like in that awful movie Repentance, and putting them on trial.
He was pleased when an old colleague, a CIA agent codenamed Scrubber, joined him at his table. Scrubber's duty was to tidy over jobs botched by his organisation in Central America. Wink's job was gathering technical and military information pertaining to the US Air Force.
Their respective specialisations were so narrow and so far removed from each other that, like non-competitive organisms in an ecological niche, they felt safe with each other. Over the years, they'd got used to occasionally having their own mini-summits over a glass of vodka or a martini.
"Yes, this perestroika business is certainly going too far," opined Scrubber, noticing his friend's dejected mien. "Before you say glasnost twice, they may start cutting our funding in Congress, now that the old Evil Empire is no longer there to scare the voters. We might go the way of the Star Wars -big bang, no bucks."
"Yeah," agreed Wink in a downcast tone. "You Americans should have listened to the warnings Henry and Dick were putting out in the papers early in the piece, saying that this whole reform caper is just another communist ploy. The Cold War has become the Cuddles War, and we are its first casualties. Now it may be too late to redress the damage."
For a while, they ruminated on the possibility of finding another enemy that would satisfy the fears of their respective electorates and the prejudices of their leaderships. They both eliminated China as a possibility. It was too important a market and labour pool to waste.
Japan - you couldn't even think about having agents in Japan - the expense alone would be prohibitive. Australia was too small; besides, you could find all the state secrets you ever wanted in the newspapers there.
There was little choice, they both agreed finally. For the time being, America and the Soviet Union were still by far the most natural enemies. And they now needed each other more than ever.
"You know," said Wink, "things are getting so bad at home, they are thinking about allowing kids with computers to talk to their counterparts abroad. Now any whizbang kid could get, in one hour, more sensitive information by tapping into your networks than I could ever hope to gather in a year. I can't even type, let alone work one of those machines."
"Yeah," echoed Scrubber. "We are getting so hamstrung by the Congress that we hardly get an opportunity to do any work, let alone botch things up. Soon, I'll be out of my job, scrubbing dogs', not intelligence, messes off the streets."
"But surely, we could do something to avert the danger?" implored Wink.
Scrubber sipped at his martini silently for a while. Wink waited respectfully, conscious of his friend's superior deductive skills.
Suddenly, Scrubber hit himself on the forehead. "I think I have it," he shouted. "What? What?" begged Wink.
"Remember Socrates? And the Reichstag fire? What you have to come up with is a bogeyman you can turn into a national scapegoat. Something that will turn the majority of the gullible populace, and the conservative forces, once and for all, against the forces of perestroika."
Wink was all ears. He was not too sure about Socrates, but he knew about the phony Reichstag fire in Germany in the thirties and the subsequent trial and conviction of the supposed culprit. That had surely worked, otherwise Hitler would not have come to power so easily.
As for scapegoats - well, Scrubber did not have to teach him anything about finding, and punishing, scapegoats. Wink went through a pretty tough school himself in his time.
"Tell me," Scrubber continued, "what are the most emotional issues in the Soviet Union today? Is it not the fear of change, the xenophobia, and the struggle between the young and the old?"
"I guess that pretty well sums it up," conceded Wink.
"Well, then you have to find some prominent reformer, accuse him of attempts to corrupt the innocent Soviet youth, and link him with some sinister foreign or émigré elements. I think that will be as sure a recipe for success as the one that got Socrates drinking his hemlock cocktail with friends."
"You mean we have to stage a Sokratsky-type trial to stop the perestroika in its tracks, and to balance out the assault on the conservatives?"
"You've got it, Wink. Yes, the Sokratsky trial, I like the sound of that. A big reversal of Soviet policies will also help us here to put Bush and Quayle safely into the White House. And the good old times of cold, or at least moderately frigid, war would resume.
"There'll be plenty of work for all of us to do. They say you cannot turn the clock of history back, but you sure can throw a darn good monkey wrench into its works."
"I like the idea," Wink said, after some consideration.
"I knew you would," said Scrubber, getting ready to leave. "You know where to find me if you need any help, don't you?" "Sure thing," said Wink, winking at him heartily for the first time in months.
After Scrubber left, Wink called the waitress and ordered himself another screwdriver and a triple portion of blintzes with caviar. Real caviar.
Two months later the Sokratsky trial opened in Moscow amid growing nationalist unrest and clamour for more and faster reforms.
It was the biggest show trial in Soviet history, and became the rallying point for conservatives threatened by change and investigations of corruption, not only in the Soviet Union but also abroad.
PS: This might even come to pass - stranger things have happened.
Editor: Pyotr Patrushev’s books and articles can be found on his website, www.russiantranslate.org
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