Arctic Gambit: New Excerpt

Arctic Gambit

Larry Bond

Jerry Mitchell Series

May 29, 2018

Arctic Gambit by Larry Bond is the sixth book in the Jerry Mitchell series and an explosive military thriller by the New York Times bestselling author.

Read Chapter 1 over at Tor/Forge! 

Jerry Mitchell, now the commodore of submarine Development Squadron Five, is dismayed when USS Toledo is reported missing in Arctic waters, close to Russian territory. The vessel is captained by his former shipmate and close friend, Lenny Berg. Eager to investigate, Jerry convinces the Navy to redirect one of his squadron’s boats to find out what happened.

It turns out Toledo was sunk just outside of Russian territorial waters by a torpedo launched from a naval mine. Even more disturbing is the discovery that Russia is building a deadly weapon. Engineers have modified the STATUS-6, a strategic nuclear-propelled, nuclear-armed torpedo that is already operational, into a stealthy first strike weapon: Drakon. This new tool would allow the Russians to launch a completely covert nuclear decapitation strike on the USA.

The new Russian president has plans for Europe and is more than willing to use nuclear blackmail―or an actual attack―to keep the Americans from interfering. To avoid a Russian war in Europe, and a nuclear catastrophe at home, Mitchell must find a way to destroy the Drakon launcher before it’s too late.

2

STORM CLOUDS


19 June 2021
1345 Eastern Daylight Time
Minsk, Belarus
CNN Headline News


The correspondent stood with the floodlit columns of the Palace of the Republic in the background. The foreground was filled with citizens milling about, some singing, others holding signs in Cyrillic. “This is Chad Gallagher for CNN. Kastryčnickaja Square is filled with peaceful demonstrators now, although that may be the wrong word to describe them.”

The image shifted to a daylight scene, with the plaza much emptier. Wisps of vapor, either tear gas or smoke, partially obscured groups of men, mostly civilians but some police. The latter were in riot gear, and struggled with the civilians. “This was the scene early this afternoon as government forces fought to take control of the square from protestors.

“These images were taken as we arrived, before police told us to stop filming. Throughout the afternoon we interviewed citizens who said that earlier today, the square had been crowded with people protesting the government’s decision to rejoin the Russian Federation.

“Throughout the afternoon, police cleared the square of all civilians, then pro-government ‘demonstrators’ began arriving by bus. A heavy police presence arrested any newly arriving antigovernment protesters. They also directed the bus traffic, and gave instructions to the new arrivals.

“A police official spotted us late in the afternoon. When we asked if we could use the camera, he said, ‘Is okay.’

“Now Kastryčnickaja Square is filled with cheers and people singing Russian patriotic songs. It’s been nearly forty years since Belarus declared its independence from the then-collapsing Soviet Union, but today, the government’s message to the world appears to be, ‘We’re glad to be back.’”

*   *   *

The scene shifted to CNN studios. A map of Russia filled the background, with the different administrative divisions marking the various oblasts, republics, and krais. Belarus, highlighted, formed a bulge on Russia’s western border, projecting farther west, in between Ukraine and the Baltic States.

“This is Christine Laird on CNN’s International Affairs. We’re following the incredible story of Belarus’s joining, or more properly, rejoining with the Russian Federation thirty years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. As an autonomous republic, Belarus will retain its government and constitution, but she will now be represented by Moscow on international matters, and her economy and military will be integrated with the rest of the Russian Federation.”

The camera zoomed out suddenly to show a man seated to Laird’s right. “With me is Professor Samuel Kyvalyow, from Georgetown University’s School of International Affairs.” Kyvalyow was young for a professor, still in his thirties, with a narrow face and thick blond hair, hinting at Slavic ancestry. “I understand you have family in Belarus, Dr. Kyvalyow.”

“Yes, not far from Minsk,” he replied, his English completely unaccented. “We have been in communication, although I will not say how.” He was nodding agreement, but his expression revealed how worried he was. “They are safe, although my uncle now regrets not leaving when my parents came here to America, shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union.”

“Please explain to us how this happened so quickly.” Laird sounded puzzled. “Only a few months ago, Belarus was meeting with the European Union about regaining its membership.”

“And that is likely the main reason why Russian President Fedorin decided to move,” the professor answered. “Belarus has a strong economy, with a well-developed, modern industry. Closer ties with the West would move it even further away from Russia’s orbit. As we’ve seen elsewhere, Russia used what has become their standard hybrid warfare approach of fomenting unrest in the ethnic Russian population while threatening military action if the Belarusian government takes action to suppress them. Meanwhile, the Russians invest heavily in Belarus’s industry, often to where they hold a controlling interest, and give bribes to any government official who can be bought, which in this case included President Yatachenko.”

“And Russia’s economy becomes that much stronger.”

“Along with many other benefits,” Kyvalyow answered. “Belarus is now a captive customer for Russian products. Where before Minsk might have chosen to buy from the West, that avenue will now be more restricted. Russian industry will have a source for cheaper manufactured goods.

“And it’s a huge triumph for Fedorin domestically, validating his long-stated plans for ‘restoring Russia’s greatness.’ He was a young teen when the Soviet Union collapsed, and has publicly said that he has dedicated his life to restoring ‘his father’s Russia.’ He accepts that military overspending caused the collapse, and that a proper understanding of economics is vital to rebuilding Russian power. That’s why he studied economics, and he’s written several books on the topic, which are now finally being translated and read in the West.

“Militarily, regaining Belarus restores part of the barrier that used to exist between Russia proper and NATO. During the Cold War, the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia to the north, along with Belarus in the center and Ukraine to the south formed a geographic buffer against any NATO attack. Having been invaded so many times, Russia wants satellite countries to keep an invader out of Russian territory.”

“But that still doesn’t explain how Fedorin was able to turn the tables on the West so quickly,” challenged the CNN anchor.

“The advantage of hybrid warfare, Ms. Laird, is that it combines traditional military aspects with irregular warfare, criminal activity, and even terrorist attacks. All are applied against the target at the same time to achieve the desired political objectives. If the target is unprepared for this kind of coordinated political assault, the effects can be devastatingly rapid. Belarus was, frankly, unprepared for this onslaught, and by the time they tried to react, it was too late.” Kyvalyow looked like he was going to continue, but decided he was coming dangerously close to ranting and fell silent.

Laird nodded her understanding, and then asked the obvious question. “What do you think will happen next?”

“In a general sense, especially given his success in Belarus, I am sure President Fedorin will continue to find ways to expand Russian influence, especially into what were Soviet or Warsaw Pact countries. Exactly how is harder to say, but he’s shown a willingness to use any tactic that will exploit an opponent’s weakness and strengthen his own hand—this is the essence of multimodal warfare. There isn’t a fixed set of tactics. Each situation is approached individually. Where this will happen next, I can’t predict.

“Russian foreign policy is often described as opportunistic. I agree, to a point, but Fedorin took advantage of the existing corruption within the Minsk government and skillfully exploited it, creating his own opportunity. The next step was to fan the flames, claiming Russian nationals were at risk, threatening military action on the one hand and economic benefits on the other. A classic case of ‘the carrot’ and ‘the stick.’ This ‘overnight’ takeover was actually months, or even years in the making. President Fedorin just had to wait until the time was ripe. There is this one thing: If we can watch Russian actions carefully, and see where they are active, we may be able to deduce their future intentions.”

*   *   *

The cameras switched off, and Laird turned to shake Kyvalyow’s hand. “That was well done, Professor. I’m sure your students enjoy your lectures.”

He smiled, but there was a grim edge to it. “My classes have been very well attended lately.”

“And good luck to your relatives still in Belarus.”

Kyvalyow thanked her and left the studio. As he rode the elevator down, he checked his cell phone—still no word. He’d lied to the quite pretty reporter, but the last thing he wanted to do was tell her that early that morning, his uncle Artyom and his family had loaded everything in their car and headed northwest toward the border with Lithuania. It was about a two-hour trip, and he should have received word by now that they were in Vilnius, the capital. Kyvalyow and his parents were waiting to help arrange their passage to the United States.

He hoped his relatives were safe.

20 June 2021
0920 Eastern Daylight Time
Oval Office, The White House
Washington, D.C.


“They probably started moving at first light, Mr. President.” The army colonel gestured toward a large flat-screen on one wall. “Two-thirds of the Western Military District is moving or will move within the next few weeks.”

The flat-screen showed a map of Russia, with a big part of northwestern Russia highlighted in red. Colonel Collins knew they didn’t need lots of detail. “There are three armies in the Western Military District. The First Guards Tank Army is in Moscow”—he tapped the map to the north—“the Sixth Army is in St. Petersburg, and the Twentieth Army is to the east of Moscow, in Nizhny Novgorod.” Each army’s headquarters was marked on the slide by a small numbered flag, with the garrisons of the different units marked by smaller flags, forming a cluster around each headquarters.

“Overhead imagery this morning showed units loading for what appears to be a permanent move.” Collins pressed a control, and satellite photos appeared. Long columns of vehicles filled highways. Other pictures showed rail yards where tanks and artillery were loading. The map reappeared, linking the satellite photos to different flags. Then, on the same map, arrows appeared near two of the armies, both pointing west.

“The Sixth is staying put,” Collins explained, “but the First is moving west, into Belarus, and the Twentieth is taking the place of the First in Moscow. Each of those armies has close to fifty thousand troops.”

“It’s like moving pieces in Risk,” Secretary of Defense Richfield commented.

“But with a lot of hidden moves,” Andrew Lloyd, Secretary of State, responded.

“Andy’s right. They couldn’t have decided to do this overnight,” President Hardy stated. “How long?”

Collins answered, “The physical prep work for a move of this size takes weeks. The staff work would take months to organize, perhaps a year.”

“So they were getting ready for this before they orchestrated the takeover in Minsk. And the cost?” Secretary Lloyd added.

Collins shrugged. “Hundreds of millions to rebuild or expand the old Soviet bases in Belarus. TRANSCOM and Army logistics people are working up estimates, which will be passed to the Joint Staff and the intelligence community. The move could cost even more than the money Fedorin spent in bribes to essentially buy Belarus.”

“And Russian cash is in short supply right now,” Lloyd added, “so Fedorin really wanted to do this … badly.”

Richfield added, “He didn’t need to move those troops. Our intel says that the Minsk government was on top of any dissent. Those Russian troops aren’t there to back up Yatachenko’s government.”

Hardy asked, “Where will he do it next? What’s his next move?”

Collins looked helplessly at the two cabinet secretaries. That question was well above his pay grade. Richfield broke in. “I’ll answer that question, Mr. President. Fedorin’s missed his chance in Ukraine. When Putin annexed the Crimea in 2014, he pissed off the Ukrainians so much that there’s no way he can get it back now short of an overt invasion.”

“That hasn’t stopped him from backing the Russian militants in Ukraine,” Hardy muttered.

Richfield continued, “And he’d love to bring the Baltic States back into the fold, but they’re part of the EU and NATO now. Their economies and governments aren’t as vulnerable as Belarus or Ukraine—and then there’s that little issue of Article V.” Lloyd and Colonel Collins both nodded agreement with the SecDef. Any military action against the Baltic States would invoke the collective defense clause that would bring the other NATO nations to their aid. No one thought Fedorin was crazy enough to try and push the NATO alliance that hard.

Hardy shook his head, frowning. “That doesn’t answer my question. I understand that a Russian-style takeover needs a reasonable Russian national presence in the population and a weak government, one corrupt enough to be bribed.” He paused for a moment, staring at the map. “You’re all in agreement that he can’t take over any more European states with the same tactics. Which means he’ll have to change his tactics, try something else, somewhere else.”

“Yes, Mr. President. And he’ll be as sneaky as he can,” Richfield added.

21 June 2021
1415 Local Time
Red Square
Moscow, Russia


Russian President Ivan Olegovich Fedorin was in his mid-forties; he looked young for his age, with only a few traces of light gray lacing his otherwise short brown hair. His eyes were gray, in a long narrow face that could switch from a smile to an angry scowl between two words. He was as handsome as an actor, and just as adept at changing roles as the situation demanded. At the moment, he smiled broadly, waving to the cheering crowd, basking in their wild enthusiasm. A sea of Russian flags waved before him, celebrating the latest achievements as if he were a conquering hero of old.

A parade celebrating the return of Belarus to the Russian Federation had been announced the same day as the agreement was signed. Exactly one week later, Belarusian President Yatachenko and other Belarusian officials stood on the reviewing stand next to Fedorin, watching as tanks and troops marched by and jet aircraft flew almost dangerously low over the crowd, then spiraled up into spectacular aerobatics.

The moment the massed bands stopped playing, Fedorin almost sprang to the podium. He grabbed the microphone with one hand and leaned forward. “Comrades! Fellow Russians! Our country is larger, stronger, and richer today because our Belarusian brothers have rejoined us! And Belarus is stronger and richer as part of our Federation!”

Cheers would have drowned out whatever he said next, so Fedorin waited until the din had faded.

His exuberant tone mellowed, and he spoke more calmly. “There are many good reasons why Belarus should be part of the Russian Federation. Our common language, our cultures, our shared faiths, all make her return to us seem more than just a good idea.” His voice rose to almost a shout. “But those do not matter as much as the pure joy I feel at part of our fathers’ nation once again in its proper place!”

There was another cheer from the crowd, but Fedorin only waited for a moment before continuing. “Russia will be stronger still as our dismembered motherland rebuilds and heals. Soviet Russia was once the greatest, the richest, the most advanced country on Earth, but our leaders made mistakes, and our enemies seized on them, weakening our beloved nation and finally shattering it.

“Forty years later, we have returned to the world stage, and while I promise you that we will not make the same mistakes as our fathers did, our enemies are already sharpening their knives. They try to stifle us and strangle our country with sanctions and industrial espionage and boycotts and military treaties explicitly aimed at ‘containing’ us once more.”

Fedorin paused and scanned the crowd. “They should be careful.” He smiled wickedly. “We grow stronger while they grow weaker. Some day, perhaps not too long from now, the Russian Federation will be a union once again, with all of our lost peoples rejoined with us in a nation so powerful that the world will not only acknowledge our leadership, they will beg us to lead them.

“I will share my dream with you all, and I beg you all to make it your dream as well. Let us remake our fathers’ Soviet Union, a nation unlike any before it, and still the greatest nation in history. But we will not be satisfied with recreating past glories, but will use them as a starting point to move forward, to do things we can only dream of now.”

21 June 2021
2030 Eastern Daylight Time
CNN International Affairs
New York, New York


The background screen behind Christine Laird showed a constantly shifting montage with videos of President Fedorin and Russian military hardware, along with demonstrations both pro-and anti-Russia. The camera kept the background in view behind Laird as she began her broadcast.

“Fedorin’s latest speech has already received over a million views, and the Russian Foreign Ministry has thoughtfully uploaded versions subtitled in English, French, German, and many other languages, even Malay. European leaders are becoming more open in expressing their concerns about Fedorin’s revanchist policies.

“Senator Tom Emmers from Kentucky is a member of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee. He is sponsoring a resolution calling for President Hardy to be more decisive in opposing Fedorin’s actions. Welcome, Senator.”

Emmers was a large man with thinning brown hair. His round face broke into a wide beaming smile as Laird introduced him. “Thank you, Christine. You know, I had to look up ‘revanchist’ the first time I heard it. It turns out to be derived from a French word, and means wanting to regain territory that was lost, usually through a war or some such misfortune. There’s also an element of revenge, implying that whoever made them lose the territory will suffer payback.”

Laird prompted, “And you think this is an accurate description of Russian President Fedorin’s policies?”

“They could put a picture of him in the dictionary next to the definition,” Emmers asserted, “but while I had it open, I found another word: ‘irredentism.’ This one is from Italian and, boiled down, means people who want to claim territory where some folks with the same language or culture live. It doesn’t have to even be a majority of the people living there. Does that sound like any Russian presidents we know?

“Fedorin believes in the ‘good old days,’ when the Soviet Union was a military superpower. He was barely out of school when everything fell apart over there. His dad and Putin were buddies, back in the day, so it’s no surprise that the young Fedorin started his career in the KGB working for Putin, learning the dark arts from a master. Now he’s in charge, trying to bring back something that’s a mix of old propaganda and wishful thinking. In case the present administration hasn’t figured it out, he wants to revive the good old USSR, and he doesn’t care who suffers getting there.”

Emmers sat up a little straighter, and his tone harshened. “I’m sending a dictionary to President Hardy with those two definitions highlighted. It tells him everything he needs to know about Fedorin, and will be much more than he knows now. The president did nothing to interfere with Fedorin’s takeover of Belarus, and doesn’t appear to be doing anything now that it’s happened. If ‘not doing anything’ was going to be Hardy’s foreign policy, he should have warned us before the election, so we could all start taking Russian lessons.”

Laird referred to a paper on her desk. “Press Secretary Andrews read a statement today saying that they’re continuing to quote, ‘monitor the Russian actions for any violations of international law—’”

“‘Monitor’ is a word that means ‘watching without acting,’” Emmers interrupted angrily. “And we already know what Fedorin thinks about international law. The only thing he cares about, or understands, is raw power, and until this administration grows a spine, the Russians will keep steadily reclaiming the old Soviet client states, and causing lots of damage along the way.

“Every state that used to be in the Soviet Union has suffered violent demonstrations and hacking attacks. There are even some ‘accidental’ deaths that this administration ought to be investigating. Even countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, which are both members of NATO, by the way, report incidents of cyber hacking, sabotage, and Russian economic sanctions.”

The senator took a breath, and Laird quickly interjected, “You make some bold assertions, Senator, but isn’t it true that everyone was caught by surprise by the sudden turnaround in Belarus? The universal response from the European Union countries certainly paints that picture, and if I may, neither your committee, nor any other in the House or Senate seems to have anticipated this development. Just what would you like the administration to do differently?”

Emmers grimaced briefly; he didn’t like being challenged by this young upstart. Ignoring her jab, he went straight to answering the question. “We need to get some skin in the game. Get more troops over there, on a permanent basis. Help upgrade the military forces of our allies. How about some stronger economic sanctions? Don’t wait for the Russians to do something. By then, it’s too late. Hit Fedorin and his stooges in their wallets. And how about some decent intelligence briefings?” Emmers shrugged with an air of sarcasm. “Does the CIA know more and they’re just not sharing? Or is this it? The Russians are busy all over Europe. What’s their next move?”

21 June 2021
2250 Eastern Daylight Time
The Executive Residence
Washington, D.C.


They still read together in bed before sleeping, although it now sometimes included watching recorded video. Hardy thumbed the control and the flat-screen went dark. “Why did Dwight think you needed to see that?” asked Joanna. There was irritation in her voice. She jealously guarded their “quiet time” together and the CNN clip was nothing but an ugly intrusion. “Emmers is going to criticize you no matter what you do or say.”

Hardy scowled for a moment, then answered, “Emmers is a horse’s patoot, but he’s also right. We don’t have enough intelligence to predict where Fedorin will move next. By the time we’d doped out what was going to happen in Belarus, it was too late.”

“Maybe even Fedorin doesn’t know,” Joanna suggested. “He could just sit there and stir the pot until he sees an opening, and then act.”

Hardy nodded agreement. “Being a dictator does let him move more quickly. But without taking the analogy too far, he has more than one bubbling pot on the stove, and there’s lots of different things he can do: build up the fire or put in different ingredients, and we don’t even know the recipes he’s trying to make.”

“But you do know,” she insisted. “He’s trying to make borscht, every time.” Her husband’s annoyed frown caused her to chuckle. She held up a hand, smiling. “Okay, I’m sorry. I broke your metaphor. I understand that you need more information, and that Fedorin has the initiative. He can choose the time and place, and all you can do is react. But you also know his goals.”

“And Ray Peakes is working that angle, as he tries to improve our intelligence collection and analysis capabilities on Russia. We’ve been spread pretty thin with most of our attention being in the Middle East and Asia for the last couple of decades, as you well know, my dear. We need to essentially rebuild our Russian analytical cadre. You just can’t order decent analysts online. They need to be recruited, trained, and grown. But this takes time, something that our allies, and my critics, don’t get.”

“Meanwhile, Emmers and his allies will snipe at you.”

“I’m not worried about that; I’m already developing a thick hide. But Fedorin is not our friend, and wants to do us harm.”

“He’s trying to take over entire countries,” Joanna persisted. “He can’t do that entirely out of sight.”

“Perhaps not. But, we’re still depending far more on luck than I’d like.”

23 June 2021
0700 Local Time
USS Jimmy Carter
Arctic Ocean


Commander Louis Weiss strolled slowly into the control room, carefully cradling his extra large mug. He wasn’t completely awake yet and he didn’t want to spill a drop of the precious hot black liquid. Although the mug was capable of holding twenty ounces, Weiss had only filled it to the “sea line,” which meant a mere sixteen. A gift from his wife, it was a simple, sturdy design adorned with the ship’s patch and motto, Semper Optima—“Always the Best.”

Pausing to look around control, he found everything running smoothly, despite the fact that their deployment had taken a hard left turn. Two days earlier the boat had rendezvoused with the Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star at Smith Bay, a remote ice-infested cove at the top of Alaska. Polar Star had hightailed it from Anchorage, on the other side of the state, after stopping just long enough to pick up a navy detachment and their cargo that had been flown into Elmendorf Air Force Base. It took nearly six days for the Coast Guard ship to reach the northern bay; thick broken ice slowed them down a little as they rounded Barrow.

By comparison, Jimmy Carter had it easy. Weiss was able to bring her in submerged until they were well within sight of land. Once tied up alongside Polar Star, navy and coast guard personnel quickly transferred the supplies, spare parts, mission data, and mail. Commodore Mitchell had promised the last item as compensation for what promised to be a long deployment. Five hours later, Jimmy Carter slipped back beneath the Arctic Ocean.

Acknowledging the officer of the deck’s greeting, Weiss wandered over to the plotting tables. His executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Joshua Segerson was hunched over the port table, studying a chart of the Severnaya Zemlya area.

“Good morning, Skipper,” hailed Segerson without looking up.

“Morning, XO. So how’s the search plan coming along?”

“Nav finished it about half an hour ago, he was up all night tweaking the damn thing. I had him hit the rack.”

Weiss nodded his understanding; the ship’s navigator, Lieutenant Commander Kurt Malkoff, was a perfectionist. “Yeah, well, Kurt can get pretty focused when he thinks he needs to.”

“Which is all the time,” noted Segerson with confidence. “But still, after thirty-some hours staring at this chart I figured there was a distinct risk of us ending off of Australia, so I booted him out.” The executive officer stood up straight, rolled the chart up and offered it to Weiss. “I’ve just finished looking it over, and it is one finely polished cannonball. It’s ready for your review, sir.”

“Thanks, I’ll study it when I grab my second mug,” said Weiss as he stuffed the chart under his arm. “But what’s the bottom line, XO? How long does Kurt think it’ll take to find Toledo?”

Segerson shook his head. “I asked him the same thing, Skipper, and I got a typical answer. If we’re really lucky, about a week, if we’re really unlucky, never, and then there is everything in between.”

“I just hope we find her, Josh. There’s a lot of attention on this mission. A lot of presidential attention.”

“I’d say that’s normal when a boat goes missing.”

Weiss shook his head vehemently. “No, no, XO, it goes way beyond that. You see, the new president, our squadron commodore, and Toledo’s skipper all served together on Memphis. From what I heard, that wardroom got really tight during their last mission—a SPECOP in Russian waters.”

Segerson whistled softly, then said, “No pressure.” He hadn’t been aware of that little fact.

“You got that right, Josh.” Weiss paused to take a stiff drink of his coffee and then motioned toward the navigation chart. “We’re still good, position-wise?”

“Yes, sir. We’ll be in the search area in a little less than twenty-four hours. Then the real fun begins. I take it you still intend to make a quick pass of the area, get the lay of the land, in a manner of speaking?”

Weiss nodded. “Yes, XO, and we go in at battle stations. I don’t know what happened to Toledo, but I’m not taking any chances.”

Copyright © 2018 Larry Bond.

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