CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

maintained nearly two hundred warships and submarines of all sizes in

these waters, plus four hundred aircraft, and that was just our naval

force. Now we control what you see out there, plus the handful at

Balaklava and Kerch. Less than fifty ships still seaworthy, all told,

and I doubt we have the trained men to man more than two-thirds of

those. Our air arm has been reduced even more, and the Army would be

fortunate to muster two full divisions in all the Crimea. We could

attack the American battle group, perhaps even cause some damage, but

all that would do is bring down the full weight of the West on us …

again, as in the Kola. It is over, Kulagin. Our leaders have betrayed

us, and we can no longer hope to hold back the tide.”

The Rodina was dying.

First had come the collapse of the old Soviet Union after Gorbachev had

withdrawn from Europe and lost control of the reforms he’d tried to put

in place to minimize the damage from a failing economy. Yeltsin had done

little better than Gorbachev, allowing the Soviet Republics to go their

own way, making a series of fatal compromises with the West, letting the

economy continue its relentless slide into the gutter. Hard-liners, old

Communists and right-wing Nationalists united by their visions of

restoring order, had ousted Yeltsin in due course, bringing in a

figurehead ruler in the Gorbachev mold to head the revived Soviet Union.

But that compromise regime hadn’t been able to stabilize things either,

and the real leaders of the new Union had turned to the one sure way of

changing the balance of power. .. war.

Dmitriev wasn’t privy to the machinations inside the Kremlin, but he

suspected that the assassination of the Union’s president in Norway had

been an inside job, planned and executed by the KGB or perhaps the GRU.

Within hours the tanks had started rolling across the frozen border

between Russia’s Kola Peninsula and Norway, supposedly in retaliation

for the plot and to “restore order” in a dangerous neighbor. It might

have worked, too; it had worked as a means of bringing the breakaway

republic of Ukraine back inside the Soviet fold, at least temporarily.

Certainly, the West had been slow to react, unwilling, perhaps, to see

danger in a Soviet Union that everyone believed was already dead. The

Norwegian gambit might have left the new Union poised to dominate a

confused and irresolute Europe. .. until the Americans had thwarted the

plan. Their aircraft carrier Jefferson, the same ship Dmitriev had

cooperated with in the Indian Ocean, had crippled the Soviet naval

forces off Norway and opened the way for a full-scale Western

intervention. In the process both Kreml and Soyuz, two-thirds of the

Union’s available carrier force, had been lost in battle, the most

devastating upset of naval power since the destruction of the Japanese

carrier fleet at Midway.

Dmitriev turned away from the window, more discouraged than ever. That

gamble in Norway had been the final blow to the Motherland. A populist

leader named Leonov had seized control from the discredited hard-liners,

but it was too late for a political solution to Russia’s problems. Soon

Leonov’s Popular Democratic Front, the “Blues,” had been locked in

combat with Marshal Krasilnikov’s hard-line “Reds” in an all-out civil

war. As the revived Union had started to disintegrate, the Americans had

intervened in the far north, seizing key military facilities in the Kola

Peninsula. They’d claimed that Krasilnikov was planning to use

submarine-launched nukes to blackmail Leonov into submission, though

Dmitriev was convinced that their real intent had been to guarantee the

success of Leonov and his anti-Communists. The Americans had a long

history of anti-Communist sentiments.

The Kola Intervention, in fact, was the second time the West had put

their troops on the soil of Holy Mother Russia in this century. The

first had been in 1919, when they and a small international force had

occupied Murmansk, Archanglsk, and Vladivostok in opposition to Lenin

and the Revolution. Few outside of Russia remembered that particular

chapter of history now, but the Russians had long memories.

And now that same American carrier, Jefferson, was leading a battle

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