CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

group through the Dardanelles and into the Black Sea. It would have

been. .. satisfying to strike back, to smash this insult to Russian

sovereignty, to Russian honor, but Dmitriev lacked the military strength

to oppose them. The Red Banner Black Sea Fleet had been too hard-hit by

defections and neglect to defend the coasts of the Rodina herself.

Dmitriev’s first duty was to preserve the fleet for the coming struggle

with Ukraine.

As much as Dmitriev would have liked to bloody the Americans for their

invasion of the Kola, he was a realist. The American presence in the

Black Sea was almost certainly an artifact of the constantly churning

politics between the United States and the United Nations, an unpleasant

fact that might be wiped away by the stroke of a diplomat’s pen

tomorrow. The Ukraine was a more constant problem, one that was not so

likely to simply go away.

Ukraine had never been wholly comfortable with its role as one of the

largest and most productive republics of the Union. Ethnic Ukrainians

were not Russians, whatever most outsiders might think. They had their

own language, their own culture, and a history of independence extending

back for centuries. Great Russians still remembered, with the same

loving attention to historical detail that recalled the foreign

intervention in the Kola in 1919, that millions of Ukrainians had

actually welcomed the Hitlerite legions as liberators in the Great

Patriotic War.

Now those same Ukrainians were taking advantage of the Russian Civil War

to strengthen their own position–especially in the Crimea.

Geographically, the Crimean Peninsula had always been considered a part

of the Ukraine, which extended across the mainland to the north; the

Russian Federation bordered the peninsula only to the east, across the

narrow Straits of Kerch and on the far side of the Sea of Azov.

Politically and militarily, however–which was to say practically–it

had always belonged to Russia, who’d seen the peninsula’s strategic

naval value as far back as the early 1800s when the czars were still

fighting the Turks.

And then, in the 1950s, Nikita Kruschev had formally and officially

returned Crimea to Ukraine in a gesture of international goodwill and

fellowship. At the time, the gesture had been just that, a gesture, a

public relations gimmick, as an American capitalist might say. .. and

meaningless in the realities of internal Soviet politics.

Now, though, with Russia unable to defend herself on a hundred crumbling

fronts, Kruschev’s goodwill had become a major problem, an invitation to

the Ukrainians to settle old scores and to enrich themselves at Mother

Russia’s expense.

Not that they needed the encouragement, Dmitriev thought wryly. They

would soon be turning their attentions southward. The Ukrainian army was

strong and well-equipped, and they controlled more than half of the old

Black Sea Fleet. They were the real threat, not the Americans.

But how could he explain all of that to Kulagin? The young aide had been

raised and educated during the seventies and eighties, when the West had

been the enemy that threatened the Soviet Union, and the breakaway

republics and states were tools or dupes of Western adventurism, a clear

case of black and white, of good and evil. Though Dmitriev had grown up

with all the indoctrination of the Cold War era teaching him those same

lessons, he knew from long experience that a broader interpretation was

necessary. The forces of political and economic freedom unleashed by

Gorbachev didn’t need Western villains to make them dangerous. The genie

could never be put back in the bottle.

“No, Anton Ivanovich,” he said again after a long and thoughtful


“We cannot stop the Americans. And I wonder if we really want to, after

all. The West may find that intervention here is far more difficult and

costly than they ever imagined possible.” He paused, his eyes still

lingering on the nuclear carrier out in the harbor that might never

venture out of port again. “I do not envy these Americans. They may find

that the Rodina in ruins is a far more dangerous enemy than she ever was

when she stood proudly in strength and union.”

Dmitriev turned away from the window and gave a gesture of dismissal. He

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