Chapter 47, in which Kremlin politics gets nasty
THE INNER CIRCLE’S SHARP EDGE
Yevgeny Kasparanov has been unable to sleep since a summons to an audience with the Deputy Commissar of the KGB’s First Chief Directorate, Alexander Proykiev, was hand-delivered to his office two days ago. Such a summons is usually the beginning of the end for its recipient. This morning, after two sleepless nights, his terror has given way to resignation, to classic Russian fatalism. He knows that when the machine which is Moscow politics gets unleashed and pointed in a particular direction there is no resisting its strength. His only hope was the General Secretary, but Kasparanov’s repeated requests over the last 48 hours for an appointment have been ignored as if they had never been made. And now he must simply accept his fate. His only hope is that his wife and daughter will somehow be provided for or at least spared.
He is about to leave his office for his ten o’clock meeting when Proykiev storms in.
“Sit,” Proykiev orders as he slams the office door shut behind him. “Sit!”
Kasparanov, stunned by this development, sits at his desk as ordered. Proykiev immediately starts pacing; Kasparanov can see he is agitated.
“I have come here as a courtesy to you. After all, you are, for the time being, the author of a strategic plan that has been embraced by the highest authorities in the Party. Do you understand?”
Proykiev punctuates his inquisition by punching his left palm with his right fist.
Kasparanov, owing to fatigue and the sudden shock of Proykiev’s appearance in his office, fails to answer.
“As I thought. I’ll be blunt. You are in danger of being condemned as a counterrevolutionary, a self-aggrandizing narcissist, and reactionary defeatist. Your insistence that this ridiculous scheme that hinges on the questionable loyalties of an avowed fascist, an enemy of the people of the Soviet Union, be carried out can only be attributed to your failure to set aside your personal, bourgeois ambitions in favor of the collective good.”
Kasparanov manages to stifle the urge to ask Proykiev if he is hallucinating, if Proykiev perhaps thinks he is talking to himself. Instead, gathering his composure, he asks a simple question.
“And what is the source of this danger?”
“You!” Proykiev thunders. “You have brought any misery you and your family may experience on yourself and them.”
The severity of Proykiev’s attack is not surprising to Kasparanov. What is surprising is the clear agitation of a man renowned for his sang-froid.
“Can such a state of affairs be avoided? For my family? For my daughter?”
Proykiev continues as if he did not hear the question.
“Schnelling is as good as dead. We have his pitiable communiqués to you that are nothing more than a litany of his failures. Kropotkin has his orders, and I am confident I will receive news at any moment of their execution. This fantastic scheme of yours has been deemed a failure and you are never to mention it again. You will be reassigned. You owe this courtesy to the fact that in certain circles the Cuban affair still bears your name. So long as that is the case, you will not be arrested. You will continue to make yourself available. Do you understand?”
“Understood, Comrade Proykiev.”
“That is all.”
Proykiev executes a swift about face and slams the door to Kasparanov’s small office behind him.
Yevgeny Kasparanov, who could practically feel the noose tightening around his neck no more than ten minutes ago, exhales and falls back into his chair. He sits for a moment as he tries to sort out the morning’s extraordinary turn of events.
To begin with, rather than coming to deliver a coup de grâce, Proykiev announced he is to be spared. That much is clear. But why? After sorting through the possible explanations, Kasparanov can only conclude that the General Secretary has ordered that he not be arrested. Again he asks himself, “Why?” And then it hits him!
Proykiev has the old guard who approved Kasparanov’s plan, including the General Secretary, in his sights and Schnelling is the key. If Schnelling dies, the plan dies, its champions are discredited and the ruthless Proykiev, always the political grim reaper, will be well-positioned to become the head of the KGB, the next step on the path to becoming General Secretary of the Communist Party or Premier of the Soviet Union or both. Proykiev’s unexpected appearance in Kasparanov’s office means Schnelling is still alive, and that Schnelling has unwittingly become a key figure in the Kremlin’s fierce internal politics. There is no doubt in Kasparanov’s mind that if Proykiev is elevated to the head of the KGB or, worse, the head of both the Party and the government, then nuclear war with the West, a position Proykiev has openly advocated for since 1953, is inevitable. Kasparanov has to get a message to Schnelling. Kropotkin must be eliminated or the mission will fail and the fallout from Schnelling’s death could envelop the globe in a catastrophe far worse than the one he has planned and championed!
The simple calculation of this man east of the Iron Curtain is that for the sake of his country and the sake of the world, Kropotkin must die.