Chapter Six: Lietuvēns
LENINGRAD, Saturday, 1st July 1989. The Grand Tambov Hotel. 21:33 hours.
“Okay, enough idle talking. Drink your drinks but we’ve got to get started. As you all know, Latvia is the focus. I’ve spoken to our contacts in the Latvian Popular Front and I’ve met with their Estonian and Lithuanian partners and it seems our plan to organise this long line of people from Tallinn to Vilnius has been received enthusiastically. Of course, as you’d also realise, there are a few practical matters that require our attention.”
“I’m sorry Yuri, I regret that I haven’t been able to attend theses meetings for quite some time. Could you please elaborate about this line of people?” asked Dmitriy.
“As you already know Dmitriy, we will need more than the willpower of the Baltic people if they are to break ties with Moscow. At our last meeting somebody… I can’t recall who it was… somebody raised an important idea. For the countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to break away from the USSR and become independent countries, they would need a lot of international support, especially from the big Western nations. We need something grandiose to take place that will draw a lot of international attention. It needs to be something that the Westerners think is ‘inspirational’… something with a very human feel to it… something that all those Western civil rights people can gush over while sipping on their chardonnay. Anyway, somebody came up with this idea of forming a long human chain that would extend from the Estonian capital, into Latvia, through Riga, and finally ending in Vilnius in Lithuania. All the people will hold hands and sing songs of freedom, and wave their little flags, and… you know… they will do all those things that melt the hearts of the little people out there”
“That was me”, said a voice from among the group that was gathered at the bar in The Grand Tambov Hotel in central Leningrad.
“Oh yes”, said Yuri, “Kostya came up with that one. We might call it The Baltic Way. That’s just an idea that we’ve been kicking around back at the office.”
The Grand Tambov Hotel was a popular meeting place for a certain cabal of Leningrad-based KGB agents, who usually only met at that Soviet flea pit for drinks and gossip. However, in recent years they’d been meeting there to discuss some very big plans that would redirect the future of the Baltic nations. During the Glasnost and Perestroika programs initiated by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, there had been a lot of fraudulent privatisations of state assets, especially in Russia and Ukraine. Corruption was rife and rogue agents within the KGB were at the forefront of orchestrating these thefts. It was absolutely unbelievable what they were getting away with. It was very clear that the USSR was going to become a failed state before long. However, the same people who had been driven by insane levels of opportunism to steal anything they should lay their hands on also feared the consequences of a re-emergent Russia. One day, a well-organised and strong Russian Government might come looking for all the stolen money. They needed somewhere to hide that money. If the Republic of Latvia were resurrected as an independent nation, it could be turned into an offshore banking centre. All it would need is a very corruptible and pliant government that would protect the privacy of every criminal who hides their money in Latvia.
Yuri continued, “Our best chance lies with the Communist Party moderates. The hardliners will never approve of the idea of Latvia breaking away from the USSR. I think the moderates could be convinced very easily. An independent Latvia ruled by these people opens up a candy store for themselves. They will be able to profit it from it immensely. Once they realise they could become multi-millionaires overnight, they’ll be happy to participate.”
“How many people will it take to form this big human centipede you’re planning?” asked Dmitriy.
“We think about two million people”, Yuri replied.
“Oh don’t make me laugh! I’m sorry, Yuri, I think you need to lay off the vodka for a little while. How are we going to get two million people to turn up to do this? This is a population where everybody fears being sent to a labour prison. They’ve been doing as they are told for almost five decades. As if they are going to turn into revolutionaries now!”
“Dmitriy, you really need to turn up to these meetings more often. You have no idea what’s going on, do you?”
Dmitriy remonstrated, “Many of the people you are talking about would have to travel over 150km to get to this human line. They’re not all whizzing around in Ladas, you know. Most of them have no means of transport.”
“Dmitriy, just listen for a moment. Not too long ago, there was a public protest near the Latvian Freedom Monument. The people who attended… and there were a lot of them… marched through the streets of Riga, singing traditional Latvian songs. At the front of that parade was a man called Kostantīns Pupurs. Now, he’s a dancing show pony. He’s a member of some radical group who call themselves ‘Helskini-86’. It’s a group of Latvian intellectuals and other malcontents who dream of Latvia becoming independent again. Well, as true as I sit here and tell you this story, Konstantīns Pupurs carried the flag of the Republic of Latvia at the front of that parade. The entire country knows about him. Do you want do know what’s so special about that crazy little gesture?”
“What?” asked Dmitriy, insolently.
“He didn’t end up in prison. He wasn’t even arrested. Now, do you want to know why he didn’t end up in prison, like he should have?”
“I’m listening”, retorted Dmitriy.
“He didn’t end up in prison because we specifically made sure he didn’t end up there. We made it patently clear to the Latvian KGB, with the heaviest hand that we could raise, that they are to make sure that nothing bad happens to Mr Pupurs. Otherwise, you know very well what would have happened to him if we hadn’t protected him. Pupurs is not one of our men. He and his Helsinki-86 are a potentially dangerous threat to our plans. But we had to make sure he could march through Riga with the Latvian flag held proudly in front of himself because we knew that once word of this got around the people of Latvia, it would embolden people. Think about it, Dmitriy: one man who is a known enemy of the the Soviet elite has just performed an act that would normally get you thrown down into the bowels of Hell, and he has done it without any negative consequences. The word is out there now: agitating for Latvian independence is no longer a health hazard.
“I can see problems with this, Yuri. We’ve made a hero out of somebody who isn’t part of our team. If Latvia ever goes to democratic elections, this man Pupurs will end up becoming the President of Latvia. That’s what the people do to their heroes. They ennoble them. Our plan for Latvia to be ruled by a government that we can control will be gone.”
“Pupurs is already gone, Dmitriy. We waited a while and then we quietly expelled him and his mother from the country. All of the Helsinki-86 have left Latvia. They’re living in West Germany now. We needed him so that Latvians would start believing that civil disobedience could be possible. We achieved that. But we also had to make sure that his kind are not going to be around when Latvia starts to form a new independent government.”
“Why didn’t we just have him and his friends sent to a labour prison, Yuri?”
“Because, Dmitriy, that would scare the shit out of the Latvian population. The message would hit the streets very quickly that the party is over and pro-independence people are getting jailed again, just like old times. We had to make it look like he was given total freedom to move to another very rich country. Nobody has been sent to jail. And that’s our plan. If Communist Party moderates… our guys… agitate for independence, we will be supportive. If anybody we don’t have attached to a leash starts doing it, they will enjoy a new life in a wealthy Western country. It’s all perfectly under control, Dmitriy.”
“You still haven’t explained how we are going to get everybody to attend this long human chain.”
“We also have that base covered, my friend. We have contacts in one of the Soviet petroleum agencies based here in Leningrad. Their man in Ventspils, a most willing infidel, will be able to help with this. We can get the fuel to be supplied to the buses that will transport everybody to their designated location along the human chain. Let’s just say their man in Ventspils has a very strong interest in Latvia becoming an offshore banking centre. After all, he might need to deposit a little cash in one of the domestic banks we hope to establish there at a later date!”
Yuri had an evil laugh.
“We are getting a lot of help from our operatives in the KGB Active Reserve, too. The Latvian Popular Front has a handful of KGB Active Reserve members among its numbers. There’s going to be a trilateral meeting in Parnu, Estonia on the 15th of July. Representatives of each country’s pro-independence movement will be there… the Popular Front of Latvia, the Popular Front of Estonia, and the Reform Movement of Lithuania. Our guys will be embedded in the meeting, of course. They are going to make sure we can get this ‘Baltic Way’ human chain organised. It’s imperative that this thing goes ahead. The publicity this will receive around the world will be immeasurable. Once every Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian has seen this take place, there will be no turning back. The move for independence will be unstoppable. It will even have the tacit support of a lot of powerful people in Russia, too, because they all need somewhere to hide their ill-gotten gains. That’s where we come in: this can only happen because of us. So, the opportunity for us to acquire a nice little pension fund from all of this is quite obvious.”
“Yuri, I love your enthusiasm, but once Latvia becomes a multi-party parliamentary democracy with full separation of powers, not to mention growing alliances to Western nations… such as the United States of America… any offshore banks hiding stolen money will be shut down very quickly, and their directors will be sent to prison. This is a doomed plan that will last about eighteen months, at best. Then we are all going to be in deep trouble.”
“Not so, Dmitriy. You see, in the process of leveraging Latvia’s independence, we will also be leveraging our people into power. Independent or not independent, only Soviet elites will get into power. We are going to re-brand most of the Communist moderates into various “democratic” political parties… left, right, centre, environmentalist, nationalist, liberal… it doesn’t really matter where anybody goes. We are going to make sure that no matter which parties get seats in the Saeima, it will be a party driven primarily by current members of the Latvian Soviet elite. The Latvian people can take their pick as to which group of former Communists they want in government, but no matter who they pick, it will be a bunch of our guys ruling the roost. They can have as much democracy as they want. They can drown in democracy for all we care. The end result will be the same every single time. We win.”
Dmitriy was starting to see the light.
“So we are going to turn Latvia into some kind of dirty little ‘Switzerland’?”
“It’s a great plan, don’t you think?” replied Yuri, “We’re even tossing around the idea of getting Latvia to apply to join NATO and the European Union at a later date, so it looks legitimate and stolen Russian and Ukrainian lucre can be funneled into various investments in the EU, using our little Latvian ‘Switzerland’ as a gateway state. We get what we want… we make a lot of money… have mansions with big swimming pools and beautiful naked women… no boring Soviet hardliners in Moscow ruining our fun. We’ll even have NATO to protect us… and the Latvians feel they have regained their freedom and autonomy again. Everybody is a winner!”
“I have to admit, now that you’ve explained it to me that way, Yuri, it’s brilliant. I like it!” said Dmitriy.
“What did you expect, Dmitriy? I’m not just a handsome face, am I?”
Then Yuri called out, “Hey, Kostya! Have you fallen asleep?”
“Sorry, Yuri. I was just taking some notes for Valērijs. He couldn’t be here tonight. He’s in Moscow right now trying to get some kind of licence… something to do with international currency transactions. It’s all new. You know, something to do with Gorbachev’s new experiments with capitalism. He’s promised me a few little favours if this plan of ours turns out… if we can get this dirty ‘Switzerland’ scheme to come to fruition. Sorry, but a man must make a living. It’s not as if the KGB is paying me a lot of roubles.”
“Are you going to be in Parnu to brief the Active Reserve before the trilateral meeting?” asked Yuri.
“Of course! Valērijs has specifically requested that I attend.” said Kostya.
“Well, that’s enough for tonight. I say we meet again after Parnu. Kostya, you can provide us with a briefing about how it went. Pass on our warmest regards to our brothers and sisters embedded in the Latvian Popular Front. Encourage them to fly the Latvian flag with pride!”
“Just one question…” asked Dmitriy, “… will ordinary Latvians realise we’re behind all this?”
“Short answer, Dmitriy: No. They won’t. It’s crucial that they don’t. Most of the Latvian Popular Front have no awareness about our involvement, either. They think they are getting away with something miraculous. Only our Active Reserve have some idea what’s going on, and even they don’t know the full story. Ordinary Latvians will be supporting this independence struggle from their hearts. They won’t realise at all that they are helping establish a new, covert order in Latvia. To ordinary Latvians it will look and feel like a peaceful, popular revolt against an oppressor, led by pro-democracy Latvian leaders.”
The room filled with laughter as fifteen KGB agents at the Grand Tambov guzzled vodka into the night.
(to be continued Tuesday 7th August, 2018)