War Scare: Russia and America on the Nuclear Brink

By Peter Vincent Pry | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Operation VRYAN, May 1981

Oleg Gordievsky shuddered in the London cold as he hurried back to the Soviet embassy. Was this sudden chill due to the temperature, or because he had committed treason--again?

Colonel Gordievsky, who managed KGB espionage activities in Great Britain, had profound doubts about communism. His questioning had begun in 1968, after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Gordievsky saw the rebellion as a legitimate attempt to reform and humanize socialism. Over the years, Gordievsky's doubts grew and were reinforced a hundred times over by Soviet domestic and foreign policies that struck him as either stupid or evil. Betrayal finally came in 1974, over lunch in a Copenhagen restaurant, when Gordievsky agreed to work for the British as a double agent. Remaining in the KGB while actually serving the West was an incredibly dangerous proposition, not only for Gordievsky but also for his wife, Leila, their two small daughters, Maria and Anna, and all their relations. As a KGB colonel, he knew well the fate of traitors. Another ideological traitor, Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, caught passing secrets to the West, had been skewered alive on a meat hook and then lowered into a vat of molten metal. But Gordievsky weighed the lives of millions against these risks. He had just delivered information to the British about a secret Soviet operation begun in May 1981 that put the entire world in peril.

In May 1981, Yuri Andropov listened as Leonid Brezhnev, premier of the USSR, told an audience of KGB agents and GRU military intelligence officers that the United States and the Soviet Union were on the nuclear brink. Brezhnev was preaching to the choir, and as Andropov glanced over the awestruck sea of faces, he took grim satisfaction in the fact that Brezhnev's terrifying oratory was inspired by his and the KGB's own painstaking analysis of the international situation.

Andropov rose to speak. Gordievsky would record the scene:

The new American administration, he [ Andropov] declared, was actively preparing for nuclear war. There was now the possibility of a nuclear first strike by the United States. The Politburo had accordingly decided that the overriding priority of Soviet foreign intelligence operations must henceforth be to collect military-strategic intelligence on the nuclear threat from the United States and NATO. To the astonishment of most of his audience, Andropov then announced that the KGB and GRU were for the first time to cooperate in a worldwide intelligence operation codenamed RYAN [VRYAN].

-9-

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