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Black Ice: Chapter 26

...It is a game of blind man's bluff. Both are blind. Both, we hope, are bluffing...

Colin Dunne continues his brilliant Cold War spy story.

To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

Forget East meets West. Forget about those places like Berlin and Korea where they've scratched a line in the dust across the road so they can stand eyeball to eyeball. These are quaint rituals, as formalised and lifeless as the quadrille.

Instead, turn the globe on its side. Up on top of the world, that's the place. Without walls or barbed wire, without salutes or ceremony, no check-points, no stiff courtesies, no furtive soldiers' button-swapping, the two sides are already engaged. Battle is joined. Warfare has commenced. Only so far this is an exhibition fight: like karate killers demonstrating their skills, they stop always a fraction short of death.

Between Canada and Scotland there is a 1600-mile stretch of water that has been called the most strategic highway in the world. From their naval base at Kola, the Russian submarines slip unseen down this highway and out into the Atlantic. There, if they felt like it, they could stand between America and Europe, or simply sit on America's front doorstep slotting rockets in at short range.

Anyone who enjoys a symbol might like to think about this: the name which the Russians give to the base from which all this wickedness is unleashed, in America - phonetically at any rate - is the name of a fizzy drink. Kola. Cola. The sinister, the frivolous.

It's not quite so charmingly simple, of course. The Americans don't just sit around with their Cokes. Slap-bang in the middle of this route south is Iceland. As long ago as 1920, a man who later earned something of a reputation as a tactician was talking about the strategic importance of the country; his name was Lenin. Early in World War II, the Brits and the Americans grabbed it before Hitler could, and after the war the Americans left, then moved back in.

The Russian submarines some twice the size of jumbo jets
may be unseen but they are not undetected. Like cuddly black-nosed pandas, Orion P-3C's and AWACS with the giant mushrooms on their backs, trudge backwards and forwards, to and fro, over the cold sea. Beneath it electronic eavesdroppers called sonar buoys pass back details of all the passing traffic. So finely, so accurately can they do this, that the Americans can recognise individual vessels. 'I see old Igor still hasn't got that bearing fixed,' they say. They sit there counting the ships as easily as little boys collecting train numbers.

It is a game of blind man's bluff. Both are blind. Both, we hope, are bluffing.

That would be an acceptable way of preserving the status quo if it wasn't for one thing - the chance Russians have of changing it. They can't invade, of course. This isn't Afghan-istan: it is a part of Europe. They can't nurture revolution: it's one of the few countries in the world that is prosperous and classless.

No, they have one chance. And that is to make the Americans so hated that they have to pack up and go home.

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