The time is “present day”. Russia’s president is a former KGB officer who uses phrases like “The fall of the Soviet Union was one of the greatest tragedies of the last century”. The modern reincarnation of the KGB – the FSB – is all-powerful in Russia. Businesses are “nationalised” – which is “new-speak” for stealing – and their stolen wealth is for some peculiar reason handled by Russia’s national natural gas company Gazprom.
Indeed, that is a pretty accurate description of today’s Russia, which in recent years has come more and more to resemble its predecessor, the Soviet Union. The country is run by a czar who says there is a “special democracy” which exists in Russia; and when the czar decides to extend the country’s sphere of influence beyond its borders, the rest of the world just watches without having the cojones to do anything about it.
Fortunately, this is not the case in Tom Clancy’s latest and last novel, Command Authority. Clancy, who in October last year sadly died, didn’t believe in appeasement and rightly so. And that is what makes his last novel so enjoyable.
Using historical facts and situations that have happened in the recent years in and around the Russian Federation, Command Authority paints a grim picture for Estonia. The tiny Nordic country is invaded by Russian forces, retaliating for “terrorist acts” against its eastern neighbour, and despite it being a NATO member, the alliance hasn’t seemingly come to Estonia’s defence. Clancy’s description of the brief war, including a map of the town of Põlva in south-eastern Estonia, titled “The Battle for Põlva”, sends shivers across one’s back, especially when one has a connection with the country – mainly because the action is so incredibly realistic that one could actually imagine it all happening.
I guess part of the reason why it seems so real is the fact that Russia has indeed constantly threatened its neighbours when they don’t comply with its demands. Look at Georgia – the country lost part of its territory in a brief but bloody war, just because the Kremlin decided to teach its southern neighbour a lesson. Who is there to say the same thing couldn’t happen to Estonia?
Another part, though, that makes it seem too real, is the fact that Tom Clancy is revered as a kind of prophet. The author did somewhat predict the 9/11 terrorist attacks, although in Debt of Honor, it was a Japanese pilot who flew his plane into the US Congress. In a way, he also predicted the Russian-Georgian war, and the capture of Osama bin Laden. As a friend of mine pointed out on Facebook, “I would be worried when living in Põlva”.
Fortunately for Estonia, the president of the United States in Command Authority is not a communist-leaning appeaser as it is the case in the real world. President Jack Ryan – yes, the same CIA analyst played by Harrison Ford in the films – does send troops to help Estonians to defend their country. And moreover, when the action moves south to Ukraine, he makes sure that the Americans do their best to help the country – where the Russian nation did indeed spring from – at least get a fighting chance.
But that is not the gist of the novel, not to worry; nor is it a spoiler. Command Authority has so many twists and turns you wouldn’t believe. Of course, this is something a reader Tom Clancy’s work is accustomed to. And even though the novel is written together with Mark Greaney, it does have Clancy written all over it. One would assume that this Greaney character only helped finalise the book due to Clancy’s untimely death. And even if that is not the case, we’re certainly looking at a world-class thriller with lessons to learn.
Yes, I think there are lessons to learn from the novel. Considering the documentalist nature of the book, the incredible similarities the book bears to the real-life events and the entirely similar characteristics to how today’s Russia operates, I think the more people read this book, the more people will become aware of what today’s Russia really entails. There are still so many people around the globe who think that Russia is a normal, democratic country and the people and nations that don’t see this are just bullying it. What we have to actually see is how Russia itself is bullying everyone around it. As the famous fictional British spy James Bond said in the 1995 film GoldenEye, “Governments change, the lies stay the same.” This is very much the case with Russia, now, 23 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union more so than ever.
One thing is certain though. In a few weeks, thousands of Estonians will be glued to their TV screens, under the naïve illusion that if an Estonian cross-country skier does well in Sochi, it’ll bring unimaginable amounts of fame and glory to the tiny nation. Trust me, it doesn’t. But a great novel from a renowned author can at least make people around the globe acknowledge there is such a country as Estonia. And that is a good thing.
Cover photo is illustrative. Courtesy of Feng Zhu Design blog.