| Guest Historian Chris Oakley says, what if British Prime Minister Harold Wilson really was a spy? If you're interested in viewing samples of my other work why not visit the Changing the Times web site.|
In 1987 after nearly six and a half years of fighting, the Russian civil war finally ended as representatives of the Patriotic Liberation Movement and the Romanov government met in Vienna to sign a cease-fire agreement.
Under the terms of the cease-fire pact one-party rule in the former Soviet Union was abolished and the domestic powers of the KGB were strongly curtailed; the pact also mandated the immediate release of all political prisoners from the Siberian gulags. Although nearly a year would pass before the USSR was formally dissolved, the Vienna agreement effectively marked the end of Communist rule in Russia.
In 2001 a researcher for the news division of Britain's ITV television network discovered a series of previously hidden letters between Oarsman and Tinkerer; these letters bolstered long-standing suspicions that MI-6 had been involved in Harold Wilson's assassination twenty-seven years earlier and would later play a crucial part in the Blair government's 2004-05 inquiries into the assassination.
n order to guarantee the researcher's safety while he waited to testify at official government hearings on the matter, he was placed under protective custody by Scotland Yard and at one point even lived in Canada under an assumed identity.
In 1986 on this day deposed Soviet ruler Grigory Romanov was indicted by a Moscow tribunal for allegedly sanctioning human rights violations and war crimes against captured PLM guerrillas during the Russian civil war.
It was the first such prosecution of a Russian head of state in the country's long, tumultuous history; at the request of the prosecution UN observers were present to guarantee that the witnesses' civil rights wouldn't be violated.
The Romanov trial would prove to be one of the most contentious hearings of any kind ever held in a Russian court, so much so that at one point riot squads had to be deployed simply to make sure witnesses and attorneys could get in or out of the courtroom.
In 1980, on this day American voters went to the polls in what would be the closest presidential election since the JFK-Nixon showdown in 1960. Incumbent president Jimmy Carter was seeking a second term in the White House, while Republican challenger Ronald Reagan sought to restore the Oval Office to GOP control for the first time since Carter beat Ford in the 1976 elections.
1980 Presidential ElectionAfter Iranian Islamic militants seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran in late 1979 Carter's approval rating had taken a steep dive; it started to rise again, however, as events in the Soviet Union appeared to be vindicating Carter's "soft" foreign policy rather than the "hard" policy advocated by Reagan. Sensing that attacking Carter on foreign policy matters might backfire, Reagan's campaign strategists opted instead to focus on the weaknesses in Carter's economic policy. This proved to be the right call given the recession which was plaguing the U.S. at the time; during the summer of 1980, as political unrest in the USSR spiraled out of control and the Summer Olympics in Moscow played to much smaller crowds than previously expected, Reagan gradually closed the gap on Carter.
A new installment in the Necessary Evil threadBy late September the former California governor was just four percentage points behind Carter in most opinion polls. What might have been the most critical moment of the final weeks of the '80 campaign came when, in what later became known as "the October surprise", Reagan campaign staffers got hold of a Carter debate strategy memo and used it to craft a devastating counterattack for Reagan when he and Carter squared off in their final presidential debate. On the morning of Election Day itself Carter and Reagan were locked in a statistical dead heat and would remain so for several hours as the returns came in on Election Night. Not until 1:32 AM Eastern on November 5th, more than two hours after the polls had closed on the West Coast, did Reagan begin to pull away from Carter-- and even then he had to wait another five hours before he could declare victory.
Reagan's win came as a surprise to many political experts, who had expected Carter to get a second term as president. But the GOP nominee turned President-elected had worked tirelessly to build support among moderate and conservative voters, particularly Americans of Eastern European descent who shared his anti-Communist ideals, and that ultimately helped tip the scales in his favor. The new president wouldn't have to wait long for an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to ending Communist domination of Eastern Europe; just twenty days after he won the presidency, the Russian civil war began
In 1980, on this day the anti-Communist insurgency in Afghanistan gained a significant strategic victory with the capture of the government airbase at Bagram.
Afghan DebacleUp until then the airbase had been a major component of the Kabul regime's war to crush the insurgents; its capture dealt a heavy blow to that campaign and would later be cited by post-Cold War historians as an early link in the chain of events that led to the Marxist dictatorship's collapse just six months later. The rebels' capture of the Bagram airbase was aided by disaffected Afghan regular army troops who'd gotten fed up with their low pay and the repressive nature of their government; these men would later join their new allies in repulsing an attempt by government forces to retake the base. A new installment in Necessary EvilTwo days after this failed offensive was turned back, the Afghan army's chief of staff was fired.
The Marxist regime in Kabul immediately petitioned the Soviets for the immediate deployment of massive contingents of Red Army combat soldiers to Afghanistan to shore up the crumbling Afghan regular army. But with the Soviet Union mired deep in its own internal political crisis, Moscow could only spare 10,000 troops -- and even this small force would be hastily withdrawn when food riots erupted in Kiev and Minsk in June of 1980 and pushed the USSR one step closer to the brink of anarchy. The withdrawal soured Afghan-Russian relations in the final years of Communist rule in Moscow and seriously damaged the Red Army's reputation as a fighting force.
Interestingly, some of the same Soviet troops who served in the 10,000-man Red Army contingent briefly deployed to Afghanistan would later join the anti-Communist rebellion that broke out in Russia in the fall of 1980.
In 1984, on this day Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha died suddenly of heart failure at the age of 75.
Death of Enver HoxhaHis passing triggered the most severe political crisis in Albania's modern history, since succession procedures were unclear and almost no one in the Marxist regime's upper echelons was strong enough to take power single-handedly; furthermore, the Albanian people were becoming increasingly fed up with the repression they'd been subjected to under the hard-line Stalinist government that had ruled the country since 1946. Within just hours of Hoxha's funeral on July 2nd, the streets of Albania's capital Tirana were filled with demonstrators demanding the end of one-party rule and greater political and economic freedom for Albania's citizens.A new installment in Necessary Evil
In spite of the Marxist regime's sternest efforts to crush the incipient uprising, the demonstrators refused to back down from their calls for change; indeed some of the more militant dissidents were inspired by the example of Russia's Patriotic Liberation Movement to begin secretly stockpiliing weapons in hopes of being able to launch their own armed insurrection. Even when the Albanian regular army, still largely pro-Communist, unleashed a massive crackdown on the dissident movement it only succeeded in driving the anti-Communists underground. Albania would spend the next seven years locked in a state of quasi-civil war and nearly fell into total anarchy between the anti-Communist faction finally prevailed in the summer of 1991.
Following the overthrow of the Marxist dictatorship the new Albanian government moved quickly to restore the diplomatic ties with the West the Hoxha regime had severed; one of the first Western nations to re-establish relations with Albania was the United States, which saw the post-Communist government in Tirana as a potential ally in Washington's efforts to combat global terrorism.
In 1980, on this day Leonid Brezhnev, CPSU general secretary since 1964, died of heart failure at the age of 73; he was succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko, who'd been chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet at the time of Brezhnev's death.
Death of Leonid BrezhnevIn Chernenko's first official act as Soviet premier the new CPSU First Secretary declared martial law in Moscow, Kiev, and Leningrad in an effort to quell the civil unrest which had been racking those cities -- and much of the rest of the Soviet Union as well --for months. But in hindsight the martial law declaration would prove to be a case of closing and locking the barn door after the horses had already run away. Demonstrations demanding political liberalization and reform would only become more frequent during Chernenko's first months as Soviet leader, and some of the more radical anti-government factions incited riots just to spite him.
A new post from the Necessary Evil Thread by Chris OakleyAnd things would only get worse for Chernenko; on the same day he officially assumed the post of CPSU general secretary East Germany and Hungary confirmed they would not be participating in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Two weeks after that announcement, the Czech ambassador in Moscow told Chernenko that Czechoslovakia was also withdrawing from the 1980 Summer Games. On the heels of this stunning decision then-U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance sent a memo to President Jimmy Carter asserting that both the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were in the first stages of their ultimate collapse; the memo concluded with the prediction the Soviet Union would break up within the next 3-5 years.
While not entirely convinced of the validity of Vance's argument, Carter nonetheless gave the State Department the green light to begin updating its European policies to prepare for life in a post-Cold War world. He also instructed his Director of Central Intelligence, Stansfield Turner, to step up CIA surveillance activities inside the Soviet Union to look for signs of how far and how rapidly that country's internal disintegration was progressing.
In 1988, the United States announced it would resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba in January, ending a break of more than 28 years between Washington and Havana; with the Soviet Union having dissolved and economic assistance negotiations with France having been stalled since 1986, there was considerable sentiment on both ends of the Florida Straits in favor of resuming formal U.S.-Cuban diplomatic ties.
Elián González SurfacesWhile the announcement drew vehement protests from Florida's Cuban exile communuity, most other Americans welcomed the end of the U.S.-Cuba estrangement. One sector of American society was especially happy with the decision -- the re-opening of Cuba's borders paved the way for Major League Baseball to bring a huge new influx of Cuban players into the United States, and that influx would have a dramatic impact on MLB pennant races in the next two-plus decades.
The newly restored bonds between the United States and Cuba would be further solidified in 1999 when a joint U.S.-Cuban naval search & rescue mission retrieved the survivors of a shipwreck; one of those survivors, a six-year-old boy named Elián González (pictured), would later grow up to become a pivotal figure in the movement to end one-party rule in Cuba.
In 1983, the PLM captured the Soviet government naval base at the Black Sea port of Odessa, seizing tons of ammunition and equipment and thwarting the Kremlin's hopes of reinforcing besieged Red Army troops in the Ukraine via amphibious landing.
Fall of OdessaPost-Cold War historians would later cite the rebel victory at Odessa as the point where the tide of the Russian civil war began to turn against the Communists once and for all; the events at Odessa seriously damaged morale in all sectors of the Soviet regular armed forces, and in the late stages of the war Red Army commanders found themselves increasingly plagued by desertions. By 1986 some 200 Red Air Force pilots had gone over to the PLM side and fifty Soviet naval personnel had been executed on suspicion of mutiny.
By the time the war ended in 1987 only a handful of combat troops were still fighting on the Communist side-- the rest, with the conspicuous exception of a shrinking cadre of hard-line generals, had all chosen to throw in their lot with the insurgents. In fact, the very week of the final Communist surrender to the PLM one of the few remaining Russian naval warships still under Kremlin control was torpedoed by a rebel submarine in the Baltic; the submarine's captain would later be appointed chief of staff for the post-civil war Russian navy.
In 1983, on this day one of Oarsman's co-conspirators in the assassination of Harold Wilson committed suicide in Bangkok.
Goatherd's FateThe deceased, formerly known to his fellow plotters as "Goatherd", had been suffering from a heroin addiction since being dismissed from MI-6 in 1978; by 1982 he was living on the street and suffering from bouts of depression and paranoia which the heroin exacerabated. A post-mortem autopsy by Thai police coroners revealed Goatherd had succumbed to an intentional overdose of heroin and PCP.
A new post from the Necessary Evil Thread by Chris OakleyAt the time of his suicide Goatherd's role in the Wilson assassination was a secret; it would remain so until the Tony Blair government's 2004-05 inquiry into the killing turned up documents indicated Goatherd had been Oarsman's first recruit in the assassination plan. (The papers also confirmed the hit was being carried out without the knowledge or consent of MI-6's leadership). Once Goatherd's link to the conspiracy had been established Blair's successors, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, would expand Whitehall's probes into the circumstances of Wilson's death -- in fact, in one of Cameron's first trips abroad as prime minister he would meet with Russian president Dmitri Medvedev to seek the release of KGB archives pertaining to Wilson's interactions with his Soviet contacts.
In 1987, on this day the Iran-Iraq War ended with the surrender of the battered remnants of Iran's armed forces to the Iraqi Republican Guard
Iraq VictoriousIn celebration of the war's victorious end the Iraqi embassy in Beijing held a banquet which numerous high-ranking Chinese military and political leaders were invited to attend; the event turned out to be an extraordinary intelligence-gathering opportunity for the United States, since one of the guests at the banquet inadvertantly tipped off a CIA undercover operative to the secret military information-sharing protocol in the 1985 Sino-Iraqi Pact which had helped Iraq vanquish the Iranians.
In 1974, the KGB underwent a massive shakeup in its top echelons as agency chief Yuri Andropov and his five most senior deputies, along with the KGB's London station chief and western European regional director of operations, were all fired for their respective roles in the chain of events leading to the assassination of Harold Wilson and the subsequent collapse of the agency's spy network in Britain.
KGB Shake-up by Chris OakleyPost-Cold War historians would cite the shakeup as the beginning of the end for the KGB; the loss of so many experienced executives, with the collapse of Soviet intel operations in the UK, would compromise Soviet covert activities in the West to such a degree that Reagan administration CIA director William Casey would later compare the KGB to "a truck with three flat tires and both headlights broken".
The shakeup also seriously disrupted KGB efforts to combat foreign espionage on Soviet soil - and last but not least, it effectively ended Andropov's political career. Before the Wilson fiasco Andropov had been one of the most powerful men in the Kremlin and was considered in some circles a possible successor to CPSU general secretary Leonid Brezhnev; after his firing, however, Andropov would effectively become persona non grata in Moscow. His dismissal is thought to have been a factor in his death from cirrhosis in 1979 at the age of 65.
In 1974, on this day British prime minister Harold Wilson was found dead on a beach in Great Britain's Scilly Isles, victim of a gunshot wound to the skull.
Liquidation by Chris OakleyInitial press reports described his death as a suicide brought on by depression over the failure of his economic policiies, but investigation by Scotland Yard detectives soon turned up evidence the late prime minister had in fact been murdered by unknown assailants; within two days of Wilson's demise a nationwide manhunt for the suspected killer or killers was on. What wasn't known as the time -- and wouldn't be known for another three decades -- was that Wilson had been assassinated by rogue MI-6 agents who'd recently learned he was spying for the KGB and decided to liquidate him before he could escape to the Soviet Union.
When the truth about Wilson's murder finally came to light in a Guardian investigative report published on the 30-year anniversary of his death, it touched off a political firestorm which rocked the British government to its core and prompted new prime minister Tony Blair to order a full-scale inquiry into the Wilson assassination. Scores of MI-6 officials were forced to resign as a result of the ensuing scandal and a dozen more arrested on suspicion of having played a role in the assassination conspiracy. The controversy even touched intelligence agencies on the other side of the Atlantic, as the CIA's European section was found to have provided the final confirmation Wilson was working for the Soviets.
In 1980, on this day food riots erupted in Kiev and Minsk, prompting Soviet authorities to declare martial law in both cities.
Martial Law declared in Soviet UnionEnforcing the martial law decree, however, proved easier said than done as some of the militia units assigned to carry out that duty chose instead to side with the rioters; this forced the Kremlin to recall its 10,000-man troop contingent from Afghanistan as well as withdraw substantial numbers of military units from East Germany and Poland. CPSU leader Konstantin Chernenko (pictured) assured his generals these re-deployments were only temporary and the military units involved would return to their original assignments once order had been restored.
But Chernenko would turn out to be dead wrong on that score; Soviet forces would never return to Afghanistan and by 1983, when the civil war in Russia was at its peak, the once-massive Red Army contingents in Poland, East Germany, and Hungary had been reduced to a shadow of their old formidable selves. A new post from the Necessary Evil Thread by Chris OakleyIndeed, an ironic consequence of these withdrawals was that at the end of the civil war the only major Red Army detachment left in Germany was the security guard detail at the Soviet embassy in Bonn, capital of the United States' longtime NATO ally West Germany. Even the Soviet defense advisory brigade in Cuba wasn't spared from manpower cutbacks; by the time of Chernenko's death there were less than 100 advisors left on Cuban soil.
The massive Soviet troop withdrawals from East Germany hastened the fall of the Berlin Wall and were later credited by Western historians with paving the way for Germany's reunification after the Russian civil war ended.
In 1980, on this day the anti-Communist guerrilla war in Afghanistan ended in a rebel victory as insurgent forces overran Kabul. Most of the leaders of the deposed Marxist regime either committed suicide or fled the country rather than risk falling into rebel hands; by contrast, the rank and file among the Afghan armed forces chose to stay behind and embrace the new government.
Marxists flee AfghanistanIt would take weeks for the new administration to gain diplomatic recognition from most foreign governments, mainly due to concerns about lingering political tensions between Islamic and secular factions of the coalition that assumed power in Kabul after the Marxists were overthrown. The United States, which had cut ties with Afghanistan after that country's 1978 Communist takeover, would re-open its embassy in Kabul shortly after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President in January of 1981.
A new installment in Necessary EvilThe post-1980 coalition government would retain power for over a decade, a remarkable accomplishment given the ideological divisions besetting it and the anemic condition of Afghanistan's economy at the time the Marxist regime collapse. But eventually the strain got to be too much to bear, and in 1991 a new Afghan civil war would break out that reduced the country to a state of near-anarchy before an Islamic fundamentalist group known as the Taliban seized power in 1999. The U.S. closed its embassy in Kabul in 2000 but would re-open it in the summer of 2001 after the Taliban regime collapsed in the face of a multinational invasion of Afghanistan provoked by evidence the Taliban had aided al-Qaeda in planning and carrying out the infamous 6/11 poison gas attacks in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.
Ironically Operation Everlasting Freedom, the battle plan used by U.S. and allied forces in their successful campaign to oust the Taliban, was adapted from the Red Army's original badly bungled strategy for fighting the old Afghan anti-Communist insurgency. It also incorporated elements of a war plan designated Operation Jumpshot, which had been devised by the Pentagon in the early 1980s for defending Pakistan against Soviet attack.
In 1985, on this day Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Miriam was assassinated while reviewing a military parade in Addis Ababa.
Miriam AssassinatedAccording to a UPI reporter who was covering the parade at the time, Mengistu was shot six times by a gunman riding a Soviet-made motorcycle; the first two shots, however, were enough to kill him as the first bullet ripped through his brain just above the left eye and the second pierced the center of his heart. It would later be determined that the assassination had been carried out by three Eritrean separatists who bitterly resented the Mengistu regime's suppression of Eritrea's independence movement. The gunman himself managed to escape to neighboring Somalia(where he would later fight in that nation's civil war), but his two co-conspirators were seized by Ethiopian security forces within days and tortured to death less than two weeks after the assassination.
For the Marxist oligarchy that had ruled Ethiopia since Emperor Haile Selassie was ousted in 1974, the assassination was a fatal blow: even before Mengistu's death his government had been on shaky ground as the result of a famine which had been plaguing Ethiopia since mid-1984 and a steady decline in Soviet economic aid as the PLM's anti-Communist guerrilla war continued to rage on. Mengistu's assassination triggered a chain reaction which culminated in the violent overthrow of Ethiopia's ruling Marxist junta less than six weeks after Mengistu was killed. The end of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia marked the beginning of a two-year span in which Communist regimes and political factions throughout Africa collapsed like a house of cards, stripping the Soviet Union of much of what little influence it still had left in the Third World. Only Libya, which boasted one of the world's largest oil industries and was capable of sustaining itself economically and militarily regardless of what happened to the U.S.S.R., managed to buck this trend.
In 1993, the man who had acted as go-between for Oarsman and Goatherd when Oarsman recruited Goatherd to the Wilson assassination plot died in Paris after a seven-year battle with cancer.
Necessary Evil Death of the Go-BetweenWhat distinguished this MI-6 agent, formerly known to his co-conspirators as "Tinkerer", from his fellow plotters was not only that he had died of natural causes but also that he had stayed in Britain for years after the assassination, leaving the country only when a personal business venture collapsed. Settling in France under an alias, Tinkerer's proficiency with disguises enabled him to fool his neighbors-- not to mention Interpol --to the point where one day he even shared lunch with one of the very Scotland Yard detectives sent to France and other parts of continental Europe to investigate his ties to Oarsman and his escape from Britain.
Not until 2001, when an ITV news researcher uncovered previously lost letters between Oarsman and Tinkerer, did anyone even begin to suspect the truth about Tinkerer's departure to France. And even then much of his role in the assassination conspiracy remained hidden from the public eye; only after the Blair government's 2004-05 inquiry into Wilson's murder was the full story of Tinkerer's actions finally brought to light.
In 1979, on this day Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, chief of the Soviet general staff, abruptly resigned his post just after returning from an inspection tour of Red Army military bases in East Germany. His official reason for stepping down was declining health; unofficially, however, there were rumors he was afraid of being arrested, exiled, or even killed as so many other Soviet political and military officials had been in the half-decade since Yuri Andropov was dismissed as head of the KGB.
Ogarkov's FateAnd indeed there had been at least one assassination attempt on Ogarkov's life during his East German visit; that attempt had prompted two of the marshal's senior aides to turn in their own resignations a week before Ogarkov himself quit.
A new post from the Necessary Evil Thread by Chris OakleyIronically, Marshal Ogarkov might have been better off not resigning; less than two weeks after he retired as defense minister he was fatally injured in a hit-and-run accident near his Moscow flat. Post-Cold War conspiracy theorists would speculate Ogarkov had been targeted for murder by one of his political adversaries, but the official Moscow police determination in the matter of the marshal's death was that he had been hit by a drunk driver. In any case, his demise would further heighten the already intense paranoia many Soviet citizens felt about their government -- by New Year's Day 1980 anti-government rallies would become an almost weekly event in the USSR's larger cities and foreign embassies in Moscow would go on full security alert as riots began to tear further at the country's badly frayed social fabric.
The tension would finally erupt into outright civil war less than twelve months after Ogarkov's resignation.
In 1986, on this day Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega stunned the world with two major announcements: first, that his Sandinista government had agreed to a cease-fire with the anti-Marxist counterrevolutionaries who had been fighting it for more than six years, and second, that he was resigning as president effective immediately.
Ortega ResignsHis retirement left Cuba's Fidel Castro as the sole remaining active Marxist head of state in the Western Hemisphere -- and by the late 1990s Castro would himself be confronted with a serious political crisis as millions of his fellow Cubans took to the streets to demand greater freedom of expression and an end to one-party rule in Cuba.
Ortega would spend the next quarter-century following his resignation serving as a consultant to left-wing activists around the world. One of his most famous proteges was a former Venezuelan air force officer named Hugo Chavez, who in 2002 would campaign for the presidency of Venezuela only to see his electoral bid collapse after evidence surfaced that the anti-American Chavez was receiving financial support from rogue states like Iran.
In 1974, on this day thousands of people crowded the heart of London to pay their final respects to slain British prime minister Harold Wilson as his casket was driven through the streets of the British capital prior to his memorial service at Westminster Cathedral.Pinnacle by Chris OakleyThat same day Wilson's KGB handlers, shaken by their contact's untimely demise and fearing their other agents in Britain might have been compromised, ordered all remaining Soviet intelligence personnel in the UK to go to ground immediately.
Classified documents released by the Russian government after the collapse of the Soviet Union would reveal Wilson's handlers had just cause for alarm; three days before the British prime minister's assassination a KGB defector code-named "Pinnacle" by MI-6 had given British intelligence highly detailed and credible reports Wilson was preparing to escape to the Soviet Union before anyone could arrest him for his espionage activities. The information provided by "Pinnacle" enabled British police to arrest hundreds of Soviet agents and forced dozens more to flee the UK.
In 1986, on this day the beleaguered Romanov regime in Moscow held the Soviet Union's 59th annual Red Square parade commemorating the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
Red Square ParadeBesides being the last such event staged in Russia's capital before the Communist dictatorship collapsed, the parade was most notable for the paltry crowds which turned out for the event and the conspicuous absence of much of the CPSU elite; Grigory Romanov himself left midway through the proceedings after being fired on by a sniper who was himself shot and wounded by the KGB while trying to flee Red Square after the attack. Following the attempt on Romanov's life the CPSU ordered Red Square permanently closed to all public gatherings except those officially sanctioned by the CPSU's Central Committee-- an order later rescinded by the new PLM government after the end of the Russian civil war in 1987.
In 1980, on this day the political unrest that had been simmering within the USSR for months finally exploded into outright civil war as a group calling itself the Patriotic Liberation Movement(PLM) launched a series of attacks on CPSU buildings in Kiev, Gorky, and Minsk.
Second Soviet Civil WarIn his initial public comments on the uprising, Soviet premier Konstantin Chernenko (pictured) denounced the PLM as "criminals" and "traitors" and vowed the insurrection would be swiftly crushed. He would be dead wrong on that score, however; the Russian civil war would go on to last over six and a half years, during which time the Warsaw Pact alliance would break up while Soviet-backed Marxist regimes and guerrilla factions in Africa and Latin America would tumble like bowling pins. In fact, by the time the last remnants of the Red Army surrendered to the rebels in June of 1987, there would only be five nations left in the entire world still under Communist rule-- and that number would drop to four with the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1989.
A new installment in the Necessary Evil threadWithout Soviet money and arms to prop them up, the Kremlin's allies found themselves either toppled by armed revolt or forced to abdicate in the face of widespread protests from non-Communist dissident movements. The most violent of these upheavals came in 1985, when Ethiopian dictator Haile Menigstu was assassinated just as his country faced the worst famine in its history; the most dramatic instance of non-violent change happened a year later when Nicaraguan Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega quietly resigned after negotiating a cease-fire with anti-Communist insurgents in his own country and arranging for free elections to choose a new government for Nicaragua.
During the same time that the Russian civil war was raging, Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha died suddenly of heart failure, plunging that country into a political crisis which would last into the early 1990s; in Romania, Marxist ruler Nicolae Ceaucescu would be overthrown and subsequently executed in one of the bloodiest coups eastern Europe had seen in a generation. Moscow's staunchest allies in the Middle East, Iraq and Syria, would turn to China for military and economic assistance as Soviet power gradually weakened and then collapsed.
In 1981, on this day the Patriotic Liberation Movement (PLM) achieved its first major strategic victory in its uprising against the Communist regime in Russia.
Second Soviet Civil War Part 2In a surprise late-night attack, rebel forces blew up a critical section on the Trans-Siberian Railway, seriously disrupting the flow of supplies to government troops defending the port city of Vladivostok. With bad weather grounding Soviet air force transport planes, government forces defending the city had few if any alternatives for getting food and munitions; within a matter of hours PLM forces had broken through the Red Army lines, and by 6:30 AM the next morning PLM troops had taken full control of Vladivostok with help from local civilians sympathetic to their cause. Three Red Army divisions were subsequently dispatched to retake the city from the rebels, but the offensive collapsed in the face of heavy PLM resistance -- in fact, one of the three divisions was completely wiped out and the other two were forced to withdraw after taking severe losses.
A new post from the Necessary Evil Thread by Chris OakleyDespite the Chernenko regime's best efforts to hide the truth about Vladivostok, word of the Red Army's defeat there filtered to the Russian public via Voice of America's Russian-language broadcast service, seriously undermining the CPSU's prestige both at home and abroad. As the Russian civil war went on Vladivostok would become a rallying point for the PLM and its supporters in their struggle to overthrow the Communists; by 1983 it had also become the PLM's central base of operations and would remain so until 1987, when the victorious PLM leadership relocated to Moscow to assume control of the Russian government in the wake of the Communist dictatorship's collapse.
In 1985, on this day China and Iraq signed a mutual aid pact under which the Chinese government would provide arms and other military hardware to the Iraqis in return for the rights to purchase Iraqi crude oil.
Sino-Iraqi PactThe pact was a boon to both countries: for the China the arms sales and access to Iraqi oil constituted a way to revive its dormant economy, while Iraq saw Chinese-made arms as a useful means of compensating for the growing weapons shortfall the Iraqi armed forces had been experiencing ever since the flow of military equipment from the Soviet Union to Baghdad had dried up in the heat of the Russian civil war.
A secret corollary to the aid pact authorized Iraq's Muhakbarat counterintelligence service (logo, pictured) to access classified Chinese information on Iran's strategic plans for prosecuting the war between Iran and Iraq for the rest of the Iran-Iraq War. That access would later be credited by Western analysts with helping to make possible Iraq's eventual victory over the Iranians in 1987.
In 1985, Konstantin Chernenko died of heart failure at the age of 73; his top deputy, Grigory Romanov, succeeded him as CPSU Secretary General.
The Death of ChernenkoChernenko's death came just three days after he was admitted to a Moscow hospital for stroke. In Romanov's first televised address as Soviet head of state, the new CPSU leader pledged to crush the PLM rebellion by the end of the year-- a pledge that he would prove unable to keep with the Red Army's already precarious morale continuing to further decline and NATO intelligence agencies funneling new weapons to the rebel forces.
On the very day Romanov was appointed Secretary General, in fact, the former chief of staff for the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany(GSFG) committed suicide.
A new installment in the Necessary Evil threadAlso on this day in 1985, Cuba and France opened negotiations for an economic assistance pact meant to fill the gap in foreign aid to Havana left by nearly five straight years' cuts in Soviet financial support to the Castro government. These negotiations would mark the beginning of a ten-year-long shift in Cuban economic policy which would see Havana relax some of the laws banning private enterprise that Fidel Castro had instituted after overthrowing Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
In 1979, on this day disgraced ex-KGB chief Yuri Andropov died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 65. Since being sacked five years earlier in the aftermath of the Harold Wilson assassination, he had fallen into a steady, irreversible mental and physical decline; the post-mortem autopsy on Andropov turned up substantial amounts of alcohol in his system, confirming long-held suspicions that he had been drinking illicit home-brewed vodka on a daily basis for most of the time he was confined at the Siberian labor camp to which he'd been exiled since his dismissal as KGB chairman.
The demise of a disgraced spychiefAlthough manufacturing bootleg liquor had officially been prohibited in Soviet labor camps for decades, unofficially Andropov's jailers had long since turned a blind eye to his drinking.
A new installment in Necessary EvilVery little mention of Andropov's death was made in the state-controlled Soviet media, but it got considerable press coverage in the West-- particularly in the United States, where veteran CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite called it "a potential turning point in the history of Russia". Cronkite was more accurate than he realized; even as arrangements were being made for Andropov's funeral, the ideological disputes that had been roiling the CPSU's upper echelons behind closed doors in the five years since the Soviet intel network in Great Britain collapsed were reaching heights not seen in Russia since the Trotsky-Stalin struggle for the right to succeed Vladimir Lenin as CPSU leader following Lenin's death in 1924. And outside the Kremlin walls, a political reform movement whose ranks included nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov and agriculture official Mikhail Gorbachev was gaining traction among the increasingly discontented Soviet masses.
The repercussions of the CPSU's internal crisis weren't confined to the Soviet Union's borders; in Cuba, Fidel Castro grumbed about deep cuts in Soviet aid to Havana, while in Afghanistan a largely Islamic insurgency was threatening the survival of the Soviet-backed Marxist regime in Kabul. Two of the USSR's foremost Warsaw Pact allies, East Germany and Hungary, were sufficiently concerned about what was going on in the Kremlin that they were contemplating an action which under other circumstances would have been unthinkable: pulling out of the 1980 Summer Olympic Games scheduled to be held in Moscow. Last but not least, a nervous Chinese government had placed its Siberian border defenses on full alert, understandably worried the turmoil racking its Soviet neighbor might sooner or later spill over onto China's own soil.
In 1986, on this day the Grigory Romanov regime's last hope of retaining control of the Ukraine vanished as PLM forces supported by Ukrainian anti-Romanov partisans seized the Ukraine regional capital Kiev and the nuclear power plant in the nearby town of Chernobyl.
The Fall of KievThe capture of the Chernobyl reactor in particular would have a dramatic impact on the world; home movies shot by the rebels after the power plant fell and released to the West via a Finnish human rights group based in Helsinki showed the reactor was falling apart after years of poor maintentance.A new installment in Necessary Evil
A French nuclear physicist who studied the home movies said that had Chernobyl not been taken off-line by the PLM when it was overrun, it most likely would have eventually suffered a severe breakdown -- there was even evidence Chernobyl's number 2 reactor was dangerously close to suffering an explosion that would have spread radioactive fallout across hundreds, possibly thousands of square miles in Europe.
In 1977, the rogue MI-6 agent who had led the conspiracy to assassinate Harold Wilson was himself killed in a car crash in Switzerland.
The Oarsman by Chris OakleyAt the time of his death the agent, formerly known to his co-conspirators as "Oarsman", had been on the run since 1975; there were outstanding warrants for his arrest in both France and Belgium, where he'd been waging a personal "black ops" campaign against KGB-sponsored radical leftist groups, and back in his native Britain an MI-6 internal probe had turned up evidence suggesting "Oarsman" was embezzling agency funds for personal use. He was buried under one of the dozen or so aliases he had used to conceal his true identity during his time on the lam.
Part 4 of the Necessary Evil ThreadEven after the Blair government's 2004-05 inquiry had clearly established the role of "Oarsman" and his cohorts in Harold Wilson's death, the rogue MI-6 operative's fate was still something of a mystery as far as the British public was concerned. It wasn't until 2008 -- when Blair's successor Gordon Brown launched a further investigation of the assassination plot - that the facts about the agent's untimely demise finally came to light. A DNA test authorized by the Swiss courts proved the body interred in Zurich's Friedhof Nordheim cemetery was indeed that of "Oarsman". From there, Swiss and UK police began a joint probe into the circumstances behind the crash that killed the renegade MI-6 agent; the investigation would lead to three arrests in the summer of 2009.
When Brown himself left office in May of 2010, new British prime minister David Cameron pledged that his government would continue the reforms of the UK's intelligence network which Brown and Blair had started instituting in the aftermath of the 2004-05 inquiry into the Wilson assassination conspiracy.
In 2004, on this day the British newspaper Guardian, as part of a series of articles commemorating the thirthieth anniversary of Harold Wilson's assassination, published an investigative report which provided the first definitive evidence the assassins had ties to MI-6.
Thirtieth AnniversaryThis disclosure touched off a firestorm of political controversy in Britain; when a follow-up story revealed the conspirators had gotten assistance from certain CIA officers stationed in Europe at the time of Wilson's death, it sparked an imbroglio in U.S.-British relations the likes of which hadn't been seen since the Suez Crisis in 1956. In response to the uproar, then-prime minister Tony Blair ordered a full-scale government inquiry into the assassination conspiracy and dismissed a number of MI-6 officials suspected to have abetted the conspirators in covering up their actions.
A new post from the Necessary Evil Thread by Chris OakleyThe Blair government's inquiry panel would publish its findings in October of 2005; those findings would serve as the basis for further investigations by Blair's successors Gordon Brown and David Cameron and the enactment of a series of reforms aimed at strengthening civilian control of Britain's counterintelligence services. These events in turn paved the way for a final resolution of the mystery surrounding the death of the chief conspirator, known to his cohorts as "Oarsman", and the arrest of three other conspirators in the summer of 2009.
In 2004, U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, responding to questions posed to him at a West Coast campaign stop earlier that afternoon, told the New York Times one of his first official acts if he were elected president would be to sign an executive order instructing the Central Intelligence Agency to declassify and release all pertinent files regarding alleged ties between the agency's Eastern European branch and the rogue MI-6 operatives responsible for the assassination of British prime minister Harold Wilson thirty years earlier.
Wilson InquiryBut two days after the Times interview Kerry's opponent, incumbent president George W. Bush, beat him to the punch by directing CIA chief George Tenet to make the agency's Wilson assassination files public and launch an internal inquiry to determine just how closely the CIA's Eastern European branch had been working with Oarsman and the other conspirators in the Wilson assassination plot. That inquiry would later lead to the arrest of dozens of active and retired CIA personnel who would be prosecuted by the Justice Department under the administration of Bush's successor, Barack Obama.
© Today in Alternate History, 2013-. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.