From Russia with love

Engsiong Tan
4 min readSep 7, 2023

Reading between the lines

Russia literally decided to engage in some gunboat diplomacy recently.

War is diplomacy by other means. — Carl von Clausewitz

Photo by Adnan Khan on Unsplash

A flotilla made up of some Russian and Chinese warships decided to patrol off the coast of Alaska in international waters. For reader who are not in the navy, a flotilla is a small group of smaller warships of a similar class. When a fleet is mentioned, it means usually a capital ship is present or that there are more warships involved.


The US military did not have an official response. They did send a rather muted military response. Four destroyers and a plane. Russian propeller powered bombers are intercepted by the fighters. Russian naval patrol gets intercepted by a navy reconnaissance aircraft? There is possibly more than meets the eye. Could the Russians have some hidden guests to the patrol?

The visible party of five from Russia consists of two destroyers, two frigates and one fleet tanker. Incidentally, three of the Russian warships also had anti-submarine hunting capabilities. Could the Russians be also looking for an American submarine? Everyone was supposed to keep their eye on the surface even though the main event maybe underwater?

Bad timing

The reason why Russia was not likely to be sending a threating message to the American navy was what they did a few weeks later. They started removing anti-aircraft missiles from a disputed island in the Pacific. A reminder about a Potemkin¹ village? Or something else?

Photo by Ning Shi on Unsplash

History repeats itself

If this sounds familiar, a similar incident took place during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Russia wanted to place some nuclear missiles in Cuba. The Americans decided to use their navy to keep Russian transports out of Cuba.

In the middle of this tension, we had Black Saturday. On that day, the Russians had a nuclear armed submarine near Cuban waters. The Americans detected a submarine and decided to drop signaling depth charges to request the submarine to surface. The important thing to note is that the depth charges were pretty low yield and were fired to the side of the submarine.

The Russian officers onboard had orders to retaliate if the submarine was damaged by depth charges. The Russian captain had been trying to dodge the pursuing American ships and had dived to a depth too deep to receive orders. The air conditioning had failed on the submarine turning up the heat on the submarine. The submarine was also running low on battery power. At this point, two senior officers had decided to fire the nuclear weapon. Fortunately, a sane officer decided against firing a torpedo. He also suggested the submarine surface to check with their headquarters.

The same day, the American could have started a nuclear war. They had a U2 spy plane straying accidentally into Russian airspace. This was not the bad part of the story. The problem was that the fighters that were scrambled to support the U2 were armed with nuclear air to air missiles. The thing is that when the alert status changed for the Americans, the weapons that they are armed with also changed. The Joint Chief of Staff was not aware about the nuclear weapons load out when the fighter was sent out. Coincidentally, another U2 plane was shot down but that was near Cuba. What if the U2 flying in Russia was shot down? Or someone had open fired at the nuclear armed American fighter?

The last time round, American withdrew their missiles in Turkey. My concern is that this time round, something occurred making the Russian do the same thing. Or like most things, the missile withdrawal could have nothing to do with the Americans.

This what most spy stories missed out. The government either not saying anything or making the most meaningless comments because the truth is too scary for anybody without security clearance to handle. That wiser heads have to discuss peace even when the shooting starts. If you think that Black Saturday was the closest that nuclear weapons have ever used incorrectly there is a longer list for those people who like to stay awake at night.

While we often talk about brave people in the military, almost nobody talks about the calm and wise people who decide not to start a war. Sadly, no one ever gets a medal for not starting a war.

¹ Grigory Potemkin was rumored to a Russian minister who fooled his empress by creating portable false villages so that she would see those exhibitions instead of the actual state of the country. An interesting fact is that after he died, his body was moved nine times. The last time was by the Russians who removed his body before they retreated from the Ukrainian city of Kherson.