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Literature / The Cardinal of the Kremlin

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The Cardinal of the Kremlin is the third Jack Ryan novel to be written by Tom Clancy, and the fifth to occur chronologically. It was published in 1988, and takes place in 1987.

One year after the events of The Hunt for Red October, during the START talks of the mid 80's, Jack Ryan serves as a CIA representative during the negotiations as both sides work to reduce their nuclear weapon stockpiles. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, a mujaheddin called "The Archer" fights against the Soviet oppressors, using American Stinger missiles to terrifying effect. Back in the US, the secretive Tea Clipper program seeks to develop a laser defense weapon against nuclear missiles launchers, fearful that the Soviets are working towards the same end.

And in the middle of it all, a US agent known to a very select few as CARDINAL sends top secret Soviet information to the CIA. And he's just been compromised...

Focusing much more on spy games than any other novel in the Ryanverse, The Cardinal of the Kremlin is set against the backdrop of the "warming" of the Cold War, as the US and USSR start serious talks to reduce the threat of nuclear war while still butting heads around the world. The Strategic Defense Initiative (AKA Star Wars) features prominently, as does the similar Soviet program, and there's plenty of technology porn and spy thriller, though very little action.

This book contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Klementi Vladimirovich Vatutin of the KGB's counterintelligence division. It's mentioned that, as a borderline alcoholic, he has difficulty falling asleep at night unless he has a couple of drinks first, and this is made note of by Gerasimov himself as well.
    • Filitov as well, but only when he's actually spying. His ritual for the night before passing information along the chain includes drinking half a bottle of vodka (both to quiet the demons, and to give him a hangover as a convenient excuse to get to the steam baths, his transfer point).
  • Artistic License – Physics: The work of the SDI scientists seems to be on the verge of a breakthrough for the entire novel. As we now know, SDI lasers were barely ever more than a pipe dream, and never had a working prototype, especially not a free-electron laser (SDI focused on chemical and X-ray lasers instead)note . Later books in the series would go on to admit that neither Russia or the US was able to make a laser powerful enough to reliably shoot down a missile, resulting in the projects eventually getting shelvednote .
  • The Atoner: Altunin helps the spy ring out of guilt over the children his unit killed or injured with bombs in Afghanistan.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: The U.S.S. Dallas brings Soviet defector and veteran submarine captain Marko Ramius along for advice on their infiltration of Soviet waters. This turns out to be very useful when they're spotting and fired on by a Soviet ship: Ramius takes over and, in his native Russian, proceeds to chew out the Soviet captain for "using live ammo during an exercise," and identifying the Dallas by the name of a Soviet submarine that he knows is constantly involved in secret operations. This buys them the time to escape.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Filitov is said to have been close friends with real life mole Oleg Penkovsky, and is even stated - at Penkovsky's request, no less! - to have been the first to denounce him as a traitor.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Alexandrov and Gerasimov. As head of the KGB, Gerasimov easily has more power, but he needs the legitimacy that Alexandrov, as chief ideologue, can provide. Gerasimov notably doesn't care one whit about the Party or proper Communist doctrine, beyond how he can exploit it to give himself more power.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Played straight. When Gus Werner leads the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team to save Major Gregory from the KGB officers who kidnapped him, he does this to the last surviving officer by shooting at his hands. He comments later that he didn't know why he did it, despite having trained other men specifically not to do it.
  • Break the Haughty: Svetlana Vaneyeva is an arrogant Rich Bitch who became a spy for the Americans for fun. After being placed in the sensory deprivation chamber, she's left an Empty Shell totally loyal to the Soviet Union.
  • Call-Back: The events of The Hunt for Red October have long-lasting implications for everyone involved in this story, and frequent references are made to that story.
  • The Chessmaster:
    • Nikolay Borisovich Gerasimov, Chairman of the KGB. He suborns the vote of a Politburo member by blackmailing him with his daughter, who has been found to be working for Western intelligence, and then does the same to Defense Minister Yazov using the knowledge that Filitov is also working for Western intelligence, in a bid to unseat Narmanov and gain the seat of General Secretary for himself.
    • Jack Ryan himself performs this as well in response to the above. By using political disinformation and the Red October scandal against Gerasimov, he threatens the latter with disgrace and removal from power, forcing him to betray his country.
    • Discussed in that this is supposed to be the Russians' national trope, in contrast to Americans as a nation of gamblers. And yet, it's the CIA that end up thinking like chessmasters - trying to checkmate Gerasimov so that defection is his only option - and Gerasimov who responds with a gamble, kidnapping America's top SDI scientist in the hopes that the prestige from this operation will save him.
  • Code Name: As a spy novel, plenty appear.
    • CARDINAL, naturally. The CIA's most highly placed mole in the Soviet Union, and one who has been operating for an incredible thirty years.
    • Agent CASSIUS, a Soviet mole, makes his chronologically final appearance in the series. Here, he acts as a double agent, having been caught and turned in The Hunt for Red October.
    • Tea Clipper and Bright Star are the code names for the American and Soviet SDI research programs, respectively.
    • When radioing Dallas, Clark refers to himself as Willy and the sub as Uncle Joe.
    • The Cobra Belle missile and satellite surveillance aircraft, a (fictional) 767-based version of the real life Cobra Ball. The Cobra Dane radar system is also briefly mentioned.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: Ed and Mary Pat Foley know that their apartment is bugged by the KGB. This does not seem to have an adverse effect on their sex life, and they even seem to get a thrill out of having sex while the KGB listens.
    Mary Pat (written): Let's give the microphones a hard-on!
  • Colonel Badass: Colonel Mikhail Semyonovich Filitov, the only man ever to be thrice-decorated as a Hero of the Soviet Union for valor in combat. Vatutin even quotes his legend during his interrogation: “Misha Filitov, the Demon Tankist! Misha Filitov, The Killer of Germans!” Filitov promptly throws it back in his face.
    Filitov: I have bled for the Motherland! I have burned for the Motherland! I was killing Germans before you were even an ache in your father’s crotch, you chekhista bastard!
    • Colonel Bondarenko has an Order of the Red Banner medalnote  from his tour in Afghanistan. When Bright Star is attacked, he proves that he didn’t get them by just being the boss’s favoritenote .
  • Comforting the Widow: Beatrice Taussig makes a clumsy attempt at this with Candi after Al Gregory's kidnapping. It ends so disastrously that she blows her cover.
  • Commie Land: A significant portion of the novel is set within the Soviet Union.
  • Continuity Nod: Gus Werner, sharpshooter Paulson, and the res of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team once again serve as The Cavalry, as they did previously in Patriot Games. This time they're here to rescue Gregory after he's kidnapped by the KGB.
  • Cool Uncle: Filitov has a role in the life of his wife's great-nephew, attending his hockey games and such.
  • Cruel Mercy: Gerasimov's view of what Soviet justice has become. In the old days, he reflects that a politician at his level who'd fallen into disgrace would simply be executed, especially under Stalin who was very much into You Have Failed Me. But nowadays, it just means being removed from all the circles of power and left to waste away in a normal existence, while the ordinary people around you stop fearing you and even laugh at you behind your back. The prospect of this happening to him is what ultimately motivates him to accept the CIA's offer of defection, as he prefers living in America to suffering this perceived indignity.
  • Dead Drop: Discussed and averted—Filitov's information is extremely sensitive and cannot be trusted to a dead drop in case someone stumbles on it. The risk of the KGB identifying the source by working backwards from the exchanges is regarded as being outweighed by the intel.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Misha Filitov, one of the Soviet Union's greatest war heroes, had been giving information to the West for thirty years, shortly following the death of his children and wife.
  • Defector from Commie Land
    • Marko Ramius, Red October's commanding officer and one of the leading characters from the previous novel, makes a few appearances in Cardinal of the Kremlin.
    • Enforced on Chairman Gerasimov and his family, very much against the former's will.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Vatutin begins his interrogation of Filitov by simply asking how long he’s been a spy. Filitov casually accuses him of homosexuality and pedophilia.
  • Diplomatic Cover Spy: Ed Foley is a low-ranking staffer at the US Embassy in Moscow who's actually one of the CIA's key agents in the USSR.
  • Dirty Communists: Effectively made to be the very reason Filitov decided to betray the Soviet Union.
  • Double Agent: Peter Henderson, Agent CASSIUS, who had been previously compromised in Hunt for Red October, makes his second (and, chronologically, final) appearance.
  • Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: The sensory deprivation tank used against Svetlana Vanayeva.
  • Empty Shell: The fate of anyone put in the sensory deprivation chamber, as shown by tw hat happens to Svetlana Vaneyeva, reduced to a broken, emotionless shell of a woman totally loyal to the Soviet Union.
  • Fake Defector: Ryan himself. Part of the reason why it works is because KGB has identified him as a part of the Intelligence Directorate, which is populated by desk weenies with no experience out in the field.
  • False Flag Operation: Vatutin suspects this of Eduard Vasillyevich Altunin's death, when he discovers his mutilated body on top of some rail tracks. Gerasimov later uses this as an excuse for kidnapping Gregory.
  • Feed the Mole:
    • Ryan's "Canary Trap" is a refinement of the method of feeding a suspected mole information to see if it ends up in the hands of the enemy: each copy of a sensitive document contains a unique permutation of certain details, so that if any leaks occur it will be possible to narrow down which copy was leaked.
    • The FBI get a known Russian mole to feed false information to Gerasimov regarding Ryan and the nuclear treaty talks, in order to further increase Ryan's "credibility" and to give Ryan additional ammunition with which to threaten Gerasimov.
  • For Want of a Nail: The action that causes the detection of CIA's longest-lived and most valuable agent is a bump on a train. It causes a courier to drop a roll of film containing sensitive documents, which itself isn't that big a deal. But he does it within view of an off-duty KGB man, who spots him because, thanks to forgetting to pick up an evening newspaper at the station before boarding, was bored and casing the crowd, and then arrests the courier and turns him over to the counterintelligence department.
  • Gambit Pileup: The book uses Four Lines, All Waiting to an extent: Filitov's spying is directly connected to Bondarenko's investigation and report of the Bright Star complex, but they are treated as two separate plot lines. There's also the Archer's battles in Afghanistan, Jack Ryan's intelligence efforts, and the Tea Clipper SDI project in New Mexico. And finally Gerasimov's moves in the Politburo. All six of these plots crash together in spectacular fashion in the last act of the book, despite taking very different routes towards the climax.
  • Gaslighting: Used as an interrogation technique by the KGB.
  • Glamorous Single Mother: Svetlana, who has a young daughter.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: done interestingly. Jack Ryan seems to be one, when a loud and public argument with a gay liberal congressman, Representative Alan Trent of Massachusetts, culminates in him using an attack that would've been crudely homophobic even in the eighties. This turns out to be an act, meant to make the KGB believe that Ryan was falling out of favor with the American authorities as well as garnering some sympathy from the equally homophobic Soviets. Trent had spent time in the Soviet Union before, enough to fall in love with a Soviet citizen, who was later sentenced to the gulag for "antisocial activity" for refusing to aid the Soviets by giving them information on him. This results in a strong case of It's Personal towards the Soviet government, which, combined with Trent's national security expertise and basic patriotism, made him all too happy to participate in the CIA operation against the KGB Chairman. As Ryan puts it to Gerasimov: "so, I guess you could say we used your own prejudices against you".
    • To the confusion of everyone not involved in the operation, Trent ends up becoming one of Jack's most ardent defenders and supporters, which becomes a minor plot point in [1]. Since everyone only knows about the very public confrontation between them, they struggle to understand why.
    • Also played with where Beatrice Taussig is concerned. Bea's KGB handler is secretly repulsed by her agent's sexual preferences - to say nothing of being afraid Bea's affections may one day be turned on her - but maintains an accepting façade, not wanting to push her asset away. Similarly, when an FBI agent investigating the leak in the Tea Clipper program suspects Taussig might be a lesbian, her name is moved to the top of the list of potential suspects... but when surveillance doesn't pick up any signs of espionage activity, she's ruled out just as quickly as everyone else.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Oleg Penkovskiy, when questioned by Filitov as to why they're both under KGB surveillance, convinces Filitov to become an agent for the US, and at the same time, tells Filitov to turn in Penkovskiy to establish his bona fides as a hero of the Soviet Union, and therefore beyond suspicion. Penkovskiy supposedly did it fully in the knowledge that he was about to be caught and killed.
  • Historical Domain Character:
  • I Did What I Had to Do: The Major acknowledges getting some of his own people killed while serving as a mole and shows some guilt about it but is also confident it helped establish his cover.
  • Incendiary Exponent: Filitov's last heroic feat in WW2 was, after his tank was set ablaze by a German round, to stay inside and shoot back at the tank while on fire, and then continue to lead his regiment for several more days without medical treatment. Of course, his right arm does end up becoming next to useless due to this.
  • Inter-Service Rivalry: Taken up to eleven between the Red Army and KGB. At the top, it's simple power politics - Defense Minister Yazov and KGB Chairman Gerasimov are in opposite factions on the Politburo, hence the latter's attempts to compromise the former. It's equally intense in the ranks, though. Filitov considers the "chekists" to be incompetent meddlers, whose main contribution to World War Two was spying on their own men and executing those who'd been forced to retreat. Bondarenko considers their guards to be amateurs playing at war, and takes great pleasure in embarrassing them on his morning exercise run. And during the assault on the Bright Star complex, when a KGB lieutenant refuses to take orders from Bondarenko (a decorated Afghanistan veteran) as he takes command of the defenses, Bondarenko unceremoniously knocks him on his ass and shoots him dead, quelling further dissent. (That said, he does develop some respect for the ones who stand and fight alongside him when the Archer attacks Bright Star, and personally decorates one of them after the battle is over). Even Vatutin's sympathetic counterpart from military intelligence lampshades this, asking him how he thinks the military will react if the KGB were to try torturing a confession out of a war hero.
  • Kill Sat: The U.S. missile defense system in The Cardinal of the Kremlin works by means of bouncing a laser beam off of orbital mirrors.
  • Last Stand: Bondarenko's defense of the Bright Star complex when the Archer and his men perform a cross-border raid. Bondarenko successfully holds off the Archer's men, killing him in the process, while defending the complex staff and waiting for reinforcements to arrive.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Altunin's death, by genuine misadventure, is assumed to be this by the Russian authorities.
  • Mind Rape: The sensory deprivation chamber is very efficient at breaking minds and wills. The Torture Technician operating it flat-out compares it to Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Svetlana Vanayeva is reduced to an Empty Shell after being put in it.
  • Misaimed Fandom: In-Universe. The operator of the sensory deprivation chamber gleefully talks about how it has made Room 101 from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four come true, completely missing that the novel portrayed it as a bad thing. KGB interrogator Vatutin is notably disturbed by this, though he still goes along with using the chamber.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Beatrice Taussig quickly agrees to go along with the plan to kidnap Al Gregory, seeing it as a means to remove her rival for Candi's affections. Unlike most examples of this trope, however, Bea actually display's genuine concern for Al's well being, not wanting him dead but merely out of the way.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Filitov, a CIA mole who's also a Soviet patriot and veteran, seems to both avert and play straight this trope. It's lampshaded by his KGB interrogator, who marvels that he never stopped performing his job as adviser to the Defense Minister, including calling for many changes in weapons procurement that genuinely improved the country's defense readiness, all at the same time that he was selling secrets to the Americans.
  • My Death Is Only The Beginning: Oleg Penkovsky is stated to have asked Filitov to denounce him as a traitor when it became clear the former was under KGB investigation. Penkovsky knew this would result in his own death, but also knew it would place Filitov above suspicion and allow him to continue spying for the West. It works - Filitov becomes the CIA's most valuable agent in the Soviet Union, and isn't caught for an astonishing thirty years.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Andrey Ilyavich Narmonov is effectively Clancy's version of Gorbachev.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup:
    • Sort of. The plans for Bright Star were in the same building as the prototype, so they were lost when the Archer's second in command trashed the place. At the same, several of the researchers who made the plans and the prototypes were killed when the Archer attacked the dormitories, complicating any attempts to reproduce the research immensely.
    • Early on in the book, the Red October is decommissioned and scuttled, with nobody ever trying to make a caterpillar-equipped submarine ever again in the series, despite the Americans having had a year to reverse engineer the technology and the Russians presumably still having the plans. The fact that Dallas had been able to track the other sub despite the new super-quiet drive may have caused everyone to discard the technology as Awesome, but Impractical.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The KGB uses a sensory deprivation device to interrogate a Russian woman who is spying for the British. The device works by depriving her of all sensory input (no sight, no sound, no smell, no touch), and since the human brain is conditioned to expect some kind of sensory input at all times, the experience causes her to react with stark, unreasoning terror. She tells her captors everything just to make it stop.
    • This is Truth in Television: sensory deprivation for an extended period of time causes temporary insanity in 100% of people with five working senses exposed to it. When there's nothing to react to, the human brain will make something up. And it will not be pretty.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Discussed by Ryan, when justifying the decision to bury Filitov in an American military battlefield: "one way or another we all fight for the things we believe in. Doesn't that give us some common ground?"
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: A villainous example with Gerasimov, though he has the good sense not to say it out loud. His partner, Alexandrov, is a true believer in Marxism-Leninism and sees the coup they're plotting as an attempt to save their country from Narmonov's reforms. Gerasimov only cares about the power and perks - some of his plans for Russia are even no different from those of the man he's trying to overthrow.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Nobody suspects that Ed Foley is a CIA field agent because he deliberately pretends to be a lot dumber than he really is (it's even mentioned that he's received the highest compliment a spy can get: "That guy's not smart enough to be a spy"). The same applies to his wife, Mary Pat, who acts like a ditzy bimbo so that nobody will suspect her. The really good KGB agents catch on when the pair come under suspicion, realizing that it's just a bit too convenient that a US Embassy worker and his wife both turn out to be dull as doorknobs.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Ramius, in his new post-defection job as a consultant on submarine tactics, was given temporary command of a US attack sub participating in an ASW exercise to see just how good Russia's best sub driver really was. He successfully evaded all attempts to detect him and sank a carrier - the single most heavily guarded ship in the fleet.
  • Oh, Crap!: Misha's reaction on realizing he's been goaded into confessing that he'd been betraying the Motherland for thirty years.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Filitov's Despair Event Horizon that started him on the path to becoming a spy for the CIA began when both of his sons died needless deaths, followed shortly by his beloved wife.
  • Put on a Bus: Senator Donaldson, the Sleazy Politician who had been unwittingly providing information to an aide compromised by the Soviets, is mentioned to have retired.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Beatrice Taussig, an administrator at Tea Clipper, essentially hands her male co-worker over to the KGB in order to (clumsily) attempt to seduce the guy's fiancee.
  • Real Event, Fictional Cause: Filitov is said to have been the first to formally accuse real life mole Oleg Penkovsky of treason. In a further twist, Penkovsky is said to have asked him to do so, knowing the KGB were closing in on him and reasoning that this act would place Filitov above suspicion to continue spying.
  • Rich Bitch: Bea Taussig, as well as Svetlana Vanayeva.
  • Room101: The KGB's interrogation unit, particularly the sensory deprivation tank.
  • Sadistic Choice: Ryan attempts to enforce this on Gerasimov: either defect along with Filitov, or suffer disgrace and fall from power.
  • Salt the Earth: Gerasimov leaves orders that should bringing Gregory back to the Soviet Union prove impossible, he is to be killed and thus deny his knowledge to the Americans as well.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: A somewhat heroic version. Svetlana spies for the Americans partially due to believing that the influence of her father (a Soviet politician) will be able to keep her from being punished if she's caught. This assumption is proven wrong.
  • The Smart Guy: Major Alan Gregory is emphasized as this early in the novel, touted as being one of the biggest driving forces behind Tea Clipper. It's one of the major reasons why Gerasimov decides to attempt to kidnap him.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Gerasimov's daughter is surprisingly likable from what little is shown of her.
  • Spy Fiction: The best example of it in the Ryanverse, as most of the action is the work of spies and the agencies that are trying to catch them, rather than military action.
  • Spy Speak: Examples of sign/countersign are seen throughout the novel, most notably when Tania makes contact with the kidnap team. Clark also uses coded terms when communicating with Dallas, such as "The sun is out!" and the "The sun is rising!" indicating he's been spotted and is being pursued.
  • The Starscream: Gerasimov to Narmonov.
  • Technobabble: This actually becomes a hindrance to using the Canary Trap to find leaks in Tea Clipper, as the language used by scientists is so precise that altering it too much could completely change the meaning of what they're trying to say.
  • Take a Third Option: Faced with two alternatives that both mean the end of his career, Gerasimov decides to attempt to kidnap Alan Gregory and use his knowledge to bolster Bright Star, hoping that the prestige of doing so will allow him to survive the disgrace of Red October, the loss of Agent Cassius, and weakening the Soviet side of the nuclear arms negotiations.
  • Taking You with Me: Filitov's being retired from front line duty stemmed from pulling this at Kursk Bulge and surviving, albeit with severe injuries. At one point, when asked about the burn scars that left one arm near useless, he described their cause as "The last German gunner got me, but I got him too".
  • There Is No Kill like Overkill: Discussed when Ryan points out that nuclear reductions treaties are nice, but really amount to little more than PR stunts that don't affect the nuclear war equationnote . His analogy is figuratively pointing a gun with a thirteen round magazine at a man and then agreeing to remove six rounds from it, then asking if the man feels any safer.
  • Torture Always Works: KGB torture techniques are shown in great detail, and rarely do they involve physical abuse. One captured agent breaks from sensory deprivation, and another from sleep deprivation and psychological deception. Also discussed - the KGB is said to have developed such methods precisely because conventional torture tends to yield unreliable information.
  • Torture Technician: The unnamed doctor in charge of the KGB's sensory deprivation tank project.
  • We Have Ways of Making You Talk: Played with when Vatutin apprehends Filitov, as his intention is to use the sensory deprivation tank. He is denied permission to, however, because Filitov's advanced age could result in his death.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Archer's Kid Sidekick Abdul gets a lot of prominence early on but vanishes form the story later, after The Major becomes The Archer's right-hand man.
  • Zerg Rush: The Afghan fighters are capable of using tactics, but generally prefer to rush their targets from ambush.