Editor: Read Chapter XI here.
Air Commodore Indradeep Ghosh was not in the best of moods as he struggled to reach the Himalaya in time for dinner. Normally, the prospect of a meal at the Himalaya, one of the best Indian restaurants in Moscow, paid for by somebody else, would have put Indradeep in a good mood, but the day had been terrible. It had started with a call from his son’s boarding school and ended with one from an irate defence ministry bureaucrat, regarding an expense claim Indradeep had submitted.
Indradeep had almost cancelled the dinner until he remembered that since he had plans to eat out, his wife had invited her best friend in Moscow over for dinner, the wife of another diplomat, a chatterbox par excellence.
I’m only thirty minutes late, Indradeep told himself as his driver dropped him in front of the restaurant and drove off to find a place to park. Dmitri was waiting for him, as Indradeep knew he would be, when he reached the table.
‘My dear friend Indradeep, it is so good to see you,’ Dmitri boomed. He stood up and drew Indradeep into a bear hug. Ever since the Indian government had announced two years ago that it proposed to buy a hundred odd fighter jets, air attachés and even other defence attaches in every Indian embassy in the Western world had been wined and dined by manufacturers like NAMC, a Russian company which Dmitri represented. Not that Indradeep would have any say in the final decision which would be made in New Delhi by the Defence Minister assisted by a few bureaucrats, none of whom knew anything much about flying or fighting, but the stakes were so high that no stone was left unturned by wannabe sellers.
‘What are you drinking today?’ Dmitri demanded. With Dmitri, it usually ended up as a drinking contest, with the contestants staggering out of the restaurant to their chauffer driven cars, a couple of hours after midnight.
‘I’ll stick to red wine,’ Indradeep said, deciding to play safe. Dmitri was a whiskey and vodka drinker who turned up his nose at wine. Once he had opted to drink single malts in tandem with Dmitri and had got so drunk, he didn’t remember getting home, though he would always remember the resulting hangover and vomiting.
Dmitri ordered a large vodka for himself while Indradeep picked a vintage red wine for himself.
Indradeep started to say that he was not hungry, but then he realised that he actually was very hungry, having missed lunch in the course of the dreary day. Also, it was not a good idea to let Dmitri choose for both of them since Dmitri usually went for whatever sounded most exotic or looked colourful in the Indian menu.
Once they started with the drinks and small triangular mutton samosas, Indradeep was bemused to see that Dmitri was going slow, especially with his vodka, which he drank neat. He considered asking Dmitri what was on his mind, but then decided to wait and let it play out on its own. And it was not long in coming.
‘My friend, I have some information for you to pass on to your friends in Delhi.’ Dmitri’s voice slowed down to a whisper and Indradeep had to bend forward to hear him. ‘This information is confidential, and it will be reported to RAW only much later.’
Indradeep hid his irritation well. A few months ago, in a similar theatrical fashion, Dmitri had given him some advance information which had turned out to be useless. It was quite likely that this time too, he would waste many hours writing useless reports. Why don’t you let this be conveyed through normal channels, he was tempted to ask Dmitri, but he didn’t. Intelligence gathering was not the primary function of a defence attaché, but it was not totally excluded. It wouldn’t do his career any good if it came out later that the Russkies had offered him a prime cut and he had declined out of laziness.
‘Tell me, my friend, what’s this information you have for me?’ he asked.
‘The FSB has found out that a mercenary visited your country recently. He was in India for a little over two months.’
‘A mercenary visited India? What nationality was he?’
‘One of us. A Russian. An Afghan veteran. His name’s Yaroslav Kupernitkov, and he has done assignments all over the world. He helped the Armenians against the Azeris in Nogorno Karabh, fought on the side of the Serbs in Bosnia, helping them besiege Sarajevo, he’s worked for the FARC in Colombia as a trainer, he did a stint with Charles Taylor’s troops in Liberia when they were fighting the LURD, he’s been everywhere. And he was in India very recently.’
‘How did the FSB find out? How long was Yaroslav in India? And what has the FSB done about it?’
‘I don’t know all that my friend. I do know that they found out that Yaroslav, visited your country. Maybe someone told them. Maybe Yaroslav told the FSB after he got back. Maybe Yaroslav is under orders to keep them informed of his comings and goings. In any event, after they found out, they sat on it for a week and then passed it to the GRU. The GRU may give it to your RAW, but they may not. Our countries are no longer so co-operative. Frankly, I don’t think they will tell RAW. Even if they do, it’ll take some time. Maybe two weeks. So, you can go in first and tell your bosses at the DIA about this and RAW will look silly when they come second.’
‘It’s not RAW. It’s R&AW, you know.’ Indradeep was buying time to think and Dmitri knew it. He merely shrugged at the irrelevant correction. If Dmitri knew about the DIA, he most probably knew a lot more about R&AW.
Indradeep took another sip of his wine so that he could hide his smile. It made sense that the FSB would pass on the information to the GRU, rather than the SVR.
‘Didn’t GRU talk to Yaroslav when he got back from India?’
‘Maybe they did. Maybe not. I don’t know.’ The Slavic shrug was noncommittal. The chances of the FSB not getting full details from Yaroslav of all that he did while in India was as likely as a Russian soldier at a frozen border crossing, turning down the offer of a free vodka double peg, Indradeep thought.
‘Is there anything else you can tell me?’
Dmitri cleared his throat. ‘We could of course make sure that this information is passed on the R&AW. We can make sure that the FSB talks to Yaroslav and finds out a bit more about what he did when he was in India. Who did he meet? We could do all that. But then, we could even give this information to you directly.’ The price would be a purchase order for a hundred odd fighter jets.
‘I understand Dmitri. Let me pass on this information to my bosses. Let’s see what they have to say.’
Dmitri gave Indradeep a shrewd look. Did Dmitri know about the turf war between the DIA and various intelligence services of the army, the navy and the air force? The Defence Intelligence Agency or DIA had been set up a few years after the Kargil War to coordinate and beef up the Directorate of Military Intelligence, Navy Intelligence and Air Intelligence. Its director general was chosen by turn from each of the three services. However, neither the Military Intelligence, nor the intelligence wings of the navy or the air force had been happy with the new head boy and for many years after the DIA was created, defence attaches like Indradeep continued to report to the intelligence wings of their parent entities. Even now, there was a form of dual reporting for Indradeep, with one reporting line to the DIA and another to the Air Intelligence Head Quarters within Vayu Sena Bhawan in New Delhi.
‘Thanks Dmitri. I owe you for this.’
‘My dear friend, you owe me nothing. That’s what friends are for. Maybe you will get a promotion for this, eh?’
Rather than explain how promotions were awarded by the External Affairs Ministry and the Defence Ministry, Indradeep gave Dmitri a smile, picked up his wine glass, took an appreciative gulp and said, ‘This is really good wine. I think I will order a few bottles of this for home.’
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