Just before 3am the first rubber boats came ashore opposite the massive 15th century walls of Russia’s Ivangorod fortress. With rehearsed precision black-faced and heavily armed commandoes scrambled up the bank, quickly dispatching two unarmed security guards before taking up positions at the western approaches of the bridge linking Estonia and Russia. To their left, Narva, a town of just under 60 thousand, slept peacefully despite growing tensions between the two countries. Just across the road stood an Estonian customs facility. It was small, staffed at so late an hour by just a hand full of lightly armed boarder agents.
Russian agents for weeks had fomented anxiety among Russian nationals in the region. NATO grew increasingly alarmed by ominous troop movements along the Russian frontier bordering Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Several NATO-member states had pressed a political recognition of the Three former-Soviet satellites as interim NATO members, but could find no political consensus. Turkey was in the process of withdrawing from NATO and the European Union. The new administration had driven a deep division within the alliance. Washington had taken a lassaiz faire approach to fears of a Russian intervention in the Baltics. The President dismissed intervention, saying that it was a local matter only a day earlier. His comments sealed the fate of the three independent European Union members.
Years earlier Russian hackers had seeded computer systems with a kill-switch virus. As a single semi-trailer truck cleared customs on the Russian side computer screens went blank throughout most of Estonia. Military and civilian radar went dead. Cellphone service was interrupted abruptly and the electric grid went dark, incapacitating most of Estonia. As the truck ground to a halt Russian commandoes stormed across the road. More poured from the truck, charging at the surprised Estonians. It was seven minutes past 3 in the morning, and without a single shot being fired the Narva River bridge was firmly in Russian hands.
The thunder of Russian armor, collecting for weeks in nearby forests, and the roar of Russian warplanes and attack helicopters tore the people of Narva from sleep. Russian helicopters landed more commandoes at the roundabout just west of the bridge and at a soccer pitch near the city center. Still more landed in the lot facing the McDonald’s and the Jazz Café. With a column of armored reinforcements pouring across the bridge, it took less than an hour to secure the city. The column raced west towards Sillamae and Ahtme. Eighty-five miles west at the capital Tallinn, Russian warships appeared off the coast. Residents were awakened by the sound of explosions as missiles set the city’s neo-baroque presidency aflame. More struck the airport, a naval base and a military barracks just outside the city.
Just as the Russians were storming the Narva bridge, 4400 miles west the President was hosting a party for foreign dignitaries in the State Dining Room of the White House. The affair started promptly at 8pm as the President rose to make a toast to his guests. First indication of the rapidly developing situation came from a local stringer from the BBC simply reporting that a “series of loud explosions had been heard around the city,” and that it appeared that “Tallinn was under attack.” The US legation, which had continued uninterrupted through the Soviet occupation reported that Russian war ships were firing on the city and that the airport and military installations were under attack by Russian aircraft.
An aid to the President whispered news of the invasion. The President waved him away. The issue could wait, he said, until morning when he planned to call his old friend, Putin. A member of the armed-services committee with one of the Joint chiefs demanded to speak with the President on this urgent matter, but was rebuffed.
Despite urgent protests from the Joint Chiefs, the Senate and NATO commanders the President orders the armed forces not to intervene. “The case,” he says, “is closed.”
Estonia, like Lithuania and Latvia was part of the Partnership for Peace initiative, a defacto promise to help defend the tiny Baltic states in the case of a Russian attack. Within hours Poland, Finland, Sweden and Denmark had placed their militaries at their highest state of readiness. Finland and Sweden scrambled warplanes over a sudden increase in Russian incursions. Without the United States, European NATO members decide on a defense in place strategy, essentially isolating each member nation. Fears of a war with Russia foments protests and rioting at Rammstein air force base where all military personnel and their dependents are warned to remain indoors or to leave Europe. European airports are inundated by Americans trying to leave. Terrorist groups eye the unrest as an opportunity to attack American businesses, consulates and US nationals. There is nothing the government can do to protect them.
By 1pm local time, just 11 hours since Russian commandoes seized Narva, Estonia sues for peace unconditionally. To the south, Latvia, with reports of a Russian build up on the border panicking the capital, Riga, to a standstill, complains to the United Nations. Its US support gutted by the administration, and with NATO all but fractured, the UN can do little more than condemn Russian aggression. In response, claiming intervention to protect Russian nationals, the Russian UN delegation storms out.
The markets are already reacting. Japanese, Chinese and Korean markets collapse with stunning losses. The US markets, the Dow, Nasdaq and S&P plummet, the Dow, valued at some $70 trillion dollars, loses more than 1300 points in a single session, or roughly a $1 trillion-dollar loss to the economy. Those losses will continue. By the end of the month the Dow loses 14% of its total value. Retirement funds, pensions and 401ks for tens of millions of Americans are eradicated.
There is a run on oil futures. The price of a barrel of oil skyrockets on war fears or interrupted supplies. The spike in oil will benefit Putin and his oligarch billionaire support, and help bolster the Russian economy in the near term. US consumers will be shocked to find the cost of a gallon of gas, near $2.60 a day before will be well over $3.50 by the end of their work day. They’ll wake to $4 dollar/gallon gas the following morning amid news Russian warships have taken advantage of Turkey’s fall from the NATO and EU orbit to sail into the Persian Gulf.
The crisis disrupts air travel, shipping and trade. High gas prices and disruptions to trade and manufacturing resound throughout the economy, driving a collapse in already weak consumer spending, halting housing construction and investment. Inflation increases exponentially on food. Massive layoffs will follow. Foreclosures on homes skyrocket swelling the ranks of the homeless or the about to be homeless. Food lines appear overnight, exhausting the government’s ability to provide assistance, and overwhelming nonprofits and churches. Massive protests and riots grind struggling urban centers, state capitals and Washington to a virtual standstill.
As the scope of the crisis becomes painfully, even disastrously apparent the President suddenly takes a tough stance rhetorically with Russia. It is too late for anything more. He says that he feels betrayed by his former Russian business partners and “friends”, but the damage has already been done. The Kremlin, under no immediate pressure to negotiate, as they hold all of the cards, turns a deaf ear. The President was a willing and unsuspecting dupe ahead of the election. Supported by Russia in his bid for office, they no longer need him.
The Russian Press mocks the explosion in US poverty and starvation, recalling the Soviet and post-Soviet upheavals that led to burgeoning poverty and alcoholism in Russia. The comparison is a crude and inaccurate one, but one meant to foment Russian nationalism. It also empowers America’s enemies. The empire has fallen, they believe, and take full advantage in the resulting chaos.
Long term, faced with an economy in near freefall, military and financial aid to South Korea is pulled increasing the specter of a new land war between North and South. Taiwan falls to mainland China, with America unable to assert any power to stop China. Likewise, China consolidates territory in the South China sea and projects power throughout the western Pacific, threaten Australia and New Zealand. It shifts trade to Asia, the Mideast and the Indian subcontinent to protect its economy.
Japan’s security is at risk. Despite accusations of American interference in the Mideast through the years, the sudden vacuum created by a general pull out leads to a wave of instability, violence and radicalism. Israel’s security is called into question as the United States is forced into a corner by a resurgent Russia. That bodes dangerous as the growing desperation and panic of a crippled nuclear America sets in motion a countdown to war…