13:00 (10:00 GMT)
Aleksandr Roshenko sat in the back of his car on his way to a daily briefing with Prime Minister Shorets and President Solonovich when his satellite phone rang. A wave of excitement flowed through him. It could only be one person. He put up the divider between himself and his driver and answered the phone, “Vitayu.”
“Hello Minister Roshenko. I am calling you as you requested.”
Aleksandr felt a bit of relief that he finally heard from their contact. “Good, and you can skip the formalities of title. Just tell me where you are.”
“We are just off the South West coast of Morocco, west of the Isla de la Palma. We should pass through the strait of Gibraltar in one day’s time.”
“So you are making good time then?” Aleksandr asked.
“Yes. We are on schedule. I will call you just as we head into port.”
Aleksandr disconnected the call and put the phone away as they pulled into the president’s office at The Palace of the Republic, on Oktabratska Square. A trace of a smile developed across his face. Oleg will be pleased with this information.
The palace was a commanding building, compared to the smaller ones that surrounded it. Looking more like a museum or library rather than a palace, it stood three stories tall, rectangle in its shape with square columns going across each side. Behind the columns was a wall of glass windows.
Inside, the president’s office was painted with crimson walls. Red velvet curtains adorned the windows. Large oil paintings with depictions of former Russian rulers and Belarusian heroes were on the walls.
The hardwood floors, with inlaid patterns were covered with large red and black Persian rugs. Massive stone fireplaces faced each other on opposite walls. In front of one fireplace was a table at least six meters long with twenty chairs around it. Adjacent to the other, were two couches and two chairs with a coffee table in the middle. That’s where President Solonovich and Prime Minister Shorets sat when Aleksandr entered the room.
Aleksandr, Oleg and President Solonovich exchanged pleasantries and got down to business. The first to speak was President Solonovich.
“These riots from the people, still complaining about the election results, I am tired of them. Even with the arrests and police presence, they continue. What do you suggest we do to finally put them behind us and move on? Aleksandr, I’ve heard from Oleg, so I would be interested in hearing your ideas.”
Aleksandr knew these “riots” that the president talked about were actually peaceful demonstrations. They only erupted into riots after the KGB and police were dispatched and started to beat and arrest protesters.
Aleksandr cleared his throat. He wanted to tell the president it was because of his actions that caused this, but justice would be served soon enough.
“Mr. President, perhaps a showing of good-will to the people would help to settle them down.”
Solonovich peered back at Aleksandr with narrowed eyes and a furrowed brow. “Like what?”
“Sir, we could—you could announce the release of some of the protestors. Tell them that you have hired an outside team to do a full investigation of the election results, which of course would drag on and find nothing.”
“You’re not suggesting I let some of my adversaries from the opposition go, are you?”
Aleksandr paused to think through how he should respond. He glanced at Oleg for some sign of support, but got none.
“Perhaps the least threatening of them. They would know not to say or do anything, of course. We know who their families are and where they live. They would be reminded of that.”
President Solonovich sat a moment. Aleksandr then added, “It would give the impression to the people that you are taking them seriously and would get them to back off. Many of these people are protesting because their friends and family have been arrested. Free them, and they go away.”
Solonovich pounded his fist on the table. “No! That shows weakness. I will not show them any sign of breaking down.”
“Sir, with all due respect, I think you are looking at it from the wrong point of view. The people will see it as a sign of openness and honesty, the very thing that you promised during the last election,” Aleksandr said.
“Enough! I will not tolerate rioters. I promised them leadership. But… I will take your suggestion under advisement.”
Aleksandr knew that the president said that as dismissal of the thought. Arrogant bastard. You know I’m right. Aleksandr and Oleg eyed one another. Aleksandr was almost positive Oleg was thinking the same thing.
The president stood up. “Now, on to other things. I want to talk about Independence Day. This, I believe will be a good day to get the people on our side.”
Oleg shot a glance at Aleksandr again and then stood himself. “Mr. President. I have glorious news. The nuclear power plant will be fully operational and the two reactors will be ready to come on-line on Independence Day. The news will come over as positive with the people knowing that they will no longer be relying on Russia and Ukraine for their power. This will be a powerful statement that you can make during your speech in Victory Square on Independence Day.”
The president smiled. “Yes, that is excellent news. This might be the very thing to turn people’s opinion about me.”
Oleg continued, “It’s such a shame that—all three of us have to be at Victory Square and we couldn’t give it the proper attention that it deserves.” Oleg planted the seed. Aleksandr hoped the arrogant bastard would take it and bite hard. He could see the president turning his gears in thought.
“I have an idea,” Solonovoch finally said. “You and Aleksandr should be at the power plant to represent the people during its opening. We can set up a two-way broadcast from there so you two can—throw the switch—or whatever the hell it is you do to turn it on.”
Oleg quickly interjected, “Like a simulcast. We could set up giant screens in the square so all the people could see this. You could make the order for us to turn it on and everyone within eyes of a television could see it. It would truly be a glorious day: one for Belarus and especially for you Mr. President.”
Solonovich turned his attention to the ceiling. A large smile spread across his weathered face. He clapped his hands. “Yes. That is perfect. Set it up.”
Oleg walked over to the president, smiled and placed his hand on his shoulder. “Excellent idea, Mr. President! We will get started immediately.”
After the meeting, Oleg and Aleksandr walked down the hall and went into a private meeting room. It was a sound proofed room and was often swept for bugs. There was a log on the wall that indicated the most recent sweep had been just an hour earlier, so they knew it was safe to talk.
Speaking under their breath Aleksandr said to Oleg, “That was brilliant! You made him think that it was his idea.”
Oleg grinned wide. “What is it the American’s say? Hook, line and sinker? Actually, it was his idea, I just planted the seed.”
Aleksandr leaned in and spoke even softer. “By the way, I heard from our contact. He is on schedule and will call when he is in port. Everything is coming together.”
Oleg said, “Excellent news my friend! Get in touch with Minister Litwin. Let him know about our broadcast from the power plant. Have him set it up. Tell him that we will be up there soon to aid in the logistics.”