By Tom Demerly.
Serkovsky was a deal maker. He started as an oil broker then disappeared for a decade. When he re-emerged among the now Russian, formerly Soviet, elite his skin looked better, he looked more healthy and less stressed despite the missing decade. He was tan now.
Andrei Serkovsky carried two cell phones and was never far from his laptop. That many of the people who dealt with him never saw his office wasn’t a surprise. He moved effortlessly in social circles from Madrid to Cairo, knew the streets of St. Petersburg very well and favored Istanbul as a meeting place. While in Istanbul he rode in an anonymous but chauffeured Benz SUV. You could not see the run-flat tires and armor plating by looking at the vehicle. In all ways, Serkovsky moved discreetly, worked quietly.
As the crisis began he sensed an opportunity. While it wasn’t what he told people he did for a living, his business was solutions. Solutions to problems, conflicts.
Syria was just such a problem. An opportunity.
He would not, of course, deal with the primary players. Assad was an egotistical ass, the Russian power brokers driven exclusively by profit and the U.S. president manacled to a moral compass Serkovsky didn’t bother with. As usual, this deal would surface through… contacts. The seeds would be planted: a suggestion, an arrangement, a test, some preparations. Then the plan may run its course and whoever felt the need would claim credit (but never blame). He only expected payment.
In the case of a substantial deal, like this one, it was his custom to take a holiday afterward, provided all ended well. Ibiza in the spring since he favored young girls, Malta most other times since it was quiet and safe. He knew families there and loved the sea surrounding it. He also favored the Greek isle of Lesbos with its excellent food and quaint capital of Mytilene. But all that came later.
For now he sat rolling on the swells in the dark off the Syrian coast. He was near the city of Tartus in the moon shadow of the Hadyah forest. Impervious to seasickness from years of small boat operations and low-level flight, Serkovsky watched as a small launch approached his own boat in the dark. A pelican case filled with documents and memory devices was transferred from vessel to vessel, but no words were exchanged. His own craft came about quickly and set course for Cyprus, immune to surveillance by the U.S., Russian and Syrian forces thanks to a signal emitter onboard that showed his boat as different things to each of the three countries watching its radar image. He was granted safe passage on the night sea.
Once on land Serkovsky moved quickly. He carefully scanned encrypted files from his rendezvous at sea. Once the files were verified, not against any set of records but more against his own intuition, he sent a secure e-mail to someone in St. Petersburg. The next morning, a Sunday, that person proposed an interesting idea over a typically opulent Sunday government brunch. The deal would seem better discussed over fresh salmon, mineral water, dark coffee, fresh bread with rich butter and sweet jam.
At the same time a similar package of information reached a suburb of Virginia in the United States. From there it was e-mailed to an office in the basement of a very large building in Langley. Five hours and a long lunch later a phone in Washington D.C. rang and an identical set of plans to the ones in St. Petersburg was discussed.
Within both sets of plans, the one in St. Petersburg (now moved to Moscow) and the one in Washington D.C., were the protocols for contacts. These contacts were made. The deals were brokered and began to move forward. As agreed, the initial announcements in the west came via the BBC and were reported as a “Russian proposal”. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov took initial ownership of the deal. He nearly tipped his hat when he said the deal would meet a “quick and, I hope, positive answer” from the U.S. and Syria.
It met with skepticism in Washington, at least within the White House. The people at Langley endorsed the solution but the D.C. crowd was a little more cautious, especially when they saw the price tag. Then again, it was cheaper than holding five destroyers and a carrier battle group in the Mediterranean for another three weeks- let alone launching Tomahawks.
Ultimately, the deal began to move forward. As Serkovsky monitored its progress, both overtly and through contacts, he did a mental accounting of his receipts from the deal. The Syrians were broke, so their contribution was the least significant and largely symbolic, or punitive. The Russian contribution was healthy since they were effectively getting credit for the deal and they were cash-rich. They were also good pays and Serkovsky had his closest contacts there, so he had the habit of leaning on them the most. He did most of his banking there so the Russians felt safe with him. The Americans were slow, reluctant pays given to complexity and delays since they were risk adverse to scandal. His payment had to be washed through some “black budget”, usually via Langley. Still, every U.S. dollar had a hundred cents, and $1.5 billion U.S. dollars held a lot of cents. They’d call it an “oil deal in the Bosporus region” or some bullshit.
For now all Serkovsky could do was watch and wait. The deal was on the table, or rather, being passed around under it, and it took time for both sides to take their part of ownership. Payment took another week.
Even so, Andrei Serkovsky allowed himself the distraction of clicking on a website for an Ibiza resort. It featured all night foam parties, pulsing trance music and a pair of 19 year old twins with long hair, one dark, one light, firm features and a penchant for wearing white in the foam parties then waking up on the beach with him.
He hoped the deal continued as proposed.