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Drifting Toward the Black Sea


JEDCJT
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South of Moscow, Romanov AFB was teeming with activity. Several Antonov An-124 Rusian transport aircrafts, along with an Antonov An-225 Mriya aircraft, from the Military 5th Transport Air Regiment were being readied for action, being loaded with troops and heavy equipment. Two squadrons (12) of Mikoyan MiG-29s and MiG-31s armed with short- and medium-range air-to-air missiles, along with several Mil Mi-17 gunships and Sasha A-60 AEW aircrafts, were likewise fueled for action as well.
 
Once everything was in place, and clearance issued from military air traffic controllers, the An-124s and An-225 would lift off into the air in an orderly fashion, followed by the Mi-17s and A-60s. The MiGs would flank them, ready to defend from outside threats if needed be. They would fly south, heading toward the Black Sea. They would take utmost care to avoid foreign airspaces, flying above the Don and Transcaucasus regions in what had been historically known as southern Russia. They flew past the major cities of Lipetsk, Voronezh, and Volgograd, before circling slightly to the southwest, flying over Rostov and Krasnodar, and nearing their ultimate destination.
 
The city of Novorossiysk.
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As the Antonov An-124s and An-225 aircrafts touched down in Novorossiysk, and troops began unloading heavy equipment and supplies, the His Imperial Majesty's Chancery began receiving troubling reports of growing violence in the regions to the south of Muscovy. Contact with local leaders in several regions indicated a serious problem that potentially posed a threat to Muscovy: warlords and militia groups. Their police forces and civil guard units apparently had a very difficult time dealing with them, much less maintain order on the streets, and thus the leaders had contacted Muscovy, which they had perceived as a stable bastion of order, to provide assistance.
 
At first, the His Imperial Majesty's Chancery was hesitant to intercede on their behalf, given the experience of dealing with militia groups in Muscovy's northeastern regions. In the Constituent Assembly, the UNM and RUP delegates, as well as some LDP and SDP members, loudly called for Muscovy to "take a decisive step to help out its brothers and sisters to the south", supported by their grassroots organizations and vested interests in the nobility. Finally, Grand Duke Mikhail Romanov, who had recently returned from a successful conference in the Northlands, issued a ukase authorizing the Muscovian Government to provide assistance and aid to the southern regions after a private discussion with Steward Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Vladimir Lavrov on the matter at hand.
 
Under orders from the Minister of War and Defense, and from Stavka (High Command), the Armed Forces would undertake appropriate preparations. An expeditionary force of over 50,000 peacekeepers, comprising of regular Army troopers and personnel, elements of the Kronstadt naval garrison, experienced auxiliary police officers, and Spetsnaz forces, would be formed from several Army and Air Force bases in southern Muscovy. An additional 20,000 troops and personnel would be provided if needed. Their primary objectives were to secure strategic locations and assets such as airports and airfields as quickly as possible using rapid reaction brigades. UAVs and AWACs/EWACs would be utilized for surveillance and reconnaissance purposes; UCAVs would be deployed if the situation mandated it.
 
The expeditionary forces were to land in the Black Earth, southern Volga, and northern Caucasus regions to assist local authorities reimpose order and stability, and to coordinate resources and intelligence that would be needed against the warlords and militia groups. In military bases alongside Muscovy's southern border, An-124 transport aircrafts would be refueled and loaded with equipment, supplies, food, and soldiers, UAVs, UCAVs, and stealth helicopters readied, and MiG-29s and MiG-31s would be refueled and moved into position on the runways. The same went for elements on the ground; IFVs and APCs would be readied for land transportation. Due to Muscovy still in a state of emergency, it would be easier for the armed forces to coordinate their efforts in putting together an expeditionary force.
 
Finally, the operation began in earnest. The aircrafts lifted off into the air and made their way south. Escorted by the MiGs and assisted by the UAVs and helicopters, the aircrafts would head toward the major cities of Voronezh, Volgograd, Astrakhan, and Saratov. At the same time, ground forces would cross the border into the Bryansk, Oryol, Tambov, Lipetsk, and Mordovia regions and secure the major cities there. Forces in Novorossiysk would move out to secure Krasnodar, Rostov, and Stavropol, and link up with their counterparts from the north. Over the course of several hours, some taking longer than others, airports and other strategic location of interests in these cities would be secured, and troops and equipment unloaded and moved out. The same would occur in the Caucasian cities of Maykop, Cherkessk, Nalchik, Makhachkala, Vladikavkaz, and Grozny. Any resistance by militia groups in these areas would be dealt with, although it would be considerably difficult in the mountainous Caucasian regions.
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Classified for the most part
 
The landing of the expeditionary forces went smoothly for the most part. Military logistics personnel worked around the clock to unload and distribute food, supplies, and equipment, while Army engineers and auxiliary police officers fortified the airports and airfields to defend from potential attacks. All the while, Army troopers moved out across the cities; IFVs and APCs rolled through the streets while the populace looked on. Army officials would make speeches to the local population in city centers, explaining the decision of the Muscovite government to send over assistance to the regions. As a precaution, checkpoints, and in some cases security measures such as roadblocks, were erected in strategic parts of the cities. The peacekeepers would maintain contact with local authorities and take PR efforts to reach out to the population.
 
Not everything went smooth, however. In a few cities, the peacekeepers came under immediate fire, and ferocious firefights ensued. Fierce fighting in parts of Volgograd, for instance, led officials to jokingly refer to it as a modern 'Battle of Stalingrad', while Army and auxiliary police troopers repulsed several counterattacks from militia units in Tambov, Volgodonsk, and Elista. The troops would employ artillery batteries against the militias, using UAVs to coordinate their actions on the battlefield and to observe enemy movements in advance; UCAVs would be used to flush out entrenched enemy positions that couldn't be assaulted or bypassed by infantry. In some cases, evacuations were carried out in which the population would be moved farther from 'areas of combat operations' for their safety. 
 
If things were difficult in these areas, it was much more so in the restive Caucasus regions. Almost from the onset, the troops were subject to raids and ambushes by militia units operating in mountains that comprised the Greater Caucasus mountain range, and heavy casualties ensued. In the Chechen capital of Grozny, for instance, a gunship was shot down, and one An-124 transport aircraft was forced to make a crash-landing after sustaining damage to one of its turbojet engines. Due to surprise rocket attacks by militiamen, it took over six hours for the troops to finally land upon Grozny's international airport, and even longer to fully secure it so supplies and equipment could be moved out. Similar incidents broke out in Nalchik and Makhachkala. Due to the difficulty inherent in mountain warfare, the Spetsnaz forces were tasked with the thankless job.
 
Despite the fighting in the North Caucasus, Muscovite peacekeepers were firmly in control throughout the regions. Alongside the border with the newly-established Republic of Belarus, Muscovite border guards would wave cheerfully at their Belarusian counterparts. Alongside the border with the FSSR in Ukraine, border guards would assume administrative and operational control of border checkpoints, doing the same alongside the border with the Babylonian Empire.
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In the highest echelons of government in Moscow, discussions were held regarding the southern regions that Muscovy had recently established de facto protection over. Several high-ranking officials in the His Imperial Majesty's Chancery, the Foreign Ministry, and the Internal Ministry met with the Grand Duke himself in the Kremlin. In the ornately-decorated office on the second floor of the Grand Kremlin Palace, words flowed from the mouths of these participating in the forms of proposals and arguments.
 
"We in the Government have an obligation to our brothers and sisters to the south, that's not in doubt. But do that obligation necessarily extend to the determination of their political status?" Deputy Minister of the Interior Georgy Konstantin stated.
 
"Yes, if the people desire it," Count Ivan Abayev, head of the His Imperial Majesty's Chancery, replied. "If the people of the South Russian regions wish to join us in Muscovy, who are we to deny them that?"
 
"Not if that would make Muscovy look like an expansionist power," Grand Duke Mikhail Romanov spoke up.
 
"That would not do well for Muscovy's image, given that we just became part of the European Community," Deputy Chairman of the Government Administration, Alexander Severin spoke up.
 
"This would not be expansion for expansion's sake. When you come to look at it, this would be a logical thing to do. Muscovy would strengthen her geopolitical position. By acquiring the southern regions, we gain access to the Black and Caspian seas, and thus open up new economic opportunities," Abayev said.
 
"If economic opportunity was the goal, then we should have limited ourselves to the port of Novorossiysk," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Medvedev said.
 
"But then our link to Novorossiysk would be tenuous at best, and this would not do well for Muscovy's access to the Black Sea, and by extension the Mediterranean and the rest of the world's oceans," Internal Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev said.
 
"The basis for the acquisition of the southern regions would be tenuous at best," Konstantin spoke up. 
 
"And not to mention, it could potentially create a myriad of problems for us to contend with," the Grand Duke said, referring to the ongoing situation in the North Caucasus.
 
"Agreed," Medvedev nodded.
 
"Well, we are perfectly capable of dealing with it. After all, we dealt with the militias in northern Muscovy," Abayev said with a dismissive wave of a hand. "And the local leaders did contact us in the first place."
 
"I don't think they had accession to Muscovy in mind," Konstantin said sarcastically.
 
"Well, what do you propose we should do about this?" Abayev retorted.
 
"We could continue doing what we're doing, providing stability, passing around food and supplies and the like, and then decide what the people want in the near-future," Konstantin suggested.
 
"We could officially maintain it as a protectorate as to give the people there the opportunity to form their own government," Medvedev said in turn.
 
"You forgot the joining-Muscovy-if-they-desire-it option," Abayev said dryly.
 
"But then, it wouldn't really address the political status question," Kolokoltsev pointed out. "The people there want stability and government on a permanent basis, and we are perfectly in a position to give them just that." 
 
"But they could have all that in a country of their own," Medvedev said.
 
"And they will," Abayev said. Medvedev shook his head.
 
"Not necessarily ours, Ivan. And the protectorate arrangement would help deflect potential criticisms and concerns on the part of our neighbors."
 
"Speaking of countries, if I may make a proposal," Steward Vladimir Putin, who had been silent for most of the time, spoke up. "Why not let our southern brothers and sisters form a government of their own...only with our guidance?"
 
"You don't mean...?" Konstantin said with raised eyebrows.
 
Putin nodded, his lips curled up in a slight smirk. "Exactly what I mean."
 
"What you're basically proposing is a puppet government," Konstantin said. "That would subvert the will of the population. And what if the international community finds ou--"
 
"They won't," Putin interjected. "Not if we organize it in a way that the international community would be satisfied that the desire of our brothers and sisters are being adequately addressed."
 
"But still--"
 
"This would actually achieve several things all at once," Kolokoltsev interrupted. "The people would receive order and stability, elect a government of their own, enjoy economic prosperity in their own nation, and not to mention, consolidate our strategic interests. Speak of killing four birds with one stone."
 
"Must be hell of a stone," Severin mumbled.
 
"But this reeks of deception! That's not in Muscovy's best interests to be doing something like that." Konstantin protested.
 
"Actually, it is," Putin disagreed. "When leading a country like Muscovy after a devastating event like the Great Apocalypse, the promotion and securing of strategic interests is paramount to this country."
 
"But not if it threatens Muscovy's strategic interests in the long run," the Grand Duke said. "This is the last thing in a world where trust among our peoples, and among states, remain very fragile."
 
"Then we will have to go about it very carefully," Abayev spoke. "Besides, I don't really think the world would condemn us if we incorporated the southern regions. We're not the only country to do this."
 
"If they do criticize us, they'd make hypocrites out of themselves," Putin said.
 
"Not all nations engage in expansion, you know. Don't paint them with a broad brush," Medvedev cautioned. "Still, image is very important," he continued. "It wouldn't do well for us if this blew up in our faces in the end."
 
"Yes, maintaining a protectorate at this time would be a safe recourse for us," Konstantin said.
 
"Safe?" Putin said with a chuckle. "Safe? Georgy, if ancient Muscovy had played it safe, she would never have expanded over the course of several centuries to become a great power, under the Tsars and then the Soviets. And not to mention, the last Russian Empire stagnated because she was too afraid to challenge the hegemony of Tianxia and Athens. There are risks inherent in the world we live in, and we will have to take risks if we want what's best for Muscovy and its people. Otherwise, we are nothing."
 
"Well said, Vladimir," Kolokoltsev nodded while Abayev clapped his hands.
 
And so the discussions continued for some time, with Putin, Abayev, and Kolokoltsev in support for a puppet government, and Medvedev, Severin, and Konstantin for a protectorate. 
Edited by JEDCJT
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The impasse between the 'protectionists' and the 'puppeteers' was resolved when the Grand Duke proposed the creation of an autonomous region similiar to the historic Grand Duchy of Finland. While being officially a part of Muscovy, it was to have its own constitution, legislature (the Duma), and administrative institutions, to levy its own taxes, and maintain a regional defense force. Furthermore, it was to be exempt from central taxation, and central military conscription, for five years. The central government would control foreign affairs, defense, and communications in the meantime.
 
Although Putin objected to the proposal at first, mainly because it would transform Muscovy into a federacy, he eventually agreed on the condition that an administrative district ("Southern District") be established over the region under the Decree on the Administrative System of Muscovy, and that the inhabitants be allowed to vote on the final status of their region in a nationwide referendum in five years. What was not explicitly mentioned, but was known to the others, that Putin would have the right to nominate the executive-in-chief under Article 53 of the Constitution. This was accepted, albeit with some reservations from Konstantin.
 
Local leaders were summoned to Moscow, where they would be notified about the formation of an autonomous region by Putin himself. After brief deliberations, they ultimately assented to such an arrangement, and would sign a binding treaty officially establishing the Viceroyalty of Southern Russia within the Grand Duchy of Moscow. In addition, two officials from the Bryansk and Oryol oblasts signed separate treaties of accession, officially joining the Grand Duchy of Moscow. The comforting presence of two armed, bulky Muscovite military officers, and a Third Department official, in the room may had something to do with this.
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