Cardinal of the Kremlin Themes
As in The Hunt for Red October (1984, see separate entry), the theme of betrayal is an important one in The Cardinal of the Kremlin. Like the Soviet submarine captain Marko Ramius, Col. Mikhail Semyonovich Filitov has chosen to betray his country. Unlike those of Ramius, Filitov's motivations are vague and confused. He is angered by his wife's death, but he partly blames himself for it, just as he sees himself as somehow responsible for the incompetency that killed his sons. He is the only man to have received three Hero of the Soviet Union Medals for his service as a tank commander during World War II, but now he is a spy. And with each new secret he passes to the U.S., he drinks himself into a stupor.
Thus, betrayal is no easy action in The Cardinal of the Kremlin; spies betray and even murder friends and colleagues in the novel, and their motivations are complicated and sad. In America, a love obsessed lesbian betrays her country and friends in a misguided attempt to eliminate a man she sees as her rival; in the Soviet Union, an aging colonel never lets himself forget what his betrayal means. The betrayers lead anguished, unfulfilled lives.
Another significant theme is that of false impressions. "Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make proud," thinks CIA officer Foley. This aphorism is later applied by CIA Deputy Director of Operations Ritter to Col. Filitov, who in reality feels ashamed of his deeds. The Americans think the Soviets may have a working laser missile killer; they do not. Two American scientists believe the woman in their car-pool is a good friend; she is in fact a Soviet spy who loathes the man and is infatuated with the woman. Even at the end of the novel, those who should know what is going on, do not. The chairman of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union believes that the attack on his country's laser base was conducted by Americans; in fact, the Americans were not behind it. He, like the soldiers in Afghanistan, has underestimated the ability of the Afghan guerrillas to strike back at their Soviet enemies. Throughout the novel, people make decisions and take chances based on information that is not only incomplete, but sometimes completely false.