“The Americans” is well into its new season and already a plotline has developed that could be out of a Clancy novel, the twist being that the #United States is alleged to be engaged in a nefarious plot to destroy the protagonists’ country, the Soviet Union. Philip and #Elizabeth, the deep-cover Soviet spies, believe that they have uncovered an American plot to destroy the Soviet grain supply, causing a famine, and bringing the USSR to its knees. The two KGB agents have discovered a greenhouse in Illinois and a research lab in Oklahoma that is developing, or so they think, weaponized midges, an insect that likes to eat grain.
But how realistic would such an attack be in the real world?
The problem is, as is depicted in the show, Soviet agriculture was already in a death spiral, thanks to mismanagement and corruption inherent in socialist economic systems. Introducing weaponized voracious insects would seem to be superfluous.
The theory is advanced on the show that #The Americans would add these midges in the grain shipments, which would eat the grain, causing the Soviet people to starve. But this idea also makes no sense. President Jimmy Carter had tried to achieve the same effect by enacting a grain embargo in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But the Soviets simply made up for the difference by buying grain from other sources, such as Argentina. The only effect that embargo had was to destroy a market for Midwestern farmers, causing a glut in the United States, collapsing prices, swinging the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan. Even though President Reagan lifted the embargo, the Soviets had already diversified their worldwide purchases.
So, why is the storyline even taking place in “The Americans?”.
One theory is that the new season is a beautiful study in Soviet paranoia. It will turn out that the plot never existed except in the minds of Philip and Elizabeth and their KGB handlers back in Moscow. That means that a murder that took place in the most recent episode was doubly unnecessary.
The other theory is that the writers, usually thorough in their research in the 1980s Cold War, have stumbled this time and have made up a fantasy that did not exist in the real world. If so, too bad, though the series remains the most compelling on television.