In the days following Mikhail Gorbachev’s ouster, NATO commanders collectively began to consider the ramifications of the coup for the alliance, as well as for their respective commands. Romanov was a hardliner and it was assumed he would eventually turn his attention to the smoldering situation in the Eastern European satellites. It was not widely known in April of 1987 exactly how deep of a hole the Soviet Union had placed itself in. At home, there was increasing strife in the southern republics and the Baltics. The grumblings were not restricted to Armenians and Estonians either. Discontent was growing among the general population as well. Ethnic Russians were beginning to seriously question the Communist Party’s decisions, and motives in ever increasing numbers. The economy was teetering on the verge of a total collapse. Afghanistan continued to consume inordinate amounts of blood and treasure in exchange for practically nothing in return. Soviet influence in Central America and other Third World areas was declining in the face of an aggressive US foreign policy.
Nowhere was the situation more precarious for Moscow than in Eastern Europe. Agitation was fomenting from East Berlin to Warsaw and Prague. Poland had never been properly pacified in the early 1980s. Jaruzelski, despite Soviet propping, was barely keeping his country together. Solidarity remained a force to be reckoned with. In East Berlin, Erich Honecker’s problems were more pronounced. His hold on power was becoming weaker, and as Honecker went, so did the East German communist party. The sentiment that the German Democratic Republic might be on its last leg was shared by elitists and commoners alike. Moscow was fully aware of what was happening. East Germany would celebrate its 40th anniversary as a nation-state in two years and there was widespread concern in the Kremlin that the GDR might not last that long without Soviet military intervention.
An East German collapse would bring about a major crisis for NATO. This was alarmingly clear in Brussels. So, as Romanov was consolidating his power in the Kremlin, General Bernard Rodgers, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) at the time, was holding meetings with his top commanders to discuss the situation, and the training schedule for the summer months. Rodgers was leaving in June and wanted everything to be running perfectly for General John Galvin, his successor.
In the coming weeks a new geo-political situation took shape. To the shock of many, Romanov’s first priority was to challenge the United States by maneuvering the Soviet Union into a position of, if not political strength, at least political parity to Washington. The military balance of power was tilting dangerously in Washington’s favor, even if the West was not clearly aware of it at the time. By mid-May, incidents between US and Soviet aircraft, submarines, and ships at sea were becoming a regular occurrence. It was the collision between a Russian Tu-95 Bear and US Navy F-14 Tomcat in the Pacific that captured Rodger’s attention and did not let go. Incidents like that held the power to begin a war.
Romanov was playing for keeps, Rodgers realized right then and there. It now became the American general’s sole purpose to ensure that NATO was prepared for a conflict with the Soviets.
War was on the horizon.