In the days immediately following Mikhail Gorbachev’s ouster, NATO commanders collectively began considering what the ramifications of the coup would be for the alliance, as well as for their respective commands. Romanov was a hardliner and it was suspected that he would eventually turn his attention to the smoldering situation in the Eastern European satellites. It was not widely known in April, 1987 exactly how deep of a hole the Soviet Union had itself in. At home, there was increasing strife in the southern republics and the Baltics. Discontent was growing among the general population as well. The grumblings were not restricted to Armenians and Estonians either. Ethnic Russians were beginning to 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 Soviet blood, and Soviet influence in Central America and other Third World areas was declining.
Nowhere was the situation more precarious for Moscow than in Eastern Europe. Internal discontent 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 more illusionary. The harder he clamped down, the more resistant the voice of his opponents became. And it was spreading across the population rapidly. East Germany would celebrate its 40th anniversary as a nation-state in two years and there was widespread concern in the Kremlin that the nation would not last that long without Soviet military intervention.
An East German collapse would mean nothing good for NATO. This was alarmingly clear. 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 in Brussels 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 began to take shape. To the shock of many, Romanov’s first priority was the United States. Specifically, maneuvering the Soviet Union into a position of, if not political strength, political parity to Washington. The 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 had the power to start a war.
Romanov was playing for keeps, he realized right then and there. It now became the American general’s sole mission to ensure that NATO was prepared for a conflict with the Soviets. War was on the horizon.