From the NATO perspective, conditions on the Southern Flank were leaning in favor of the alliance. The successful attacks by US carrier aircraft on the Soviet amphibious group off the coast of Bulgaria had removed the threat of a Pact landing at the Bosphorus from the board. Meanwhile, the Pact offensive into Thrace was making slow progress. The situation on the ground there was starting to take the shape of a stalemate, which bode well for NATO strategy. In the air, NATO control of the skies over the battle area, as well as a large portion of Bulgaria was complete. The amount of reinforcements entering the theater was steadily increasing. In Naples, CINC-South was beginning to give serious attention to the prospect of offensive operations commencing in the near future.
However, his command was not quite there just yet. Threats remained, albeit not to the extent found in the first days of the war. The Bosphorus and Dardanelles remained vulnerable to attack, though not in the fashion originally expected. An airborne operation remained theoretically possible, but NATO’s control of the air minimized the threat of Soviet paratroopers landing in force outside of Istanbul. And in any case, the US 6th Marine Amphibious Brigade was positioned in that area to prevent such a move. At the present time, the greatest threat to the Bosphorus and Dardanelles came from Spetsnaz commando teams already on the ground and ready to conduct operations. These teams had almost certainly come ashore to support the expected Soviet amphibious attack when it came. Their orders in the event of that attack being cancelled were unknown. It would not take much for these highly trained teams to inflict severe damage on the waterways and prevent a surge of NATO warships and submarines back into the Black Sea.
Predictably, the prospect of a NATO push into the Black Sea worried Southwestern TVD (SWTVD) commander General Ivan Gerasimov. It was but one of many growing apprehensions in the theater commander’s mind. Contrary to the belief of his NATO counterpart in Naples, Gerasimov’s plan for the next phase of operations was incomplete. A consistent stream of exigencies prevented him and his staff from forming a concrete plan and the lack of guidance from Moscow only confounded matters even more. The almost constant demand for updates and information from the Defense Ministry and General Staff over the previous sixteen days had all but dried up on D+17. In Gerasimov’s view, the silence from Moscow could mean that the Soviet military was distancing itself from the Southwestern TVD and its commander after the setbacks of the previous day. An alarming, but quite probable scenario. Even more disquieting was the chance that Moscow was quiet because of more substantial circumstances altogether. But Gerasimov was not ready to quit, even if his head was perched on the chopping block (as it most likely was) or Moscow was preparing to shift the war into a new phase. The general had his duty for the moment and was intent to soldier on in the face of a rapidly darkening situation.
Defense of the Soviet Black Sea coastline was one facet of the theater-wide picture Gerasimov could affect. With the loss of the amphibious assault ships on D+16, and the naval infantry embarked upon them, went the prospect of seizing the narrow waterway. It fated to remain in NATO hands for the foreseeable future. Therefore, as the Bosphorus was the Soviet Navy’s gateway to the Mediterranean, it served the dual function of being NATO’s gateway to the Black Sea. As the general saw things, it was only a matter of time before his enemy came to this realization and moved to take advantage of it. When this moment arrived, Gerasimov planned to be ready.