“I fear Grigory Vasilyevich is not being entirely truthful with the Politburo about the progress of the war.” The danger invested in expressing this sentiment was apparent at once. Especially when spoken within the boundaries of the Soviet Union in the last days of July, 1987. The fact that it came from the mouth of a full Politburo member did nothing to lessen the hazard. Quite the contrary. Yet whether it occurred by happenstance or design, the troubling thought was verbalized on the morning of 26 July at an informal breakfast between two friends at a well-appointed dacha in the Lenin Hills.
On one side of the table was Vladimir Dolgikh, a full Politburo member who had been a candidate member until Romanov’s rise. Although Dolgikh shed no tears over the departure of Gorbachev, he was by no means considered a hardliner. His ascent to full member status occurred to satisfy the few remaining influential moderates in senior Soviet government positions. Across from him sat Boris Yelstin, a man who had been a candidate member himself before resigning in the aftermath of the April coup as a protest. He was as close to an opponent of the current general secretary as could be found in the Soviet Union. As much as Romanov would’ve preferred to dismiss him in disgrace, Yeltsin was invulnerable for the moment. Any move against him ran the risk of transforming him into a fallen martyr who the more liberal elements of the Soviet government could rally around. In that scenario, Romanov would then have a dedicated opposition to contend with. Fortunately for the Kremlin, Yeltsin was tacitly cooperating with the new regime, content to maintain his preeminent position in the Soviet hierarchy and all of the benefits that came with it.
This morning’s breakfast took place at Yeltsin’s dacha. It was not out of the ordinary and certainly not likely to attract attention. Shared meals were common among members of the senior party hierarchy, even between those with differing viewpoints on their shared ideology. Over tea, black bread, boiled eggs and boiled sausage these two comrades spent fifteen minutes exchanging news about their respective families and shared acquaintances. Only after a level of comfort had been mutually established did Dolgikh speak his concern freely.
The revelation left Yeltsin at a total loss for a long moment. Once he recovered, he was on guard. “Meaning what, exactly?” He asked carefully.
“There have been rumors floating around these past few days. Apparently, the war is not going as well or as rapidly as our General Secretary is leading us to believe.”
“I see.” Yeltsin chewed on a boiled egg and studied his comrade closely. “Vladimir Ivanovich,” he said softly. “You are not the sort of man to say such a thing solely on the basis of rumors. I assume you have more.”
“Patience, my friend.” Dolgikh smiled thinly. “The Politburo is scheduled to meet this afternoon. Everyone will be attending. Candidate and full members alike. We are to receive a briefing from Marshal Akhromeyev and the Defense Minister on the status of the war.”
“Good. Then by this evening you will have found out if there is indeed substance to these rumors.”
Dolgikh chuckled at that. “I am so naïve or hopeful, Boris Nikolayevich. The briefing points will all be prefabricated. Deliberately obtuse and lacking detail. This, I already know.”
“Why would they do that?” For as much political savvy as Yeltsin possessed, on occasion he could be woefully innocent.
“To prevent the truth from coming out. And the truth is that we are not winning this war right now. A war which, I need not remind you, was instigated by Grigory Vasilyevich. Prematurely, I might add.”
“They were fools.”
Dolgikh waved off the comment. “Historians will determine that. Naturally, it will depend on the outcome of the war. I said we aren’t winning at the moment, and this is true. I stake my life on the statement. At the same time, I cannot say with confidence if we are losing, or how badly.”
This remark brought a heavy silence over the table for a time. Both men were consumed by their own thoughts, this was apparent enough by their facial expressions. Yeltsin pondered the possible motivation behind Dolgikh’s visit. They were comrades, but not overly so. Close acquaintance at best. Neither friends or political allies. Finally, the curiosity became too much for Yeltsin to keep locked up in his brain.
“Why have you revealed this to me, Comrade? I am no longer a Politburo member.”
“There is no need to become alarmed, Boris Nikolayevich,” the other man assured him. “I did not come here to entrap you in an extravagant ploy. The security men posted outside are loyal to me and me alone.” Dolgikh paused as he searched for the right words. Somehow, proper word choice seemed important right now, though he wasn’t sure why. In the end, he went with a simple explanation. “I am here because if this afternoon’s meeting goes along the lines I fear it will, I am going to need your help to prevent what will come next.”