The KGB Chairman revealed the deceit and fraudulence in the Defense Minister’s reports from earlier in the afternoon, as well as those from previous days. Yazov had knowingly sugarcoated the facts to make them more palatable. His motivation was simple; Buy time until the fortunes of the Soviet military were reversed. Yazov, for whatever reason, fervently believed that moment was fast approaching. Even as conditions everywhere, but especially on the Central Front, continued to deteriorate rapidly.
Chebrikov presented the facts to the General Secretary at his private residence inside the Kremlin compound. He left out no details and was especially blunt in describing the situation in the Eastern Bloc. Yet the KGB Chairman did not go so far as to admit the Soviet Union was losing the war at present. In this regard he shared some common ground with the soon-to-be former Defense Minister. Despite the widening cracks in the satellite states and slowing pace of operations in Germany, Chebrikov remained optimistic and believed the war was far from lost. However, he did concede that a new phase of the conflict was developing. Failure to adjust would mean certain defeat for the Soviet Union. Chebrikov was determined to prevent that from becoming reality. The first step was in removing the rose-colored lenses from Romanov’s face and forcing him to see the world as it truly was.
Chebrikov was successful here. The General Secretary was under no illusions now. The Soviet Union was fast approaching a critical point. A new strategy was urgently needed. The Defense Council, minus Yazov who was not yet in custody but being monitored closely, reconvened at 7 PM. The KGB Chairman delivered a factual briefing to the other members. Debate began immediately afterwards.
Back in mid-May when the operational plan for July was discussed, the Defense Council had adopted an official position that nuclear weapons would not be used if victory could be achieved without them. This position was agreed to under the widely accepted belief that Soviet arms and soldiers were superior to those of the West. Now, with faith in that judgement shattered, the question of the nuclear option bubbled to the surface.
The debate raged for two hours with no agreement reached. Marshal Akhromeyev opposed the use of any nuclear weapons. He pointed out that at this stage using them would be ill-considered and do more harm than good. The battle on the Central Front, he emphasized, was far from lost. His civilian counterparts on the council were not convinced on this, however, they were also very reluctant to approve the use of nuclear weapons except as a last resort.
“Marshal Akhromeyev,” Nikolay Slyunkov, a full member of the Politburo and close ally of Romanov, faced the chief of the General Staff. “What is the present situation in Germany? The truth, please.”
Akhromeyev hesitated for the briefest of moments and then answered. “Our push to the Weser has bogged down. NATO, or more accurately the Americans, have used the opportunity to stage a counterattack.”
“And was it successful?” Slyunkov pressed.
“Yes,” the marshal admitted. “But not decisively so. We are moving to contain it now. By tomorrow the advance to the river will resume.”
“If the situation on the Central Front is not dire, then why was Marshal Ogarkov dismissed earlier today?” This question came from the KGB Chairman.
“The marshal performed well until recently. The battle has shifted into the maneuver phase and unfortunately, he has been unable to adapt. It is time for a fresh perspective.”
“Who will replace him?” Romanov inquired.
“Army General Snetkov, Comrade General Secretary.” Akhromeyev’s answer caused Chebrikov to snort.
“He is the one in command of Soviet forces in Germany,” the KGB Chairman pointed out sharply. “The bastard is every bit as responsible for this mess as his superior.”
Romanov’s head shot up. “Is this true?”
Again, Akhromeyev hesitated while his mind formulated a response that was most truthful. “General Snetkov is largely responsible for the early successes in Germany. As the conflict went on though, he was the victim of restrictions put in place by Western TVD’s commander.”
“Can he bring us victory in Germany?” Romanov asked simply.
“Da, Comrade General Secretary.”
“In that case, he is to be here by tomorrow morning. I want to hear from the general’s own mouth how he intends to fix the situation in Germany and bring victory from it. In fact, I want him in here sooner if possible. See to that now, Sergey Fyodorovich.”
Akhromeyev dipped his head in understanding and then left the room. Behind him, a heavy silence fell over the three remaining men.
“And if this Snetkov cannot reverse our fortunes in Germany?” Slyunkov wondered aloud gruffly.
“Then we have but one option remaining,” the General Secretary decided at once.