Moscow, USSR 0300 Zulu, 27 July, 1987 (0600 local time)
The Defense Council reconvened in the Kremlin promptly at 6 AM. Marshal Akhromeyev and General Snetkov were the last men to enter the room. The newly minted CINC-West was aware of the eyes on him, particularly those of the General Secretary. Romanov studied the army general intently, his thoughts concealed behind a deadpan expression.
Snetkov noted the presence of the Defense Minister. Yazov appeared considerably more subdued than he remembered from their meeting in Berlin earlier in the war. Akhromeyev had informed him earlier that although Yazov would be present, he would not be speaking in support or opposition to Snetkov’s own position. The minister had been deemed politically unreliable for the time being, according to the present chief of the general staff. He would be a nonentity in the upcoming meeting, something which put Snetkov on guard as soon as he was told.
There were two other men present in the room who were not standing members of the Defense Council. Both were regular Politburo members. One man was a staunch hardliner and ally of Romanov and the other a more moderate career politician with a history of supporting Romanov far more often than not. The two sat together at the table and followed the example set by their General Secretary by remaining expressionless.
Romanov began the meeting by directing CINC-West to describe the present situation in Germany, and to follow that up by explaining what factors led to it. Snetkov obeyed and described the events of the last twenty-four hours in cautious detail, wary not to reveal particulars that might paint him in an exceedingly negative light. The emphasis was placed on his predecessor’s inability to keep up with the speed of maneuver warfare. The former CINC-West’s orders were more often than not outdated or rendered obsolete before they even reached the headquarters of the forward army groups.
Snetkov followed up by presenting essentially an oral history of the war on the Central Front from Soviet eyes. He started with the first NATO air attacks on the army group headquarters in the opening hour of the war and went on through each phase of the campaign up until the present. He spared no details, yet once again was careful not to place the lion’s share of blame and accountability on his shoulders. In concluding remarks, Snetkov stated that NATO was considerably more prepared than anticipated, but not decisively so. “The latest battle has ended,” he declared to his political masters. “There will be more, however. This war is not over.”
“Can it still be won?” Romanov asked point blank.
“Yes, Comrade General Secretary,” Snetkov answered instantly.
“Without resorting to special weapons?”
The answer to this inquiry required an extra moment of thought, as well as careful word choice. “Comrades, I am in no position to answer this. My knowledge of the progress made on fronts outside of Germany is minimal.”
The KGB Chairman reacted promptly to this. He quickly brought the general up to date on events in other theaters where Soviet forces were engaged. Chebrikov saved the worst bit of news for last. Our navy has failed to shut the Atlantic. Convoys are crossing from North America to Europe with impunity now.”
“And depositing large amounts of ammunition, gas, and reinforcements in Western Europe,” Snetkov completed the thought, somewhat shellshocked. He had been told the convoys were being interdicted and suffering heavy losses. A lie, and an effective one at that.
“In light of these revelations,” General Secretary Romanov motioned to Snetkov. “I will ask the question again, Comrade. Can this war be won without nuclear weapons?”
CINC-West could not muster the courage to answer honestly.