At the Politburo meeting later in the evening, General Secretary Romanov found himself being confronted on the conduct of the war for the first time. Romanov was taken aback by the bold, direct queries put forth by a number of Politburo members, as well as their refusal to accept his rather insubstantial responses. Attempts by the KGB Chairman, Defense Minister and a handful of other supporters to alter the course of the discussion or expand on Romanov’s answers encountered even more opposition.
The more vocal Politburo members were those who had returned from tours in the Western TVD region with Vladimir Dolgikh leading the charge. After Romanov’s introductory remarks, the meeting opened and at once, Dolgikh challenged Romanov’s rather glowing assessment on how the war was progressing. “Comrade General Secretary,” Dolgikh said slowly and carefully. “Your words do not match with reality. After what I saw and heard yesterday, I judge your appraisal of the war’s progress to be overly optimistic.” Grim nods of assent and scowls of opposition from around the table met Dolgikh’s comments. The mixed reaction only served to confound Romanov more. General secretaries were rarely challenged in this fashion. Even in times of domestic political upheaval or war, the Soviet government was averse to airing its dirty laundry, so to speak.
That taboo was no more. In the blink of an eye and amid extremely extenuating circumstances Vladimir Dolgikh, a Politburo member with an undistinguished political career up to that point, permanently broke it.
Factions rose to the surface and took shape at this point in the meeting. One was made up of the handful of full members demanding a full revelation of the war picture from Romanov. Its counterpart consisted of Romanov’s more hardline supporters. These men pushed back and countered with their own accusations about the loyalty of Dolgikh and his comrades during a time of national crisis.
In the middle of the exchange were the undecideds, watching carefully as the arguments developed. This bastion’s numbers were superior to both factions and its clout could prove to be decisive. Through the remainder of the seventy-five minute long meeting these men absorbed every detail while individually attempting to read the tea leaves. As it was becoming clear to the general secretary that the majority of undecideds were leaning towards the Dolgikh-led faction, he called a premature end to the meeting, pointing to the late hour and the fact most Politburo members had recently returned from exhaustive trips to various theaters of operations. Romanov set the next meeting for the next morning at 10 AM and promised an in-depth briefing on the war at that time. Romanov then urged his comrades to go home and rest. On the following morning, the Politburo would decide on the proper strategy to bring the war to a victorious conclusion, he assured them.
Immediately following the conclusion of the Politburo meeting, a still-shaken Romanov gathered the Defense Council at the Kremlin. Together, they went about producing a plan to bring the war to an end on favorable terms within the next thirty-six hours.