Justinian's Romanov Ascendant TL: Introduction
Our departure from the original timeline posits a slightly healthier Andropov manages to hand off control of the Soviet Union to a competent hardliner, skipping Chernenko entirely. It had become clear by the mid 1980's that the Politburo's leadership was woefully incapable of keeping up with Reagan's dynamic and aggressive behavior. The Star Wars project was setting off alarms and many believed that the Soviet Union was stagnating. General Secretary Andropov was effective during his tenure, showing that strong leadership from the center could in fact deal with corruption at least to some extent. But his tenure was a short one, his kidney failed and worsened several of his other health conditions, and he died at the age of 69. Before this, it had become clear that a successor would be needed soon. This had set off a leadership struggle within the Politburo, with Gorbachev backed by reformists and senior figures like Andrei Gromyko. Grigory Romanov was the 2nd youngest member of the Politburo, and realized that if he wanted to step up he would need more support. He became very close to Andropov and who became something of a mentor to him. (Our depature from OTL, is the extent of their relationship) Whether or not this was a genuine friendship or cynical political maneuvering is a matter of debate. With Andropov's support Romanov courted Viktor Grishin and the conservatives. At the March 1985 meeting of the Central Committee, Grishin nominated Romanov. However Gromyko nominated Gorbachev, creating an extremely tense situation. Chernenko voted for Andropov, despite his own aspirations, he understood that his own health was at risk and decided to pass the torch. Gromyko withdrew his bid and Romanov was elected unanimously. Gromyko subsequently "retired" and Gorbachev was later removed.
Now the 6th General Secretary of the Communist Party, Romanov had embarked an ambitious campaign of reform. His (relative) youth gave him the dynamism and energy to see it through, despite the difficulty of dealing with the immense byzantine soviet bureaucracy. One of his first serious actions was cutting the party oversight of the KGB, making it accountable only to the General Secretary. This move was seen as bizarrely Stalinist and created tension, as previously, the KGB was accountable to the party leadership in the spirit of 'collective leadership', a move made by Khruschev and held by Brezhnev, this however had the effect of allowing the lower party ranks to become more corrupt. Andropov, a KGB man, had imparted in Romanov his hatred of corruption and his fervent belief in the importance of the KGB in safeguarding Lenin's revolution and more importantly the state. But the rank and file of the Committee of State Security (KGB) had no problem transferring their loyalty for Andropov to Romanov, especially with their increased authority. He used them to eliminate those enemies wherever they stood, cleaning house on the basis of an "anti corruption effort". Outside of the Soviet Union it was reported as a new Stalinist purge but ultimately didn't really change it's international image in the west, which had already been damaged by Brezhnev. Several UN resolutions on 'Soviet Union's violations of the UN charter's human rights protections' backed by the US and UK were vetoed in the UNSC, but a non binding resolution was passed in the general assembly. While he did clear out many his own opponents in the party or general society, he did step up efforts against corrupt officials with some noticeable benefits. He also continued the (admittedly humorous) Andropov policy of 'labour discipline', eager communist students were recruited (and promised easier party membership) to force workers to actually go back to their jobs, rather than being absent from work and getting drunk, which had become common during the Brezhnev years.
In the following years:
- Romanov's policy was that the premise 'developed socialism' had not yet been established, and had stated in full terms that the country had languished under the lethargy of Breznevisim. Using his hold on the KGB, he could remove those he saw as Breznevists at will. Romanov made the caveat that Brezhnev did his best for the fraternal brotherhood of peoples in the Soviet Union, but had allowed stagnation to take hold which was something he vowed to correct. This had led to dissent in some of the conservative factions, but they ultimately choose to get behind the leader who appeared to be dealing with the problems in the country. The overall program was called Uprochneniye (Consolidation). It proscribed economic reforms including stricter administration, consolidation of state industries and some elements of self management and was added to the twelfth 5 year plan . More importantly it ordered the development and use of an electronic system to allow for more effective economic planning, the system would later be called EGSVT comparable to the Chilian Cybersyn project. He supported the emerging Soviet computer and electronics industry, something he had taken a personal interest in, he also elevated several younger technology experts in the party on a track to Politburo membership. This system once implemented could help deal with some of the inherent problems of a planned economy. Uprochneniye would be forced onto the various Warsaw pact member states with varying degrees of success. By 1988, the foundational infrastructure for EGSVT had been finished, and two new manufacturing complexes for electronics and computers were finished, one near Leningrad and the other near Minsk. Three more were slated to be finished by '89, one near Moscow, another near Vilnius and the other at Vladivostok. The increasing use of computers in administration and economic management as well the increased authoritarian methods had resulted in economic growth. Previously, it was normal for entire trains of produce to be left to rot before it would even begin to be distributed to stores, but the improvements had led to better distribution. Now it was possible to actually procure meat or coffee from a store. For example Instead of waiting for 7-10 years to be given a low quality lada, you'd only have to wait 3 to 4 years for a somewhat better lada or skoda. Televisions were beginning to no longer had a tendency to catch on fire or bust from simple normal use (from higher production standards). Quality control was increasingly forced and factory heads held accountable. People no longer used prada as toilet paper because they could actually get it from a government store. Because consumer good quality was improving, the Soviets could now export some of it's goods, instead of relying exclusively on oil and natural resource sales. Slight reductions to the military budget, and mainly to bloat that Romanov had seen while being head of the military industrial complex (in 1983) also helped. In summary, it made life "tolerable" for the vast majority.
- The conflict in Afghanistan continued, the Americans increased their support but the Soviets also increased their troops numbers and began using even more unsavory tactics and techniques, including mass deportations to more easily controlled camps and cities and rumored use of biological weapons. This culminated in airstrikes in Pakistan on training camps in 1987, that was considered one of the closest cold war flashpoints since Able Archer. However both the leaders of the US and USSR did not want World War three, and over a period of time agreed to a respective drawdown. The Soviets withdrew the majority of their forces from Afghanistan and agreed to some reforms with the moderate opposition, while maintaining a supply line to the Afghan communists and advisors to help fight the continuing but less escalated insurgency.
- General Secretary Romanov became increasingly paranoid as well as openly ruthless. He also appeared to becoming more narcissistic. Soviet Propaganda began depicting him by the end of 1986 as one of the great socialists and personal defender of the revolution in propaganda. He had also massively curtailed the autonomy of many of the constituent republics of the USSR. Which provoked unrest, but the increased power of the KGB had managed to control it, at least at that point. Despite maintaining the Khrushchev line on Stalin, Romanov gradually reintroduced the cult of personality.
- The benefits of the economic development and increased use of electronics had led to the Soviets managing to actually produce surpluses in goods and food that were transferred to the other member states of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA). This actively reduced unrest in the general population in the Warsaw Pact states, yet there were still strong liberal movements operating in East Germany, Poland and to a lesser extent Czechoslovakia. Bulgaria had a stronger and more entrenched population of loyalists, but Romania was increasingly destabilized by the erratic leadership style of Ceausescu. The Soviets gradually assisted in paying the debts incurred by each state with its profits, especially with Poland in near crisis. The Soviets and East Germans, energized by the recent success increasingly pushed for increased economic integration, gladly accepted by all except Romania. However increasing instability would later force Ceausescu to accept it, but it worked for the best in conjunction with his completion of his austerity policy.