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Seven Days in Moscow

©Final Sword Productions LLC 2010


The failed coup that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 was not the first such attempt in Soviet history. On June 26th, 1953 Khrushchev and Zhukov led a coup against Beria. The details remain even murkier than those of Stalin’s death with unverifiable stories of multiple coup and countercoup plots by all sides until the final development was essentially everyone turning on Beria. Beria and his most senior people were arrested and shot.

Presume that one of the plotters has second thoughts or that Zhukov’s actions leak to his service rival Konev. Beria had two NKVD guards divisions at his disposal. They were kept in the Moscow area from just such a fear of a military coup. He was deputy PM, the known power behind the throne and an old Chekist. The divisions would not have refused his orders.

So Beria’s front man Malenkov is placed in ‘protective custody’ and the plotters {Zhukov, Khrushchev and the rest of the leadership arrested]. Fearful of the fate of their families they would have fallen over each other betraying the details of the multiple plots. So by July 1st Beria is Prime Minister and General Secretary of the Party. Malenkof is kicked up to the ceremonial Presidency and Konev as Defense Minister.

So far all we see are the deck chairs shuffling on the Titanic. However strange as it may seem the secret policeman Beria was actually an advocate of real changes within the Soviet Union. In OTL Khrushchev spent a decade fighting the Soviet military-industrial complex and ultimately lost. Beria would have used the ability of the police to cow the army to succeed. The Soviets simply didn’t need the huge ground forces they kept. Beria could have taken the Dengist tack of converting these into construction and constabulary units that over time would fade away. So instead of giant tank forces in Germany the frontiers of East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary are fortified.

The giant Soviet needs were reconstructing the war damage and creating a nuclear deterrent against the US. Khrushchev failed at both. There is no reason why Beria could not have succeeded. The same way Soviet theater nukes would hold Western Europe hostage from the mid-60’s onwards in OTL here they are ready by the mid-50’s.

In reverse the men and money not wasted creating a tank park of thirty thousand MBT’s with APC’s and artillery to match could have rebuilt the railroads, light industry and the rest of what had been destroyed in four years of war across the most developed regions of the USSR. This would allow a modest consumer goods boom, the more so if Beria’s lighter policy in Eastern Europe also created agricultural surpluses that could be exported to the Soviet Union.

Similarly Khrushchev’s foreign policy adventurism could have been avoided. The initial arms sales to Nasser made sense. They created a revolution in military affairs in a key region at the cost of essentially giving away some obsolete weapons. However avoiding the endless resupply of the Arabs, the Vietnamese and the Cubans would also obviate the need for a giant Soviet blue water navy. Essentially Beria’s proposed lighter hand [the core of what he was executed for in OTL] would get a cross between Brandt’s Ost Politik and Dengist China.

In turn a less threatening USSR changes the politics of the NATO Alliance. Absent the threat of a Soviet invasion there is far more room for DeGaulle to triangulate and hold an ‘independent’ foreign policy as one of the prices of the Rhine Axis and the growth of the EEC/EU.

Similarly a backing of Castro that is political instead of overtly military is in a way more of a problem for the US. A Cuba with only clearly defensive arms and with no Soviet bases is clearly not a threat to the US. Yet the political problem Castro makes for the US is worse if his regime is more obviously non-aligned instead of Warsaw Pact. Fidel would not be as happy but then Fidel really had few options once he broke with the US. Indeed the best possibility for Moscow would be Castro acquiring Mao as a protector. A set of US-Chinese flashpoints over Vietnam and Cuba while the Soviets worked on Finlandizing Europe would have been far better than the mess Khrushchev and Brezhnev actually created.

The odds are a world of 1970 that looked more like our 2010. China and the US as world rivals while the Soviets and Europe draw closer together. That would be a most amusing legacy for a man we accurately know as one of Stalin’s more bloody handed butchers.


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