Thursday, March 27, 2008

Alternate History #3: Soviet Russia strangled in the cradle

At the end of WWII, the Soviet Union became a world power by fully utilizing the combined forces scattered about Eastern Europe, uniting the region under one relatively unified political ideology. But the USSR had nearly been killed just three years earlier, when the Nazi forces had almost taken the western half of Russia. This was not the first time the Soviets had been saved from near-death.

What happened:
In 1921, US President Warren G Harding had put an embargo on the newly-communist Russia in an attempt to force a regime turnover. A famine came upon the country, and Lenin was horribly worried that some new peasant revolution would overwhelm his government. At the last possible moment, Harding's Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, sent food aid to starving peasants in Russia in a humanitarian gesture. This may have been remembered by Stalin when he worked alongside the US in WWII, and it also might have saved the Soviet state.

What might have happened:
Either Herbert Hoover is more heartless and didn't push for food aid, or he's removed from the cabinet. In the second scenario, he wouldn't have had the clout to become President, so let us assume that he simply does nothing.

The effects:
Soviet Russia revolts again; the country is now known as a perpetually unstable place. An attempt at a democratic regime fails when the army steps in to 'correct the corruption' present among the Russian parliament. By 1929, the authoritarians have a firm hold on western Russia and Ukraine - the eastern section of the country is nominally controlled but the autonomous Republics conduct themselves like independent zones. Siberia especially has leeway; its warlords run not on military power but on laborers extracting its considerable resources. The military cannot get these materials without giving over large amounts of power to the Siberians. Siberia, too large to pacify, exists in a loose federation with European Russia.

Meanwhile, in central Europe, the Nazis come to power as they did in our timeline. Hitler promises to fix the mess made by the great depression. Without Stalin to modernize the country, Russia is a large but relatively backwards land. Its considerable Ukrainian farmlands are badly used, being allocated by the government to powerful supporters. Sometimes the Russian government verges on facism like Spain, Germany and Italy, but is full of too many communist and socialist sympathizers to go totally in that direction. Eastern Europe is a scattered mess of weak states.

Hitler is, as always, expansionist. However, lacking a counterbalance in the East he sees an easier route to power than through attacking France. He annexes Austria, the Czechs, allies with Romania, takes Poland easily, continues into the further East. France and England worry about Hitler, but he's only taking over Poland and other nonce countries; they cannot find a way to motivate their populations into a popular war.

Hitler always thought that conflict with France and England was inevitable; this made him too ready to attack France in our timeline. Upon taking much larger bites out of Eastern Europe, this Hitler finds them totally lacking in industrial capacity. Instead of beating down France, he finds that he must instead organize the building-up of the Eastern Reich. He sees the Reich as a grand project, much like how Lenin and Stalin saw the USSR - something inevitable, not to be rushed. His advisers intentionally sidetrack him into dealings in the East to keep him from biting off too much, namely a war with the West.

Italy wants to be a world-class power, and is good allies with Germany. It hopes to expand its African colonies, and begins troop movements that impinge on English and French lands. Hitler is inclined to fight France there and then, but his advisers convince him to discipline Italy. Germany sends a delegation to the Italian King, who stops Mussolini from making any further moves. There will be no grand Italian Empire; Germany has made it clear that only one fascist empire will exist. Italy may play sidekick, much like the current UK does with the US. Knowing that if they disobey, Germany will launch reprisals that will not be fought off by France or England, Italy assents to the lesser role.

Russia, seeing Germany crawling closer, makes an amazing move: it willingly grants independence to much of the country. Now there is a stronger government in Moscow that stretches into the Ukraine - the most productive zones. This government is not overtaxed in holding onto empty lands it cannot really police. It makes friends quickly with France and England and Turkey, the only powers of any importance who openly oppose the Nazis. Overwhelmed with a crushing industrialization program, the Reich sees Russia's consolidation as a natural boundary. This generation it will not take more than this territory; the historical project of the Reich means that it can think long-term. The USSR did a similar thing - not pressing for a military engagement because its own ideology told it that, post-WWII, the capitalists would fold. The Reich believes that the people it has conquered (often 'discovered' to be germanic people rather than slavs) will in the end be stronger than any other.

Russia is now in bits - small, fractious ones in Central Asia and the Caucasus and a large Siberian one in the far East. These bits are horribly weak, especially Siberia. All of Russia still subscribes to a federative idea but the small bits are de facto independent.

Next time: WWII with a super-Germany and a tiny Russia.

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