“What?” you might ask: “Third Rome? Viking Tsars? Russian Turan?” I’m talking, of course, about what happens in the Russian sphere of influence in my alternate timeline, the history all of my science-fiction and space opera stories, from the 20th century to over a thousand years in the future, take place in. Diverging from the year 1900 onward, in my universe technological advancement is much more rapid, economic growth much more prosperous, and the World Wars never happened. Geopolitical developments differ as well.
Below is a map I made some years ago, when I was still brainstorming the setting, but haven’t shown publicly to date. The general idea is that this map depicts political boundaries in my timeline around the 1960s, excepting French and Belgian Africa, which I never finished for that era; the true picture there is more complex and fragmented. Various details are subject to revision too of course as I continue to build my world:
Early 20th century Russia in my Alternate History
Recently I’ve been giving some thought to the Russosphere. There is a general European war in 1914, but it ends with a quick victory for the Central Powers by 1915 or so, with no general war in Europe having taken place since. Germany wins the independence of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland as states aligned with Germany, all carved out from the Russian Empire’s territory. The Kaiserreich gets to forge its Mitteleuropa, an alliance not too unlike our own EU that’s probably still happily chugging along to this day.
Where it gets more interesting is Russia’s internal problems; already in 1905 a revolution broke out, so Tsarist Russia as we knew it wasn’t long for this world with or without the Great War. In my timeline another revolution breaks out not long after the defeat in 1914, perhaps in 1916 or so, that’s similar to the February Revolution of 1917 that we experienced: a massive upsurge in anti-Tsarist liberal-democratic activity, coupled with a massive but not overwhelming surge in Soviet communist activity, with both marginalizing conservative elements and Tsar Nicholas II.
Indeed, like in the February Revolution, Nicholas II is deposed in my timeline’s revolution as well, and is replaced not by Alexei or by Michael, but by a Provisional Government led by Prince Lvov. Without the pressures of the war, Russia is able to forge a liberal democracy under the leadership of the Constitutional Democratic Party (“Kadets”), with the power of communists’ soviets confined to leftist hotbeds and urban industrial working-class areas. “Dual power” stabilizes into an arrangement where the soviets are given very substantial autonomy but still integrated into the new Russian state, rather than “all power to the Soviets!”, which opens up some very interesting possibilities, akin to today’s anarchist “autonomous zones” or the old-time Church.
Russia and China fragment…somewhat
I have the more peripheral parts of Russia break off at this point: Ukraine and Belarus, the modern Caucuses countries, plus a rather different set of central Asian countries that correspond with Tsarist-era borders: the Khanate of Kiva (yellow), the Emirate of Bukhara (red), the southern piece of Turkestan (red), and the northern piece of Turkestan (orange). The blue country above Mongolia is Tuva, which was independent to begin with (like Mongolia, it broke off from China). I have Transcaucasia here as one country, excepting Armenia, but by the late 20th century I expect it will have long since broken up into its constituent pieces. I’m not definite about the eastern borders of Ukraine and Belarus; I used the modern boundaries as they’re close enough to what they’d be in my timeline, but nevertheless I expect there would be some differences.
China undergoes a somewhat more thorough collapse of its periphery: instead of just Tuva and Mongolia breaking off, Uyghurstan and Tibet manage to muscle out of China and into independence. Notice also that British India has broken up into its constituent parts; instead of two big unions, every princely state and directly-ruled region gets independence as a separate country.
Back to Russia again, after the Revolution I imagine the Kadets will grant more power to the nationalities, much like the Bolsheviks did in the 1920s; thus, we can expect autonomous republics within Russia for each national minority, and possibly a much greater degree of decentralization more generally. I originally envisioned the Provisional Government soldiering on and becoming a Russian Federal Republic, but the country may well start styling itself the Russian Federation 70 years early. Recently I’ve been thinking I’d go with the latter option.
A different, and much more interesting, Ottoman Collapse
A big reason for this is because I’ve been pondering the Ottoman collapse recently. Without the Great War the Ottoman Empire no doubt would muddle through for longer, but in my timeline I think they’ll implode sometime in the 1920s or 30s, along with Austria-Hungary. By that time the ethno-religious areas of the empire have been granted enough autonomy for the split to be relatively clean, hence the Shia of Iraq getting their own country, Kurdistan finally becoming independent, the Druze and the Alawites getting their own country, and so on and so forth. Most notably, Israel becomes a country from the River to the Sea, in this timeline with a strong Jewish majority, since without the Holocaust there’s more than enough immigration to tip the balance.
Nevertheless the great powers move in, and Russia most notably makes sure Armenians get all of their territory. Turkey will still exist as a rump state, possibly still under the Ottoman Sultan. Originally I envisioned Constantinople being part of Turkey, as in real life, but that just isn’t very interesting, is it? Quite a few parts of coastal Anatolia may well be taken by the Greeks in a severe Ottoman collapse, and if Russia’s going to move in to Armenia, they’d be fools if they didn’t also move on the really big prize: Constantinople, a.k.a. ‘Tsargrad”.
Having Russia just take it might be cool, but it’s cooler still, and probably more realistic, for a multinational coalition to detach the city from Turkey. I’m thinking the great powers realize Russia’s going for it and is going to take it, but they make an arrangement where tensions and possibly a war over it can be avoided if they share dominion over the place, and they agree (not too unlike our 38th parallel compromise in Korea). Nevertheless, over time I envision Constantinople falling within the Russian sphere of influence, as a de jure international zone (like Tangier and Trieste were in real life) but de facto aligned with Russia.
If what we might call the Western Alliance takes Constantinople, their chance of holding it might be better than you’d think. As late as around World War I the city was only about 50% Muslim, with the city also containing large Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Jewish populations, among others. The place was rather diverse and cosmopolitan, not becoming overwhelmingly Turkish Muslim until modern Turkey took it over. Betcha a lot of the Turkish Muslims there around World War I wouldn’t particularly want to be part of a Turkish nation-state, as opposed to a Constantinopolitan city-state, so that combined with international control and successful economic policy a la Hong Kong bringing in a much more global crowd should keep the population content with being separated from Turkey.
Chart by Alexikoua of Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0.
The World is Russia’s?
Constantinople will be far from the only place to be part of a broader Russosphere outside Russia. Without the horrors of the 20th century the entire East Slavic population (Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians) will be much larger than today, perhaps double or even triple. This bucks the trend in a world where the demographic transition happens much faster in the developing countries, meaning their proportional share of the world population is even greater: five times what it is now, maybe even more!
Together with peripheral regions experiencing much more intensive development globally, this means there are far more Russians in Siberia, with the region easily accounting for a majority of Russia’s population by now.
Russian immigration to the United States has made that country about 1% ethnic Russian; in this timeline the added population pressure causes disproportionately greater emigration from Russia, so Russian-Americans’ share of the population becomes much bigger. Together with the other East Slavs they’d rival today’s Irish, Italian, and Mexican shares, into the double digits! Canada even today has a large Ukrainian population in the Prairies; in my timeline central Canada is predominately East Slavic, with East Slavs being a heavy presence across the rest of the country too, possibly even more so than the United States.
Where it really changes the map, though, is in Central Asia; like Siberia, Turan experiences a wave of Russian immigration. Already in real life Kazakhstan was almost plurality Russian by around 1990; in my timeline the region would have an ethnic Russian supermajority. East Slavs in general will easily account for the majority of the population in all of the Central Asian countries. Tuva and Mongolia could even be tipped over; at the very least they will host very large Russian and East Slavic populations. The cherry on top of this cake is Uyghurstan: the country will have very large Russian and East Slavic populations, possibly tipping over to a majority. Even places like Tibet, Kashmir, and Afghanistan will likely see Russian influxes.
One might think this would inspire those countries to join the Russian Federation, but not necessarily. The way I envision it is these countries will all be within the Russian sphere of influence, align themselves with Russia, but actual integration will arouse so much opposition among the indigenous population, and the local Russians will figure there’s no reason to touch that third rail anyway, so the matter is just never seriously considered.
The upshot is that there could be no less than 7 countries in Asia that are mostly populated by Russians but are outside of Russia, which would be a bit weird, but hardly without precedent; right now we have 5 separate countries in Europe mostly populated by Germans, with no plans for unification.
Constantinople may well be another one of these places, though it’s unlikely Russians will constitute an actual majority there, merely a substantial presence.
A 20th century Rurikid Dynasty of Russian Tsars
Nevertheless, it seems almost cruel to the Tsardom to have the “Third Rome”, Moscow, capture the Second Rome, Constantinople, only after the last Tsar is deposed, and so soon afterwards at that. So I think I’ll reverse my former stance that Russia becomes a republic and have them get a new Tsar instead. But if not Nicholas II, if not Alexei, and if not Michael, then who?
Fortunately there’s already an excellent candidate readily available: Prince Georgy Lvov, the same man who heads the Provisional Government! He’s a nobleman himself, and is even descended from the Rurikid dynasty, who ruled Russia from its foundation as the Kievan Rus until the Romanovs took over. Cooler still: the Rurikids are descended from the Varangians, i.e. Vikings. Now, this descent is very remote by the 20th century, but it still lends a cool factor that the Romanovs just can’t match, and is too much for me to resist.
Prince Lvov himself was apparently a committed liberal democrat, a la Juan Carlos I in real life, so he’d pose no danger to the fledgling political system. He had no children, though, and he was a widower at the time (too bad, since his wife was a descendant of Catherine the Great), with apparently no interest in remarrying or having any children. This is relevant, since in real life Prince Lvov died in 1925, less than a decade into what would be his reign in my timeline. Still, as George Washington proved in the United States, that’s enough time to lay the foundations of a new state.
The lack of children, though, will necessitate the choosing of a successor. I’m thinking he could adopt an heir Roman-style and train him to be Tsar, perhaps with his succession ratified by the Duma in advance, affirming the principle that the Tsar is whoever the Duma says it is. Still, there might be a custom that the Tsar must be a nobleman of Rurik dynasty blood, even if primogeniture doesn’t prevail (the custom was never particularly strong in Russia anyway; Tsars routinely chose their own successors).
The good thing about adopting a successor is that it goes well with the theme of Russia being the Third Rome (seriously, Russia has at least as strong a claim as anybody else to the Roman mantle ) and reclaiming the Second Rome, Constantinople.
Given Lvov’s liberal-democratic scruples and the nature of the revolution, the new dynasty will likely be figureheads without reserve powers, but Russia will still have a Tsar, and there’s always the odd chance of personal charisma exerting influence even in the absence of formal authority. How elective the monarchy becomes is an interesting question, one that could go from de facto primogeniture to rotating among very distant branches of the Rurikid legacy with every new Tsar. Not sure which I’d prefer.
Last but not least, in my timeline Russia adopts a take on the Strategic Defense Initiative, largely neutralizing the threat poses by nuclear missiles; such tactics work best for large dispersed countries, which Russia is more than any of the other great powers. All major powers have such a system, but Russia’s is the most advanced, since they get the most good out of it and have the strongest motivation. The upshot is that the Rurikids being Tsars again gives Russia license to make the emblem of their SDI a Rurikid emblem (which is one and the same as the same emblem used by the modern Ukrainian state) made out of lasers shot out by satellites. Which would be totally awesome.
I’d also like to spare a few words for what happens to China in my timeline. Mongolia, Tuva, Uyghurstan, and Tibet detach, the latter two in contrast to real life, suggesting that China has a harder time of it after the Qing are overthrown. Which is really saying a lot. Yuan Shikai probably tries to consolidate power and fails like he did in real life, plunging China into the warlord era. The Nationalists and especially the Communists are much weaker than they were in real life, so without those unifying factors China remains as fragmented into warring statelets as ever, even as late as the 1940s.
China ruled by Taoist Monks
But by then a movement for unity does emerge, driven by panic inspired by Tibet and Uyghurstan seceding, as well as a sense of futility at the struggle for any one warlord or faction to take power over the whole country. I’m thinking a general agreement will be put in place to recognize each other’s de facto territories and unite under a neutral administration, led by a Taoist monk who they may annoit the new Emperor, ruling together with a council of monks in an extremely decentralized China, where each warlord’s fiefdom, and there are dozens if not hundreds or even thousands of them, is practically autonomous. The seat of government becomes an isolated Taoist monastery high atop the outer mountains of China proper.
Turns out this arrangement permits a blooming of prosperity, with the stability it grants to the country coupled with a laissez-faire economic zeitgeist prevailing, and China begins its economic rise forty years early, by 2022 having long since joined the ranks of first-world countries. To this day China would not be a democracy but rather ruled by this monastic council, though many of the individual fiefdoms have evolved into democracies by now. Such a political system is seen by the West as bizarre, though it’s not unique; nearby Tibet, Mongolia, and Tuva are ruled by monks as well, though Buddhist in their cases rather than Taoist.
This arrangement, where Taoists helm the Chinese state like few if any times in their history, may well help Taoism to go global in this timeline’s 20th century, possibly replacing Hinduism and Buddhism as the object of fascination for the post-1960s religious zeitgeist in the West. That would be one way to get one of my favored scenarios, a Taoist world, jump-started.
Maybe this idea for China isn’t the most realistic arrangement (though it’s a lot cooler than either the Nationalists or Communists taking over), but it does show that systematically applying imagination can yield fascinating results when worldbuilding alternate histories, even if you restrict yourself to making the 20th century different. Mayble, like the urban worldbuilding I included in my short story “Last Light”, some of this stuff will show up in a story set in my fictional universe someday soon.