Most Diplomacy games eventually involve conflict between Russia and Germany. While admittedly unscientific, I would say that 50% of games have Russia and Germany fighting by Spring 1902. Given the likelihood of conflict between the two, it is surprising that neither side moves to Silesia (SIL) in 1901. Instead Germany heads west to fatten itself up in Denmark (DEN) and the Low Countries while Russia focuses on the South and hopes for the best in Scandinavia, while both sharpen the knives for 1902.
This first year jockeying for position generally favors the Germany because Germany can deny Russia Sweden (SWE) with 100% certainty if she opens to Denmark (which is the most common destination for Fleet Kiel (KIE)), and will almost certainly gain Holland and maybe Belgium as well. Russia will be lucky to get either of the Scandinavian centers and frequently has to worry about the Balkans which, as in real life, is often a mess. Come 1902 Russia is often faced with an Anglo-German alliance in the north and a very chaotic situation in the south, while the German usually has a very secure 5 center nation without having done anything to bother anybody.
Russia clearly needs to do something to upset the status quo and should consider attacking Germany right from the get-go and the move to SIL has a lot to recommend it. First, it is almost certain to succeed, because Germany rarely moves there. Second, it puts the breaks on Germany’s westward march because Germany must either a) track back to cover both Munich (MUN) and Berlin (BER) or b) try to grab a western center and guess which of his home centers to defend. Third and most importantly, it puts a lot of very good diplomatic options on the table, because both England and France probably would love to take a bite out of Germany if they could get away with it, and with a Russian unit in Silesia, they can!
Once in SIL, the Russian can make the following two pitches to England and France. To England say, “I’m going to have a go at BER, so why not convoy an army into Holland (HOL)? Chances are either I will wind up in BER or you will wind up in HOL. Either way it works to our benefit.” Smart English players are not thrilled with the prospect of pushing toward St. Petersburg (STP) but often do so because it is the path of least resistance, but may pause and think about the anti-German alternative if there is a prospect of success. It might not work but if it does, the Anglo-German alliance is off the table and Russia will have successful defended his frontier after the first turn.
If France has moved into Burgundy (BUR), then Russia should deliver the following pitch. “I will support you into MUN. I’d like to take it myself but my first interest is in harming the German as we will almost certainly be fighting a year from now.” The best thing about this pitch is that the French answer will almost always be honest. France wants to see Germany come to grief and there is no reason for her to say yes and then leave you hanging, or say no and then go for it. Of course France does not always move to BUR, but if you tell her what you are planning in SIL she will now have every incentive to do so. If France plays ball then the Russian frontier is secure and Russia can play offense in the north.
The beauty of moving to SIL is that if either of the two western powers step up to challenge Germany, Russia’s position goes from the weakest power in the west to, if not the strongest, one of strength because once the western powers begin to tangle all of them will be. Even if neither England or France assist, there is a good likelihood that Germany will have only gained 1 supply center and that will make any German move to the east risky as it will necessarily make Germany’s western front weak. The best way that Russia can defend herself against the inevitable Germany attack is to make sure that Germany does not have the forces to carry it out.
There are of course risks when moving to SIL. First, if Germany was intending to let you have SWE, that probably won’t happen. I judge this to be a minimal risk because if Germany moved to DEN he probably will deny you SWE and if he moved to HOL, he can’t stop you anyway. Russia has very little to lose with regards to SWE. Second, and of greater concern is that the move only leaves 2 units to be used down in the south and that lead to trouble. I believe that this risk is minimal because Turkey and Austria rarely ally which puts Russia in the Diplomatic driver’s seat. I think that Moving Sevastopol to the Black Sea and Moscow to Ukraine will usually result in the Russian defending herself from the Turk and gaining Rumania in the fall. Of course if Austria moves to Galicia you are in for some nervy moments, but that would be the case no matter what Russia chooses to do with Germany. Better to trust in your diplomatic skills and let the chips fall where they may.
It should be clear to the reader that many things can go wrong when the Russian player chooses to invade SIL in 1901. Therefore, the move can in no way be considered a magic bullet for the Russian. However given the near certainty of a war with Germany combined with the fact that the current popular Russian openings often fail utterly to forestall a German attack and often invite English aggression as well, it is surprising that so few Russian players pursue this course of action. If anything the move allows Russia to negotiate with England and France because Russia now can offer both powers something to their concrete advantage rather than just trying scare them with visions of a world without Russia, and once you get things talking good things can follow. So next time you draw Russia, consider moving into Silesia. It might go good, it might go bad but it certainly won’t be boring.
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