The Honest Truth: Russia

By Jasper Dupuis

Hello and welcome to the first of a hopefully 7-part series where so many of the pipe-dreams of Diplomacy players will be ignored and dispensed with. The one that comes to mind immediately was prompted by another article suggesting that "strong diplomacy will ensure that Turkey and Austria won't enter BLA and GAL, respectively." While this may be true - if you're playing against your kid sisters - it is very unlikely.

Before we discuss specifics to Russia, allow me to say this: always assume the enemy (or your ally), will do what's best for them, not you. If Austria doesn't move to GAL, it's likely a combination of Italy, Turkey and Russia telling him different things, along with what Austria considers to be his greatest threat. Not because you asked him to and he trusts you in S1901.

Consider Russia's opening position. Two fleets that can never coordinate, and two armies that can do whatever you wish, wonderful! Note the flexibility of the Russian armies and the inflexibility of the Russian fleets. Now consider the power of the fleets to those of the armies. Any successful Russia must control Scandinavia or the rich coasts of the Black Sea. Try to count to 18 without those areas, and you will have a hard time. Taking either of these two key regions without suitable naval power is not going to happen unless, again, you're playing your kid sisters.

The two fleets should always move STP - GOB and SEV - BLA in S1901. To do otherwise is to invite defeat upon yourself. Remember what I said about assume the best moves for your allies and enemies? Well, no matter how you cut it, it is Turkey's best move to enter BLA in S1901. No matter what your pre-game negotiations with Turkey have indicated to you, the risks of losing BLA before the contest has really begun is putting a huge handicap on Russia. Despite the potency of the R/T alliance, it takes trust and in my experience doesn't usually form right off the bat.

And if you get into BLA, all the better. Now you are in the position of strength, even if you moved A MOS - STP, which brings us to the armies.

In my view there are only two options with your armies. A MOS - STP, A WAR - GAL or A MOS - UKR, A WAR - GAL. Personal preference is a strong motivator at this stage - your diplomacy can be set up in such a way that either way you go, you won't be breaking any promises - but you will offend someone.

I personally usually go for the MOS - STP variation (yes, Octopus). Remember, even at this early stage, that the goal is 18. Remember also that we assume our colleagues will be making the best moves for themselves: F KIE - DEN, and either a standard Northern opening for England or an attempt on ENG from LON. In either case, the move to STP covers you well, even against the evil (for Russia) E/G alliance. A second Russian unit in the north in A1901 is a significant roadblock to quick wins in Scandinavia for both Germany and England, and may break up whatever agreement they may have had. Furthermore, it unerringly tells Germany that you will be playing for keeps in regards to SWE. If you've been smart, you should have had Austria onside with your move to GAL. Germany traditionally bounces Russia from SWE in F1901 when Austria is under Russian attack.

With Austria on board with your move to GAL (an arranged bounce or him choosing not to enter it, so long as he knew about your move!), Germany will have no logical reason to deny you SWE - except for your strong northern presence. But this presence is suddenly a strong bonus for you. Instead of Scandinavia becoming a trilateral negotiating ground between E/G/R, Russia has suddenly become the power broker due to the fact that A FIN (the recommended F1901 move) means you don't have to worry about a combined assault on your nation. This means that Germany, if he wants to risk the Russian's anger, needs to commit two units to Scandinavia without question. When it comes down to it, civilized discussion may fail - try to sugar coat it, but threaten Germany with war over the issue. "A Germany with enemies to the east will quickly find enemies to the west, as well," I wrote to a German player not too long ago. An intelligent player will take heed and let you have SWE. He won't like it, and he'll certainly remember what you've done, but he'll let you have it. And once it's yours, a major Russian objective is achieved: survival in the north in the short term. This is all dependent on the strength of A MOS - STP and the whole new dynamic it brings to the Diplomacy table.

Let's consider A MOS - UKR, the best southern opening along with A WAR - GAL and F SEV - BLA. A MOS - SEV is not an option, as we expect F SEV - BLA to bounce. A strong position on RUM is assured, but Germany is almost certain to take exception to your anti-Austrian position and deny you SWE, while England will certainly be trying to diplomatically neutralize France in order to secure STP.

Here is a major myth about Diplomacy: England attacking Russia in the early game is not a good idea. I want to debunk this right now. Everyone's objective is to gain 18 centers. For England, STP is one of those centers, and in many cases is the outer limit of the Empire's 18. Add in the fact that STP is completely impregnable from the south, and it's logical for England to pursue this course. It takes two units to hold STP for the rest of the game, allowing for concentration of forces elsewhere with no risk to the English save from German fleets in the interior seas of Scandinavia. A Germany strong enough to do this is hardly in Russia's interest either, as it means a simple replacement of the English F STP(nc) with the horror of a Germany F STP(sc) or, worse (and more likely, because it is better for Germany), A STP.

The result is a strong southern Russian core, but the general loss of strength and importance in the north, if not the ultimate disaster of the loss of STP.. Remember, the objective is to win. Try to count 18 without Scandinavia. It is very difficult, and easily stopped by any of the Mediterranean powers. Don't let Richard Sharp's Anchluss discourage you, if it forms; Germany can't do more than hassle you, and Austria has other problems. (two other problems, to be exact)

The W1901 builds are very important. One army is a must, no matter whether you move north or south. This is for the flexibility in defence and attack that armies offer Russia. Fleets are decisive - you can't switch who they threaten no matter what you do, but they are necessary to project Russian power beyond the initial centers of SWE and RUM. It is a vital judgement call that can come back to haunt the rash Russian player.

This is as far as specific moves from the starting positions will go. The rest of this is theoretical, though I have certainly found these observations useful and true in most cases. Even though I recommend only two different openings, the variety in positions of the other powers along with how many builds Russia gets are key factors that are impossible to predict.

One thing many Russian players run into is the annoying but weak anti-Russian opening by Turkey. If you're reading this you know what it is. The honest truth is, you have a natural ally in the south, Italy, and another friendly neighbour against Turkey in Austria. It is the peculiar nature of Austria that he cannot realistically hope to win without both Turkey AND Russia eliminated or down to one or two centers. Therefore, it is a delicate balance for any Austrian player: Turkey and Russia must fight, but only Austria can win. And yet R/T must continue to fight while Austria picked up RUM, BUL, and enters AEG and maybe GAL.

While strong, no-nonsense diplomacy can avert it, it is unlikely that if Turkey has decided to move against you anything you will say will stop him. The quickest way to defuse any tense Russo-Turkish relations is simple - yield your southern maritime forces when you get the chance (usually when Russia loses RUM, it has to disband a unit in the following winter). Removing whatever southern fleet(s) you have in the south is a clear indication: Stronger than any chainsaw diplomacy tactic, better than any stick & carrot philosophy, you have unerringly told Turkey: "I don't want to fight you."

Actions always speak louder than words. Pretend you're Turkey. You have either successfully taken BLA or RUM from Russia, possibly with Austrian help. Austria has possible supported attacks on both BUL and RUM with no risk to himself, and Russia is sitting in one or two out of UKR, WAR and SEV. If Turkey has two fleets against your one in BLA, it is better to give up the fight immediately and cede control of it to Turkey. This saves a lot of diplomatic wrangling, but it is important to be sincere. A smart player will see right through you if you keep holding on to a southern fleet. "I'll work with you, but I'm just waiting for the right moment, then BANG I'll slip into BLA (I don't know how yet) and then it's curtains for you!" is the message you're sending with that course. Now consider disbanding your southern fleets: "I realize that my fleet(s) can only attack you, so as a sign of my faith, I will disband them. I hope this is a sign of my sincerity towards you." I've been on the giving and receiving end of this tactic many times as many powers. And it works. What better way to create an alliance, no matter how temporary, than to remove any chance of animosity between two nations?

Jasper Dupuis

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