Crisis in the Kremlin is a political sim, an old DOS game from back when software shipped on floppy disks.
Like others of its time, Crisis didn't sport many fancy graphics, but packed a lot of
gameplay into a small space.
Crisis in the Kremlin simulates the latter days of the Soviet era. I grew up during the Cold War and
was in college while Mikhail Gorbachev
held office. As a political science
major who partly specialized in
I watched developments of the
with excitement. In the West at the time, there
was plenty of speculation about it all. Would he be able to turn the
USSR around, make it a more reasonable
country with free elections and freedom of the press? Did he actually want to, or were
a ruse to lure us into a false sense of security? Or would he go too far at some point and be overthrown?
This game lets you succeed Chernenko in
1985, and try to pull the country out of the stagnation and decay it inherited from the
Brezhnev era, without going too far too
fast and being run out of town.
Of course there are other options: you can clamp down and continue the old ways, holding onto traditional
Soviet methods for as long as possible, or you can forge ahead with abandon, agitating for progress no
matter the cost. Whatever you do, you're in potential danger of being ousted by the Politburo,
or even finding yourself overthrown by a popular revolution. No pressure, but...if you get your
political ass handed to you, don't expect a glorious
to bail you out. You may, however, manage to avert a coup (or defeat a
motion of no confidence)
by appealing to the will of the people; in my experience, that only works if you're playing the Nationalists...which makes sense.
The game lets you play as a member of one of three factions. The one you select will have an effect on
your political situation and viable options, so choose based on how you feel like playing.
||Hard-Line – You were Chernenko's hand-picked choice for a successor.
As you might expect, the hard-liners want to continue the old Brezhnev ways of doing things:
strict wage and price controls, straight-up authoritarian politics, etc. Oh yes, and a
strong military and KGB.
Choose this faction if you want to be a real Stalinist bastard or you feel comfortable leading
the USSR into the future slowly and incrementally. This is often considered the easiest
faction to play early in the game, since you're on the side of the establishment--but the
country's economic conditions will make it difficult later on.
||Reformist – Gorbachev made just a few too many enemies to be elected, but he was
strong enough to get you installed. This is the middle course in the game; here you're
really walking Gorbachev's tightrope--try not to look down. The Reformists want to pull
the country toward openness and democracy, and get along with the West, but they still want
to hold the Union together. This is often considered the easiest faction to play overall.
||Nationalist – You were selected because the Hard-Liners and Reformists
kept blocking each other's candidates, leaving you the only option they'd both accept.
The Nationalists want to scrap the Soviet system, going to democratic elections and complete,
laissez-faire capitalism as quickly as possible--and letting satellites and
Union Republics go
their own way. Of course we know now that these folks weren't really the champions of
democracy they made themselves out to be, but the game designers didn't know that at the time.
Choosing this faction will give you a mandate to make sweeping changes
(though still not all at once). Pick the Nationalists if you want to change the
country quickly and don't mind if the Warsaw
Pact states and the Union Republics split off quickly. This faction is often considered
the toughest to play, since in effect you head a minority government with powerful opponents.
| ||That's what the manual says, anyway. My experience is that you're expected to more
or less follow your faction's party line. You can't make the others too upset, of course, but if you don't
govern the way your faction wants things done, you'll have trouble holding onto power. So for instance you
can't choose the Nationalists and quickly turn the unrestricted-market stuff way down. Apparently, even though
they're supposed to be a weak minority government, they still basically pull all the strings and can topple your
administration if they want to. Note that that contradicts what the manual says about the Nationalist faction:
in effect, you head the majority government, even though the manual and the game itself tell you differently.
In fact, I actually think the Nationalist faction is the easiest to play.|
The game begins in 1985, the year of Chernenko's death, and continues well past the end of the historical Soviet Union.
(You take office in January, but historically, Chernenko lived into March.)
If you make it to 2000, you have the option to stop the game and see your score; if you choose to keep playing, I hear
that your score won't be affected by events after that date. If you do keep playing, the object is to survive to
the year 2017. That's a very difficult goal; I've never done it, though I did make it to 2015 once.
If you have any familiarity with the Gorbachev era, it will come as no surprise that survival itself is a challenge.
The three factions are always busy behind the scenes and always shifting in political strength.
Having good relations with one faction doesn't usually help you, but having bad enough relations with any of them
is likely to cause trouble. Worse, your GNP
tends to decline, which puts a squeeze on your budget and pressure on you.
You'll probably start to lose the Warsaw Pact countries after a few years, followed gradually by the Union Republics.
Holding onto any of them is quite the challenge, and it may be impossible to survive all the way to 2000 without losing most
of them (though you may hold onto one or two if you're lucky). Just making it to the end of the millennium is a sizable
accomplishment all by itself. Around 1991, you'll be offered the option to restructure the Union as a confederation
(the Union of Sovereign States) or dissolve it
altogether in favor of a commonwealth (the CIS). If you've never
heard of the Commonwealth of Independent States, you're not alone. It's really a loose economic cooperation sphere, something
like what the European Union was before the adoption of the
Euro--but when this game was released, the CIS was brand-new.
At the time it looked like it would become the focal point of a new Union, or perhaps a
which is what the game assumes.
If you do survive past 1991, you'll start to see events that didn't happen historically--since at that point you've certainly
changed history. You'll also start to lose Union Republics, if you haven't already. Your population will drop as a
result, and at the end of every year that you lose republic(s), you'll find that your GNP drops suddenly--apparently a secession
doesn't affect your economy until the start of the following year, when you draw up your next budget. This puts real
pressure on your administration as you try to provide enough for food, manufacturing, housing, transportation, the military,
and so on, without plundering the environment or letting crime run rampant. At times like these it can be very tricky
to avoid cutting so much from some powerful group that it's motivated to engineer your downfall. In very bad times, you
may even face extreme food shortages that lead to your violent overthrow by popular revolution (oh, the irony!).
The game has random and nonrandom events (called crises), which include major policy decisions (like whether to implement Glasnost,
see right). Some of these are events like
Chernobyl that happen at set times to mimic
the flow of history. Unfortunately the historical events are hard-coded and their occurrence can't be randomized,
which limits replayability. In any case, each crisis gives the player options for what action to take, which adds greatly
to the feeling of being in the game. The action chosen has an effect on the player's political position (and sometimes
other things, such as the country's economic condition). This is another area where your faction expects you to follow
its party line--unfortunately the game doesn't indicate which choice your faction expects you to make, so in that way you're
playing blind. The player can in fact choose to do nothing, by clicking on the teacup in the bottom right. Ignoring
a crisis is unlikely to make it go away, of course.
Crisis in the Kremlin is remarkable as the first computer game to give the player granular control over items in the
budget. That is, each year the player is given a proposed budget and can raise or lower spending on any part of it, down
to the level of, say, how much will be allocated to agriculture or to space research. Halfway through the year the player
also determines his/her position on a number of policy areas:
|Style of Government ||Despotic||Transitional||Democratic||Ultra Liberal||
|Military Posture||Agressive [sic]||Transitional ||Defensive||Pacifistic|
|Trade Policy||Closed/Protective||Transitional||Some Restrictions||Few Restrictions|
|Civil Rights||Restricted||Transitional||Modern Democracy||Near Anarchy|
|Media Freedom||Very Restricted||Transitional||Modern Democracy ||Uncontrolled|
|Economic Policies||Central Bureaucracy ||Transitional||Controlled Market||Uncontrolled Market|
|Work Week||Forced Labor||Transitional||Typical 1st World||Extreme Leisure|
|Wage Controls||Complete Control||Transitional||Few Controls||Uncontrolled|
|Type of Ownership||State Owned||Transitional||Private and State||Highly Privatized|
Your initial policies will be set depending on which faction you choose. If you're playing the Nationalists, you'll be
surprised just how un-Soviet your starting policies look! Whatever your personal preferences, though, you won't want to
change any policies too fast--that's a good way to lose the game immediately. Instead, change them gradually, one notch at
a time (or occasionally two), as you're called upon to announce your current policies at the start of each year through the
Yes, you can change your policies in between, but do so in moderation. You can make fundamental changes, but you'll have
to boil the frog to do it.
Try not to end up like this:
The Main Screen
In the main screen, you'll see a map of the northern hemisphere, from the Americas in the west (including Cuba) to the far tip of
Siberia in the east. Only part of it is visible
at any given time, but you can scroll side to side. This map is
handy for getting a bird's-eye view of your international situation:
- Red indicates a loyal part of the USSR (including Union Republics)
- Magenta indicates a solid ally (the Warsaw Pact, Cuba, and Mongolia at the start of the game)
- Green indicates other countries (such as Western Europe and China, later former Warsaw Pact states and breakaway republics)
- Orange seems to indicate a republic whose loyalty is starting to waver
- Pink seems to indicate an ally whose loyalty is starting to waver
- Yellow seems to indicate a republic or ally which is starting to consider secession from the Union or withdrawal from its alliance with the USSR
- Slow Blinking indicates a crisis is brewing in an area
- Fast Blinking means a crisis is imminent (you will usually face one there in a moment)
|What it means when parts of Russia itself
turn orange or yellow is a mystery to me. It's not explained in the game or in the manual, or in any forum posts I can find.|
Russia itself never seems to break up, so what's with the color changes?
My best guess is: the game was going to make it possible for sections of Russia to secede, but the feature was never completed.
In the files that provide text for crises, for instance, I've seen situations involving the city-state of Moscow, which I assume was
what would be left when named sections of Russia ("South Russia", etc.) secede. However I haven't found any announcements in the
files for, say, "Southern Russia Splits", whereas you do find those announcements for Union Republics and Warsaw Pact states that
leave your orbit.
Below the map is information that helps give you an idea of your overall situation. On the left is a series of bars indicating
how your country is doing in various categories: food, health, education, etc. The farther the sliders are to the right
the better: if they go too far to the left (in the red) you're likely to face real trouble, especially in things like food.
If they're in the middle (in yellow) you could be doing better. If you can get several of them toward the right (in green),
you're doing very well indeed.
In the middle, you'll see some of your country's important statistics: GNP, total population, etc. It's here that you'll
notice sharp declines when you lose big Union Republics like Ukraine.
You'll also see the date and a reminder of which faction you chose. On the right is another set of slide bars which give some
indications of your political strength at home and abroad, and under these are some switches to turn things on and off: sounds,
names of places on the map, and dispatches (don't turn this one off unless you know what you're doing!).
In addition to modeling the political situation of the late Soviet Union pretty well, the game includes some nice
historical extras, including actual jokes of the period. Soviet jokes were a phenomenon all their own; humor was one
of the few ways people could speak out about the conditions they faced and the censorship they were under--even though
using that humor could be dangerous. A fine example (though not one used in the game) was one joke which referenced
the legendary sloth and poor workmanship of the Soviet work force, while at the same time criticizing the artificial
nature of Soviet currency:
The government pretends to pay us, so we pretend to work.
The player also occasionally receives letters from family and even ordinary citizens, which are stored in a binder
and can be reviewed later. These letters offer some feedback on how you're doing, and sometimes warn you of
signs of danger in your administration--such as that your leadership style is causing your subordinates to tell you
what you want to hear rather than give the unvarnished truth.
So, it's time I gave you some links so you can try out the game. Good luck, Comrade!
♫ Inspirational Russian Music by Nadezhda Bakbkina, both before and after the end of the USSR
Bugs & Enhancement Requests
These are things I've noticed that don't work quite right, and ideas to improve gameplay--roughly
in order of importance, as I see them.
- It would be helpful if the game offered an up-to-date indication of your current relations with the
three factions. As it is, you don't really have much of an idea where you stand and how your
decisions are affecting your position, or even just what a given faction might be upset about. One minute
you get a message out of the blue chiding you for your "extreme conservatism" or your "radical policies" or
whatever, then suddenly you face a coup attempt or a vote of no confidence. Then, having survived that,
next year you might find yourself summarily voted out of office without a chance to do anything about it.
These things seem to happen almost at random, because of everything else that's happening while you're governing
the country--it's hard to steer the ship of state without a compass.
- The indicators at the bottom of the screen could include three status bars, one for each faction,
with the same red-yellow-green color scheme as for other things like food, education, etc. That
way you could see your political standing shift between the three, and take corrective measures before
you find yourself facing an angry Politburo.
- Maybe you could also have a screen (perhaps accessed by a button on the left, between, say,
BUDGETS and CRISIS. That screen could list the three factions and
what each is happy or upset about. Maybe the happy/upset listing could use the red-yellow-green
color scheme as the status bars (green=happy, yellow=disappointed, red=angry), or
maybe it could have a happy and an unhappy column for each, and a list of things they're very happy or
- While we're at it, it might also be handy to have some indication of the relative strengths of the
three factions (though I don't know if the game factors their relative strengths, or just factors your
standing with each one).
- Things occur in places where they should no longer apply:
- Events take place when they shouldn't. For example:
- The player is sometimes asked about dissolving the Union even after he/she has already done so.
- Protesters sometimes demand the release of Sakharov after he's already been released.
- The player sometimes gets the Warsaw Pact prosposal of nonintervention in member states long
after the proposal was adopted, and even after the Warsaw Pact itself has broken up.
- Crises in breakaway republics still occur after they've seceded. I've been asked to deal
with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, even after they've both left the
Union. This would actually be pretty neat if the text and options changed when the republics
have left, maybe with more serious international repercussions for direct intervention. But
as it is you still have the same options including sending in troops, as if it were still your territory.
- Republics sometimes secede multiple times ("How'd they manage that?"), and allied states sometimes
leave your orbit more than once.
- Yeltsin is still mentioned as one of your supporters, even if you're playing the Hard-Liners, and
he still criticizes "your" program of pyerestroika even if you refused to implement it.
- There should be an option to randomize the appearance of historical events such as Chernobyl and the
miners' strike, so the player could choose to play either Historical or Random. Maybe there could even
be an option to create a Custom set of dates for historical events.
- The game always calls you President of the USSR, even though the office
didn't exist until
1990. Basically, the title went something like this:
What it should probably do is set a variable for the player's title, setting it initially to General
Secretary. It would change to President on dissolution or reforming of the Union. Also,
before the breakup, maybe there could be a "crisis" where you're offered the chance to create the
office of President of the USSR as a means of shoring up your political authority (like
Gorbachev did when his reforms started to weaken his power as head of the Communist Party).
- 1985-1990 General Secretary of the CPSU
- 1990-1991 President of the Soviet Union
- 1991-Now President of Russia (and equivalent offices in other republics)
- Sometimes your response to a crisis doesn't have the sort of effect on the game that it should. For
instance, a hard-line coup may demand that you declare a state of emergency and grant extraordinary powers to
the KGB, offering only that "You will be allowed to retain your nominal position if you do exactly as we say."
If you give in to their demands, the game continues as if nothing happened. It probably adjusts some
figures like your political strength etc., but you continue in office with the same powers as before. Seems
to me that giving in to their demands should put the game into a restricted mode where:
This should give you the feeling that, while you haven't quite lost the game, you've really handicapped yourself
by giving in. Perhaps also there could be a random event that frees you from restricted mode--say, your
faction gains a majority vote in the Politburo and restores your full rights and authority as President.
- After you submit your annual budget, line items that are important to the hard-liners are
automatically adjusted (with a nasty note telling you they've changed them)
- Following the coup, when you face a crisis your options should be limited--maybe options that are
unacceptable to the hard-liners should be grayed out.
- When you choose to dissolve the Union in favor of a commonwealth, the game should make a more pronounced
break from the past. The remaining Republics that want to secede should do so immediately (instead of piecemeal,
as happens now). All references to "USSR" should change to "Russia", "Soviet" to "Russian", etc. Also
the Soviet emblem should be replaced with the Russian one used today. Instead, it's almost as
if nothing changed.
- I realize this is a bit tricky since these words are written into the DAT files rather than the
But maybe there could be two sets of DAT files: the game would use the first set until a commonwealth is
established, then switch over to the second set.
- Similarly, if the reformed union treaty is adopted, perhaps the game should take steps to make the change
more apparent. For a start it could mention the new name of the country: the
Union of Sovereign States
(maybe change "USSR" to "USS" and "Soviet" to "Union" or something like that). The Union of Sovereign States was
going to be a confederacy of the republics, minus Georgia, Armenia, Moldavia, and the Baltics; it was
just before the signing of this treaty that the hard-liners struck in the
August Coup. Like the switch to a
Commonwealth, changing to a confederation should have some substantial effects on game dynamics.
- Maybe there should be an option somewhere to initiate talks for a restructured Union, or even for a
commonwealth, rather than having to wait for events to overtake you. That would give the player some more
options for potentially avoiding the complete breakup of the USSR.
- When any republic is about to secede, maybe the player should be given the chance to try to prevent secession
with bribery or sanctions or military force, instead of having such options only for the Baltics. That might
allow the player to exercise some selective secession so he/she can try to hold part of the Union together--rather
than having to simply watch republics leave one by one, as it is now. Of course, the chances for military
prevention of secession should depend on things like your current military budget, the people's determination to
leave, whether Soviet troops are tied up elsewhere, and how much (including in Afghanistan), and so on.
- When you're given the option to try to prevent the Baltic states from leaving, you can choose to intervene
militarily there, or give them the green light to leave, or try (always in vain, in my experience) to renegotiate
the terms of their status in the Union. But maybe there should be an option to declare them a special case,
because of their established independent status prior to World War II. Maybe the republics could see that
as less of a precedent to allow them to leave.
- There should be a way to see how your GNP and population are distributed across republics: maybe a separate
screen that shows a breakdown by republic, starting with Russia. This would give a feel for how important
each republic is to your country's well-being, and how much impact various secessions would have on your population
and GNP. Maybe also, when a republic is about to secede or has successfully done so, the player could see how
much population and GNP will be lost. A quick warning at the end of the year that they're about to drop due
to secession(s) would be helpful.
- When your researchers come up with a new technology, the announcement mentions what it's likely to help
out with (better foreign relations, improvements in agriculture, etc.), but then you never hear about it
again. It would be helpful if some place in the game gave you a better feel for what your advances
have done for you: otherwise, why keep pumping rubles into R&D?
- It would be helpful if the GNP, population, etc., would show the change from last year: e.g.,
"GNP 2104 (+55)", or if there were a place you could easily go to view a chart of those figures over time.
- The game complains in your review if your crisis decisions haven't followed the party line (i.e., the party
line for your faction), but it's never clear exactly what that party line is. Maybe crisis dialog boxes
could indicate which choice(s) are consistent with your faction's party line, or maybe even show which choices
are favored by which party--that would help your political juggling.
- When you load a saved game that's fairly advanced in time (say, post-1990), places that have broken off still
show in green on the map, but you get the messages that they've left, all over again. What gives?
- There are times when the game sends you several notifications about an impending crisis, saying you need
to take immediate action to prevent it--but they keep popping up and not allowing you to click anywhere to
take some kind of action...then suddenly you're faced with the crisis that you haven't been allowed to try
to prevent. That's pretty frustrating.
- How about some new crisis events? Here are some ideas:
- Having to deal with separatists in Chechnya, following secession of the
three Caucasian republics
- Being asked to take a stand on the unification of Yemen (which occurred historically in 1990)
- Being asked to respond to the 9/11 attacks (do you offer typical condolences and sympathy, or gloat
in order to appease the hard-liners?)
- Maybe China could overrun Mongolia, probably after it's cast off its ties to the USSR.
- Maybe Tuva could declare its
independence, announcing the restoration of
- Maybe Mongolia or China could annex Tuva, whether it's broken away or not. (It was
annexed from newly independent Mongolia in 1914 after the
then was occupied in 1920 by the Red Army during the Russian Civil War and made a technically independent
satellite state the following year.)
- When the Communist Party starts to lose its monopoly on power, you could be offered the chance to
create the office of President of the Soviet Union (see above), as Gorbachev did to try to shore up his
power as head of the country. This could improve civil rights and your standing with the people
(since it was an elected office, sort of), but would hurt you with the hard-liners.
- Under Style of Government, why does Nicholas II's portrait show in the Democratic range, of all
places? He was as autocratic as Stalin himself, just not as powerful.
- Why do allies and republics often turn green a bit before breaking away? Shouldn't you get
the message saying so-and-so has declared independence, then see it turn from yellow to green?
- When you normalize the border with China, there is presumably some adjustment of the boundaries, yet the
map doesn't change. Seems like the map should reflect the new Sino-Russian border.
- It's a little thing, but: when you click on the teacup to put off taking action, is it really necessary
to slurp one's tea so loud? (Of course, this would probably mean redoing the sound file the game
plays during the animation.)
- Another little thing: why does the map show North Korea as not bordering the USSR/Russia?
Transliteration and Faux Cyrillic
You may have noticed that the box cover uses the backward R ("Я") to spell
This is called "faux Cyrillic";
of course it's used to try to create a Russian look and feel--whether the end result makes any sense or
not. Maybe it's just me, but because I can read the Cyrillic alphabet (though not Russian), I find this
kind of thing annoying. Consider that KЯEMLIN would be pronounced
"KYA-EMLIN" and you get some idea how silly faux Cyrillic can look.
But that's just a little thing, really. I take a bigger issue with common transliterations of Russian
into English. You may have wondered why, say, Brezhnev is pronounced "brezhnyev", and Khrushchev
is pronounced "Khrushchov", when they're not spelled that way. It's because of
transliteration conventions. Russian has a letter е, which looks like the
English e, but is pronounced "yeh". And it has a letter ё, which also looks like e, but is
pronounced "yoh". There is a letter that's pronounced "eh", but it looks like this: э.
Well, most of the
major conventions just write them all as "e", which in my opinion is stupid. Just
because it looks like an e is no reason to write it as one--the whole point of transliterating is to
show what things written in another alphabet sound like. How about the Russian в,
which is pronounced "v"? How about н, which is pronounced "n"?
How about р, which is pronounced "r"? (And yes, those are all lower-case in
Cyrillic.) They look like B, H, and p respectively.
By this line of reasoning, it should be GorbacheB who enacted the policies of glasHost and
pepestroika. It's absurd.
I've even occasionally seen Yeltsin's name written as "Eltsin". Most people realize that the convention
fails embarrassingly here, that leaving off a Y or I at the start of his name is just begging people to
mispronounce it--but a few do stick to their guns and start his name with an E anyway.
To my mind this is the best example of how inadequate the convention is on е and
ё. A less striking example (and one that occurs in the game) is Yerevan, the capital of
Armenia, being transliterated as "Erevan".
But to come down off my soapbox and rejoin everyone in the practical world, I realize that we're used
to seeing certain names written a certain way: Khrushchev, Gorbachev, etc., so I go ahead and leave
those alone. But less familiar words I transliterate in a more--well, accurate--manner: so I
write "pyerestroika" rather than "perestroika", for instance.
Ok, I'm done now. Moving right along...
The game was released in 1992, so it would have been written around 1990-91, a time when people watching events
in the Soviet Union increasingly expected it to break up soon. I suppose that's probably why the game was
written in the first place, and also why it trends (almost?) inexorably toward dissolution of the USSR.
Still, it's pretty impressive that the game actually continues far into the future (to the present day, in fact),
while still being a somewhat in-depth political sim, especially one that fit on a handful of old floppy disks.
Your Friends and Allies
In Crisis, there are three basic groups in the East Bloc: the Union Republics, the Warsaw Pact
countries, and other allies. Ever wonder what all the different Union Republics were? There were 15
in all (briefly 16);
the European ones, at least, were briefly independent during the Civil
War, which is why they got special status as Union Republics in the Soviet system...though not all of them
got that status.
These were the provinces of the Soviet Union, the equivalent of states in the US, Australia, and other countries
that call their provinces "states". The descriptions I give of their peoples are what Russians tended to think
Have you ever heard the term "Tsar of all the Russias" and wondered what "Russias" they were talking
about? It turns out there were three.
- Russia (the
RSFSR) - Formerly called Great
Russia (by the Russians, of course). Russia itself was just one of the fifteen
Union Republics, though it was the one that actually called the shots. Partly thanks
to Siberia, it includes an awful lot of small ethnic minorities.
- Ukraine - Formerly called Little
Russia, also known in the 19th century as the Breadbasket of Europe. As the
Republic, it was the strongest and longest-lasting of the countries that briefly split off during the
Civil War. Not surprisingly, it was fairly eager for independence by 1990, though its agricultural and
industrial contribution to the Union made secession a tricky matter (and will be a big blow to you in the game).
Its importance to the Union also made it impossible to ignore: Ukrainians were the second most powerful
nationality in the country (though not a close second), and actually got a few seats in important bodies
like the Politburo and Central Committee that few other nationalities could aspire to. Chernenko himself
was of Ukrainian descent. Ukrainians had a reputation for being sturdy and reliable.
(now Belarus) - Formerly called
White Russia. Sometimes mistransliterated "Belorussia"
(see "Transliteration and Faux Cyrillic" above). After the Tsar's abdication
it declared independence as the
Republic, though it existed mostly on paper.  It did have one significant military engagement
at Slutsk, however. Its
capital, Minsk, is the capital of the CIS today. Belarusians are the nationality that's closest and most similar
to the Russians, so the two bear a close affinity, which is reflected in the
Union of Russia and Belarus.
The Union Republics in Europe (except Moldavia) were established as short-lived independent states during the
Civil War, and after absorption by the USSR they maintained governments in exile in the West.
Following recovery of their independence after 1991, they returned their mandates to the newly de facto
independent republics. Belarus is the exception, however, because of the
pro-Soviet policies of Lukashenko's government.
- Moldavia (now
Moldova) - Ethnically Rumanian, but
part of Russia before World War I (as
Bessarabia). It was added to
Rumania after the war, but then taken back during the Soviet liberation of Eastern Europe in World War II.
Moldavia was known for its wine which was exported all over the USSR; its people were sometimes thought of as
being like the Romani (Gypsies) because of
their proximity to Rumania--which doesn't make a lot of sense: they should be similar to Rumanians
because they're close to Rumania. This was probably a folk etymology caused by people assuming the name "Romani" had something to do with "Romanian";
in reality it has a separate origin.
The Baltic States
These countries are very similar to one another. Like Moldova/Moldavia (and Finland), they had been part of
Russia before World War I. They were fully independent during the interwar years (though they became
dictatorships by the mid-1930s), but were forcibly reabsorbed by the Soviets during World War II. They had the most
prosperous economies in the USSR, which made them difficult to let go; at the same time they had the closest
ties to the West and strongly resented Soviet occupation, so they were the most restive of all the republics.
None of them has shown interest in joining the CIS. As you might expect, they are almost certain to break
away from you in the game--though, at the same time, their secession is the only one you're offered a chance to do
something about. See here for a side note about Baltic currency.
- Estonia - The Estonians are closely related to
the Finns, and given Finland's history it's
understandable that Estonia would want to separate from the Soviet Union. Estonia had the most advanced economy of
all the republics, though also perhaps the most endangered native population. Population growth of ethnic Estonians
lagged behind the nationalities of all other Union Republics.
- Latvia - The area now known as Latvia was the
scene of a crusade against one of the last remaining pagan peoples of Europe. Following that, it became the region
known as Livonia and was a significant player in east-west trade, participating in the
Hanseatic League. Livonia/Latvia
never really became its own state until 1918; prior to conquest by Russia it tended to be dominated by Lithuania and
Poland. Its capital city, Riga, dates to 1206 and has a beautiful medieval Old Town
(or at least it did in 1985).
- Lithuania - Lithuania was part of a large
Polish/Lithuanian state for many years,
something its people haven't forgotten. It was probably the most independently minded of all the
Union Republics. It may be the first to declare independence in the game, as it was in real life.
You want petty squabbling? Come to the Caucasus. During the Civil War, the region split off
and formed an independent country. But its members couldn't get along, so it broke up three
months later into three separate countries: Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. To the north of Georgia and
Azerbaijan there was also the
Republic of the Northern Caucasus. The fighting in Chechnya in the 1990s was an echo of the old Mountain Republic; it
never got its own Union Republic, so after the fall of the USSR it found itself still part of Russia.
The Chechens figured they should get their independence too, but the Russians disagreed.
- Georgia - A Christian European people,
with a long history of fiercely independent
kingdoms. During World War I, Georgia was occupied by Germany; during the Civil War it was an independent state
with a Menshevik government, the
Democratic Republic of
Georgia. Georgians had a reputation for being clever, and shrewd businessmen (in both the legal and black
markets). Georgians would fly to northern cities to sell oranges, making large profits in the exchange.
Georgian men also had a reputation as womanizers. Georgia has three main ethnic minority areas, which have caused
it trouble when Georgian nationalists have enacted anti-minority policies such as making Georgian the sole official
language. The country has been wracked by several wars as a result, and today two of these minority
South Ossetia--are de facto
independent states. The other, Adjara, was
for a while but has been forcibly reunited with Georgia.
- Armenia - A Christian Asian people, with a long
history of prizing its independence and hating the Turks. During World War I, Armenia kept fighting as an
independent state (the First
Republic of Armenia) after its neighbors had surrendered to occupying forces. Armenia and Azerbaijan don't get
along, partly because Azerbaijan has an exclave
in Armenia, which it was given by Stalin. Armenians had a reputation for being highly intelligent.
- Azerbaijan - A Muslim Asian people, with
closer ties to Iran and Turkey than Russia. During World War I, Azerbaijan was occupied by the Ottoman Empire;
during the Russian Civil War, it was independent as the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. There is an ethnic Armenian area in Azerbaijan, which was
not granted as an exclave to Armenia, while Azerbaijan did get one in Armenia, for political reasons. This region,
Nagorno-Karabakh, was the scene of substantial
racial violence shortly before and after the breakup of the USSR, which you may see in-game. Azerbaijanis had a
reputation for being corrupt.
These countries are poor, arid regions whose native populations were largely
nomadic (meaning pastoralists, not just wanderers) prior to the
Soviet era. They're also strongly Muslim. Because of these Republics' poverty, they benefited more from government
subsidies than other parts of the country; as a result, they tended to favor some form of Union and were slower to
secede than other areas. In fact, none of them declared independence before 1991, and then only after eight other
Republics had done so.
- Kazakhstan (not Kazakistan, as it's
sometimes misspelled--even once in the game!) - Kazakhstan is the largest of the Central Asian republics
(by area), and is home to the main Soviet--now Russian--spaceport,
Baikonur. As you might expect,
that's led to some tension: Russia leases it and pays for cleanup from the toxic propellants used on its
Proton rockets, but Kazakhstan has taken
advantage of its opportunity to gouge Russia from time to time. Consequently Russia is looking into building an
alternative spaceport within its
own borders. Kazakhstan was remarkable in that its population wasn't dominated by its nominal nationality; only
about 40% were ethnic Kazakh in the late USSR (Russians were another 40%, Ukrainians and Germans another 5% each,
and various others made up the balance). A fair number of high government officials came from Kazakhstan, but
they were mostly ethnic Russians. During the Civil War, Kazakhstan enjoyed a brief period of nominal independence
(the Alash Autonomy), though in practice the
area was controlled by White forces.
- Uzbekistan - This arid region was heavily
irrigated in Soviet times in order to grow a lot of cotton. That was probably a good plan, except that most
of the water came from the Aral Sea, which has
largely dried up as a result--causing some serious
damage in the area. (Before you place too much blame on the Communists for this, it's worth noting that
independent Uzkbekistan has done nothing to stop the deterioration.)
- Turkmenistan - Maybe the poorest of the
Republics, it consists largely of barren
desert. Still, like Uzbekistan, it produces a lot of cotton; it also exploits large reserves of
natural gas, though strained relations with Russia have made it hard to export it.
- Kyrgizia (now
Kyrgyzstan) - Acquired from
China by treaty (one-sided, no
doubt) in the late 1800s, its people initially revolted against Russian rule--but the area settled down and
its history remained fairly quiet until late in the Soviet period. Independent Kyrgyzstan has adopted Russian
as a second official language as a gesture to show that its ethnic Russian population is welcome within its borders--partly
to avoid a brain drain. On the other hand, there are large numbers of Uzbeks in the country, which
has occasionally led to ethnic conflict.
- Tajikistan - Whereas the other Central
Asian republics are homelands to various Turkic peoples, the Tajiks are a Persian people--and their language,
Indo-European (which makes it
distantly related to Russian, English, and most other European tongues). The area is heavily mountainous rather
than desert. Right after achieving independence, Tajikistan was wracked by civil war. Russians, Jews, and
other non-Muslims fled the country.
The countries of Eastern Europe were part of what was known as the Second World (in the West, of
course). They were small, reasonably industrialized countries but without remarkable economies. Of course
they were in thrall to the Soviets in politics and diplomatic affairs, but paradoxically, they were also heavily subsidized
by the USSR--to help keep them loyal, you see. Machiavelli wrote that when you find yourself paying people to stay loyal to you, that's a sign of weakness.
Turns out he was right.
- Poland - A strongly Catholic country with a history of
dusting it up with Russia. If you feel sorry for Poland for being generally trodden on by its neighbors (including
Russia), remember that it wasn't all one-sided. Poland got in its licks against Russia too, most recently following
World War I when Russia was weak: the Polish took the opportunity to
invade and grab some territory.
Stalin returned the favor after the war, with interest of course, shifting Poland westward into ethnic German lands.
(Basically he annexed the eastern third or fourth of the country and gave Poland about the same amount of territory on its
western border, which was carved out of Germany.) The independent trade union
Solidarity was legalized in
1989 and swept that year's election, taking 99% of seats in the legislature and ushering in the first non-Communist
government in the Warsaw Pact.
- East Germany - After World War II, Germany was
split into four occupying zones,
each controlled by a different Ally: the US, the UK, France, and the USSR. The rest of
Central and Eastern Europe was divvied up between Soviet and Western control, but the two sides couldn't agree
on who would dominate Germany. So in the end, the Soviets made their zone into East Germany while the other Allies joined
theirs into West Germany. Berlin was similarly divided into occupation zones, which the Soviets unsuccessfully
tried to reverse, leaving the West
with an exclave in East Germany's largest city.
People who lived through the partition of Germany dreamed of reunification for decades, leading to the
absorption of East Germany into West
Germany in 1990. This usually happens during the game as well, at least if you don't send in the tanks.
- Czechoslovakia (now the
Slovak republics) - Of all the countries in
Eastern Europe where democracy was imposed after World War I, this was one of the few where it really took root.
Then, of course, it was sold out
and abandoned by the Western democracies
during the buildup to World War II. In the end, France and the UK drew the line at Poland, a military dictatorship,
after democractic Czechoslovakia was already overrun. After the war, of course, it was absorbed into the East Bloc.
Dubček enacted a
series of reforms in 1968-69,
which included abolishing censorship and enacting a mixed economy. What he did was probably less than you'll do in the game,
but it was a bit too much for Moscow at the time. After negotiations failed, Soviet troops occupied the
country and put a stop to it. Dubček was expelled from the party and given an unimportant post, but in 1989 he made a
comeback when the president appointed a majority non-Communist government, which elected him speaker. In 1990 the first
democratic elections were held since the War.
- Hungary - Hungary is home to the Magyar people
(pronounced "mah-jar", not "mag-yar"), who speak one of the few non-Indo-European languages in Europe. A little-known historical
tidbit is that Hungary was the second Communist country ever (following Russia, of course): it became the
Hungarian Soviet Republic for four
months in 1919. Following that during the interwar period, the people wanted a reestablishment of the monarchy under
Karl, King of Hungary, who had also been Emperor
of Austria during World War I--but the Allies
allow it. Then after World War II they were denied a shot at real self-determination as they were drawn into the Soviet
circle. In 1956 the people rose in
spontaneous revolt against the
communist government, which was one of the more oppressive ones at the time; unfortunately they lost sympathy from the outside
by publicly murdering Soviet sympathizers. Ironically, starting in 1962, Hungary managed to soften its approach to
socialism--it became the most liberal of the Warsaw Pact countries for the remainder of communist rule, under a policy nicknamed
Goulash Communism. The country enacted major
reforms in 1988, and gave up Communist government in 1989.
- Rumania - Rumania was occupied and its natural resources
heavily exploited by the USSR after the War. But in 1965, Ceaușescu took power and began to pursue a semi-independent foreign policy, though not so
independent as to force the Soviets' hand. However, starting in the late '70s and early '80s his financial policies placed a
heavy burden on the citizens, his secret police became increasingly repressive, and he began to impose a cult of personality,
leading to his overthrow and execution in a
spontaneous uprising in 1989.
- Bulgaria - During World War II, Bulgaria refused to declare
war on the USSR, even though that hurt relations with Nazi Germany. As the war turned against the Axis in 1944, the
USSR declared war on Bulgaria, at which point a
movement took power by coup and negotiated a cease-fire with the USSR, sparing the country from the worst effects of Soviet
conquest. The country then followed the Soviet political and economic model, with a largely Stalinist planned economy until
close to the fall of communism (though with some experiments in market economics). The Bulgarian Communist Party gave up its
political monopoly in 1989.
Of course, the Soviets had lots of other allies and friendly states, but only two are colored as part of the Eastern
Bloc. It seems strange that Afghanistan isn't
included, since it was occupied by the Soviet
military from 1979 to 1989, and crises take place involving developments there with the occupation--but, for whatever reason,
Afghanistan always shows in green, as a non-ally. You'd think it would start out magenta, then change to pink or yellow if
you withdraw troops, then green if the Soviet-friendly government is overthrown. You'd also think
North Korea would start the game as an ally, since it was
friendly with the
- Cuba - Ruled by monarchs and brutal dictators for most of
its history--the Castro regime is just the latest dictatorship. Cuba is your most reliable ally in the game, but
it's probably also the least important--it never seems to do anything, except act as the site of the Bay of Pigs II
crisis. In my experience it doesn't leave your orbit even if you've reduced foreign assistance to zero
and sided against it in Bay of Pigs II--although apparently there's coding in place to allow for it to leave.
- Mongolia - The world's second lasting Communist country (after Russia), it entered
the Soviet circle after being occupied by the Red Army and guaranteed its independence from China in 1921. It seems
to break away from you about the same time as the Warsaw Pact states; historically, its
revolution came in 1990.
Interested in playing the USSR during the Space Race? Check out my fan site for
Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space.
Email me if you have questions, comments, or suggestions.