“It is said that no one man can command the world, Dimitri, but I say nothing is impossible…”
– Tsar Vladimir I Nikolaievich to the Grand Prince of Kiev, St Petersburg, 1866
The Russian Coalition is without doubt one of the greatest powers on earth. Its ruler, Tsar Vladimir I Nikolaievich Rurik-Novy, commands the people, wealth and resources of over a sixth of the world’s entire landmass. And yet, still it is not enough for him. Long regarded as insular, backwards and obsessed with mysticism, the Coalition under Vladimir’s rule has burst onto the world stage in spectacular fashion. Every one of the Coalition’s neighbours have been affected by its new spirit of expansionism, and while the Tsar’s ambitions are a long way from being fulfilled, many believe that ultimately the motion of this global juggernaut can at best only be delayed rather than stopped outright.
The Russian Coalition is by a considerable margin the largest land power in the world. Its vast holdings girdle half the northern hemisphere, from the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth to the north-eastern tip of Asia; the Coalition even has borders with the FSA and Britannian Canada, as it also claims the great wilderness of Alaska at the north-western edge of the New World. Its northern border brushes the Arctic, while in the south it abuts the wastes of the Gobi Desert, China and the Ottoman Empire. This enormous empire encompasses every imaginable landscape: soaring mountains, sweeping grassy steppes, windswept tundra, searing deserts and dark, forbidding forests. These vast lands are rich in resources of all kinds, easily fuelling the great expansion of industry and agriculture incepted by Tsar Nikolai and continued with gusto by his son Vladimir.
This territorial giant has a population to match, and while it is not quite as large as the empire’s landmass would suggest, it is still many times larger than any other single nation’s, with the possible exception of the Chinese Federation. Although often seen as a monolithic horde, the Coalition’s people are composed of a bewildering array of ethnic groups, social orders and creeds. The largest single group are the Great Russians, who dwell mostly in the European portions of the Tsar’s domain and who form its ruling class. But in these regions alone the empire also encompasses Finns, Ukranians, Ruthenians, Latvians, Bulgars, Georgians, Armenians and Azeris. From further afield come Siberian tribesmen, Mongols, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and countless others.
The European portions of the Coalition, and some areas of its far eastern holdings near the Chinese and Korean borders, are highly urbanised and heavily industrialised, while other areas, such as the wilderness of Siberia and the arid Kazakh hinterlands, are only sparsely populated and largely agrarian. Apart from the autonomous Oblast of Alaska, and few small islands to the north of Japan, all of the Coalition’s territory is contained within its borders. This sheer concentration of land, people and resources is what makes the Russian Coalition so intimidating.
In theory, as its name suggests, the Russian Coalition is a union of many different regional powers; kingdoms, duchies, principalities, dominions and more archaic divisions, such as the khanates of the east, the tribal councils of Siberia and the Cossack clans. In practice, however, all of these various local magnates are the vassals and subjects of the Supreme Autocrat, the Tsar of All the Russias. These local rulers, be they Grand Princes, Dukes, Khans or tribal Hetmen, serve as regional governors over their territories, acting as the Tsar’s representatives under the exceptionally watchful eyes of his secret police.
The current Tsar is Vladimir I Nikolaievich Rurik-Novy, a tireless, driven man intent on expanding his nation’s power and prestige. Vladimir’s father, Nikolai, took power in 1799, following mass revolution that brought down the eccentric and unpopular Paul I, the last of the Romanov Tsars. A fiercely charismatic man who claimed descent from the legendary Rurik dynasty, the family of Russia’s first true Tsar, Ivan the Terrible, Nikolai rallied support far and wide among a large number of regional potentates.
Becoming Tsar at the tender age of twenty, after his father’s depression and alcohol-induced suicide, Vladimir rapidly demonstrated his utter ruthlessness. No less than thirty-seven generals and senior boyars, or nobles, suspected of conspiring to depose him, were put to death or exiled to Siberia. Vladimir also legitimised the political officers appointed by his father to ensure discipline in the massed ranks of the White Army, modelling them on the infamous Oprichniki of his ancestor Ivan the Terrible, and ensuring that their authority extended to his regional leaders as well.
At the heart of his government, Tsar Vladimir is advised by a council of ministers known as the Imperial Duma. The Duma’s members are drawn from Vladimir’s most trusted nobles, although the last word on decision-making is always left to the Tsar himself. Vladimir’s most important advisor however is the man to whom he owes credit for the amazingly rapid and effective modernisation of his armies – Markov Helsinki, the dissident of Antarctica.
The White Army is the collective term for the Russian Coalition’s vast land and air military forces. The seaborne component, the White Navy, is a sister organisation and firmly subordinate to the army. The White Army’s strength is, and has always been, manpower. Tsar Vladimir has men in millions, organised into thousands of infantry regiments, or Polks. However, the quality of his troops varies wildly, as does the extent and state of their equipment. The best White Army troops are the Streltsy regiments, elite armoured riflemen whose very best form the inner guard of the Tsar himself. At the other end of the scale, many regular army conscripts are little better than partially trained peasant militiamen, driven into battle by their officers, who are themselves frequently in fear of their lives, courtesy of Oprichniki advisors. However, regardless of their origins there are two characteristics shared by all Coalition forces – their immense endurance and resistance to hardship, and their almost mystical faith in and loyalty to the Tsar.
Since Markov’s return the White Army has undergone substantial technical growth. Tank regiments have started to appear, often composed of huge armoured troop carriers that act like mobile bunkers, shielding the vulnerable infantry while allowing them to fight. Russian Land Ships tend to be smaller than those of other nations, but well armoured, and many new designs are capable of burrowing beneath the earth and collapsing whole settlements.
The White Air Armies regard themselves as an elite force and have the reputation to match. Their combination of fearless pilots and surprisingly advanced aircraft – dubbed ‘Steel Interceptors’ – make them formidable foes. Many pilots are Cossacks, who have swapped their horses for the latest tools in the shock attacks at which they excel.
Despite its immense numbers the White Army’s military history is somewhat chequered. Beginning the century with an unexpected loss to the Commonwealth at the so-called ‘Charge of the Angels’ outside Vilnius in 1830, they next fought a bloody and inconclusive war with China for nine years until 1847. However, with the ascension of a new and ruthless supreme commander, the Siberian Josef Cherdenko, and the adoption of more and more of Markov’s fearsome weaponry, the White Army and Navy have acquired new heart and are successfully waging war or no less than three fronts, against the Prussian and Ottoman Empires in the west and south, and now the FSA at sea in the Pacific. The Russian colossus is on the march, and Tsar Vladimir’s ambitions, once thought no more than dreams, look increasingly achievable.