A Sound of Thunder: The Rise of the Soviet Superbooster

I was an undergraduate in the early 1980s and one of my more memorable classes, "Contemporary Soviet Union", was taught by a retired DIA analyst. During the time of the Dying General Secretaries, he brought special attention to the growing competition between the "young Turks" of Mikhail Gorbachev and Grigory Romanov. Obviously, Gorbachev won that contest in OTL, but has anyone tried to build an ATL with Romanov as the victor?
 
And it makes sense, if Gorbachev had started explaining his real goals he would never have gotten near the top job.
His real goals had pretty wide support among even people who were considered hardliners. (Though, I should mention that "hardliner" and "liberal" are not terribly useful labels for understanding Soviet politics, since the factions in politics weren't defined by ideology as they are for example in the UK or US, but rather by who owed favours to whom. Thus, while individuals were "hardline", "moderate" or "liberal" on specific issues - for example Suslov was the most hardline of the hardline on ideological matters while also being a foreign policy liberal with regard to other Communist states, while being a hardline anti-capitalist when it came to how to handle the US and its allies, to say that Suslov belonged to the hardline faction is misleading.) Making the USSR more democratic? The Soviets thought they were the leading light of the democratic world, fighting against the pseudo-democratic Capitalists for real freedom. Making their own system more democratic was something everyone could support so long as it didn't rock the boat too much. (And it is that last qualifier that so frustrated the efforts to break the shackles of the Stalin era.) And anyone who'd traveled to the Eastern European Satellites could see that the USSR itself was "underperforming" and knew reform was necessary (in fact the satellites had spent money borrowed from Western banks to try to supercharge their economies and within a few years the whole region was one big austerity crisis because they'd all timed their effort to supercharge themselves wrongly and thus had a lot of money to repay and lacked the large export revenues they'd planned on paying the debt off with). And the nomenklatura by the early 80s were pretty well traveled, at least within the Soviet bloc.

Old hard-core Brezhnevite moderates like Chernenko were opposed to Gorbachev's goals, because they saw that he was a radical. But for those who weren't so moderate and either tended liberal or tended hardliner, Gorbachev's goals had good support. So people knew and supported Gorbachev's goals. What surprised people, and even surprised Gorbachev himself, was just how much of an idealist he turned out to be. He was not a man who was afraid of rocking the boat to get closer to what he thought should be.

By contrast, I can't imagine Ligachev ending things like the Party monopoly in selecting candidates for elections. For 1980, that's hardly an anti-liberal position, Khrushchev hadn't done such a thing either. But Gorbachev, with his mix of idealism and ruthlessness towards those he considered to be in his way, was just willing to go much further.

And how do you think the N1 succeeding will help that?

Oh, a continuing N-1 program changes so many subtle interactions. For example, with Buran being designed as a payload for the N-1, the Buran program isn't held back by the delays and exploding costs of the engines - especially the RD-170, so it comes in on time and on budget, giving the Soviets equivalent space capabilities to the US by the early 80s. That means the paranoid space militarists have less to worry about in the USSR. Instead they can go on the offensive. Launching stations like Polyus as soon as it is clear that Reagan is serious about the Star Wars guff to bluff the Americans (assuming Reagan is even prez of course) and assuming the whole thing doesn't lead to a nuclear war, the Soviets have more reasons to think that they are either level with or overtaking the US. Add that to the other indicators that things were going well (the KGB foreign branch for example thought the Soviets were actually winning) and there's less pressure to push reforms so rapidly or to try as many doveish strategies to control Cold War tensions.

With more development work going into the NK-33 and with the factory needing to produce the engine in large numbers, cost per unit is going to be driven down, making it the logical engine for whatever the Soviets replace the Soyuz and Proton with (probably Zenit as OTL). Again, this replacement medium lift vehicle would not be delayed by the RD-170 project, meaning the Soviet military can launch more and better surveillance systems into orbit during the 80s. That better surveillance and lift capacity would add to the sense that the Soviets are managing to keep level or were overtaking the US.

Also, no ballooning budget for Glushko's fancy-pants engines mean the resources spent there can be spent on other things. Like maybe nuclear reactor safety, or maybe better military hardware, or maybe cool space missions that electrify the space geeks of the Soviet bloc and bind them closer to the Party.

Mind you, these changes aren't certain to do any specific change. They will just change things, and various actors will interpret those changes in their own way, which might lead to either better or worse choices by those actors.

Personally, I find space timelines tend to fall into either the camp of "USSR is reinvigorated through the power of space science!" or "USSR falls in the very same year as OTL since despite being 20 years from the PoD it is clear that destiny is real". It would be pretty fun to see a space-focused TL where the Soviets either collapsed early, or collapsed late. But I can understand why @nixonshead isn't doing either here (or appears to not be doing either), since the collapse of the USSR was an extremely complex series of events and this is a TL about the cool space stuff. I think it is perfectly reasonable to say "there's no direct link between A and B, so I will keep thing B the same as OTL even though I have changed A greatly". Real history is absurdly complicated, all AH is going to fall short of how weird and wonderful it is.

fasquardon
 
but has anyone tried to build an ATL with Romanov as the victor?
There was one, a very good one in fact it was rewritten in the same thread so I'll give you the lastest version that was made just before February 24th, 2022 happened, matter of fact it was just 10 days before it started.


You will have to backtrack to the older chapters once you run out of the rewritten chapters, thankfully it's all threadmarked.

Unfortunately the Author that made the story was part of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and took part in the initial fighting in the war in Ukraine, I don't have the full picture but he did mention he was forced to leave his unit for complaining with his superiors for how dumb the war plan was or something like that before those superiors later on were desperate for him to come back as the war took a turn for the worse for Russia, it seemed that he left the fighting by sometime before March 17th when he was able to post again.

He unfortunately would later on go in the Ukrainian Thread with very pro-Russia opinions and get bullied for it, even receiving death threats from it (of course the ban-able offensives comment were deleted but the words were not subtle at all and a piece of artwork of the skeletonal remains of a Russian Soldier escalated the emotional wellbeing of the author) and at some point he had his opinions take full control in the thread and ultimately got banned for saying dumb comments on Ukraine.

Despite the flaws the author himself had the story itself was very good, especially the rewrite and it got nominated in the 2022 Turtledoves - Best Cold War to Contemporary Timeline thread.
 
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For interest, here’s a size comparison of Baikal and NASA’s shuttle.

The Baikal orbiter in this picture reminds me of the first Reaver ship we see in Firefly.

Pretty much exactly what I was thinking--at least re the "'Stans." Ukranians, along with the Baltic peoples, had some pretty strongly separatist sentiments and retaining them would require either very convincing conciliation by the Russians or some strong-arm methods. I am not sure Ukraine could not be persuaded fairly easily with a certain degree of autonomy and a great deal of respect shown them by the "Great Russians." After all, in Soviet days certain Ukrainians enjoyed a lot of prestige and power in the USSR as a whole; Nikita Khrushchev was ethnically Russian, but born and raised in Ukraine and he had a lot of Ukrainian cronies. These were Party apparatchiks of course; anti-Communist Ukrainians would hardly be moved in favor of continuing union with the Russians by that, nor am I very sure how far out of favor Ukraine as a whole might have fallen after Khrushchev's ouster from power. But anyway, sufficiently far-sighted and respectful Russian leadership could conceivably get the support of enough factions of Ukrainians to keep the union.

The Baltics are another story; they would stay unified only at the point of a gun, as they were taken in in the first place. I don't know about the Caucasian republics.

The Central Asian republics on the other hand did not so much escape the Russian system OTL as they were in fact cast out. The way the Soviet planned economy was managed, these republics were required to produce certain resources and thus prevented from producing others, and on those terms, it looked from a Russian point of view that Russia was subsidizing them. I don't know how much simple crude racism also influenced the Russian decision to simply turn them loose. But prior to the collapse of the USSR, there was far less dissident separatism in these republics than in the eastern European possessions. Again then, the Russians certainly have a chance to keep the Central Asian republics federated with Russia--more easily than they could hang on to Ukraine for sure.

I would not say that keeping Ukraine in the Union is so hard. In March of 1991, Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly (81.7% in favour out of an 83.5% turnout) that Ukraine should be part of the new union. Then in August, a coup tried to overthrow Gorbachev and maintain the OLD union, the coup failed, Yeltsin effectively overthrew Gorbachev and the Russian Supreme Soviet passed a number of rather dubious laws (such as the law authorizing Yeltsin to appoint regional administrators) and changed the flag of the Russian republic to the old Tsarist flag. Two days after that, the Ukrainian parliament drafted a proclamation of independence, which Ukrainian voters also overwhelmingly backed (92.26% in favour of independence, turnout of 84.18%). It seems to me that the coup, fall of Gorbachev and rise of a nationalist Russia under Yeltsin didn't appeal to Ukrainians.

Considering just how bad things had gotten since only a handful of years before, an ATL where mass looting isn't legalized and thus a complete economic free-fall is avoided, many of the SSRs who didn't participate in the March referendum of OTL (like the Baltics and Moldova) likely have good odds to stay in a new union, considering how much support for remaining in the union there was in the unofficial referendums that occurred in those SSRs. In an ATL where the Communist party maintained its monopoly on power and mass looting was avoided, there's probably enough support on the ground to keep the whole USSR together.

Really, the problems of nationalism in the USSR are enormously overstated. The place wasn't Yugoslavia, and what happened in OTL happened after an enormous failure and breach of trust. An enormous failure and breach of trust that was also entirely avoidable, I should add.

Hot Damn, I can't wait to see a picture of Skylab B launching on Shuttle-C. That's going to be so freaking cool! Also, looking back at the Baikal Shuttle, I would be surprised if A) that thing flies before Buran did IOTL, and B) does not suffer from an incident involving failure of the folding wings and/or jet engines. If Baikal ever flies with humans aboard, I give it 50/50 odds that the escape pod is used.

I will be surprised if the detachable nose idea can be made to work.

Also, I suspect that Baikal will be ready sooner than Buran due to the greater maturity of the N-1 hardware compared to the much-delayed Energia, so the orbiter will get more focused attention. I would think that a first test flight could happen as early as 1984, though more likely 1985 or '86.

fasquardon
 
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His real goals had pretty wide support among even people who were considered hardliners. (Though, I should mention that "hardliner" and "liberal" are not terribly useful labels for understanding Soviet politics, since the factions in politics weren't defined by ideology as they are for example in the UK or US, but rather by who owed favours to whom. Thus, while individuals were "hardline", "moderate" or "liberal" on specific issues - for example Suslov was the most hardline of the hardline on ideological matters while also being a foreign policy liberal with regard to other Communist states, while being a hardline anti-capitalist when it came to how to handle the US and its allies, to say that Suslov belonged to the hardline faction is misleading.) Making the USSR more democratic? The Soviets thought they were the leading light of the democratic world, fighting against the pseudo-democratic Capitalists for real freedom. Making their own system more democratic was something everyone could support so long as it didn't rock the boat too much. (And it is that last qualifier that so frustrated the efforts to break the shackles of the Stalin era.) And anyone who'd traveled to the Eastern European Satellites could see that the USSR itself was "underperforming" and knew reform was necessary (in fact the satellites had spent money borrowed from Western banks to try to supercharge their economies and within a few years the whole region was one big austerity crisis because they'd all timed their effort to supercharge themselves wrongly and thus had a lot of money to repay and lacked the large export revenues they'd planned on paying the debt off with). And the nomenklatura by the early 80s were pretty well traveled, at least within the Soviet bloc.
Yeah I mean, the Stalinist soviet constitution was hailed as the most democratic constitution imaginable. But I am sure by the 80s, the Soviets know all too well about their failures.

It's impossible to make the soviet system more democratic without rocking the boat so much because the system has a fundamental flaw, one that goes back all the way to the revolutionary days. The vanguard party doctrine set up the USSR for a party elite that would eventually become the nomenklatura.
Old hard-core Brezhnevite moderates like Chernenko were opposed to Gorbachev's goals, because they saw that he was a radical. But for those who weren't so moderate and either tended liberal or tended hardliner, Gorbachev's goals had good support. So people knew and supported Gorbachev's goals. What surprised people, and even surprised Gorbachev himself, was just how much of an idealist he turned out to be. He was not a man who was afraid of rocking the boat to get closer to what he thought should be.

By contrast, I can't imagine Ligachev ending things like the Party monopoly in selecting candidates for elections. For 1980, that's hardly an anti-liberal position, Khrushchev hadn't done such a thing either. But Gorbachev, with his mix of idealism and ruthlessness towards those he considered to be in his way, was just willing to go much further.
I forgot to elaborate on definitions - when I say liberal, I mean in the capitalist ideology sense. Gorbachev followed similar currents to that - more democratic elections are of course part of the ideology, but so is privatizing the economy and all the hardships that come with that. Being moderate in this context, therefore means that you are willing to implement reforms in a more gradual manner. Being a radical means you want to do it fast.
Oh, a continuing N-1 program changes so many subtle interactions. For example, with Buran being designed as a payload for the N-1, the Buran program isn't held back by the delays and exploding costs of the engines - especially the RD-170, so it comes in on time and on budget, giving the Soviets equivalent space capabilities to the US by the early 80s. That means the paranoid space militarists have less to worry about in the USSR. Instead they can go on the offensive. Launching stations like Polyus as soon as it is clear that Reagan is serious about the Star Wars guff to bluff the Americans (assuming Reagan is even prez of course) and assuming the whole thing doesn't lead to a nuclear war, the Soviets have more reasons to think that they are either level with or overtaking the US. Add that to the other indicators that things were going well (the KGB foreign branch for example thought the Soviets were actually winning) and there's less pressure to push reforms so rapidly or to try as many doveish strategies to control Cold War tensions.

With more development work going into the NK-33 and with the factory needing to produce the engine in large numbers, cost per unit is going to be driven down, making it the logical engine for whatever the Soviets replace the Soyuz and Proton with (probably Zenit as OTL). Again, this replacement medium lift vehicle would not be delayed by the RD-170 project, meaning the Soviet military can launch more and better surveillance systems into orbit during the 80s. That better surveillance and lift capacity would add to the sense that the Soviets are managing to keep level or were overtaking the US.

Also, no ballooning budget for Glushko's fancy-pants engines mean the resources spent there can be spent on other things. Like maybe nuclear reactor safety, or maybe better military hardware, or maybe cool space missions that electrify the space geeks of the Soviet bloc and bind them closer to the Party.

Mind you, these changes aren't certain to do any specific change. They will just change things, and various actors will interpret those changes in their own way, which might lead to either better or worse choices by those actors.
I figured it had to do something with the military and star wars, but none of those will lead to Gorbachev going a different way. Perhaps Gorbachev will be a bit more reluctant to pull out of Afghanistan seeing as he might think his military is just that a bit better.

But the conditions are still there - you're spending too much on the military, you just had to import western grain for bad harvests, your people have low morale and don't have great discipline, and you're using planning methods that are outdated by 50-60 years. Gorbachev does not know how to deal with all of those in a non-liberal context, and therefore collapse is likely. Raisa Gorbachev is still there so he will be pretty lenient on Boris Yeltsin, the pro-separatist radicals and just like OTL, the soviet union will still collapse.

To the best of my knowledge, those are the factors, or at least most of them. How will a slightly better military, or a space industry change all of that? Is a change in date of death of a few months, going to be significant?

OK, you might have Boris Yeltsin drink a little more, which may just be the thing you need to him to go under six feet of dirt under once and for all. That will lead to a Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics, at least.
Personally, I find space timelines tend to fall into either the camp of "USSR is reinvigorated through the power of space science!" or "USSR falls in the very same year as OTL since despite being 20 years from the PoD it is clear that destiny is real". It would be pretty fun to see a space-focused TL where the Soviets either collapsed early, or collapsed late. But I can understand why @nixonshead isn't doing either here (or appears to not be doing either), since the collapse of the USSR was an extremely complex series of events and this is a TL about the cool space stuff. I think it is perfectly reasonable to say "there's no direct link between A and B, so I will keep thing B the same as OTL even though I have changed A greatly". Real history is absurdly complicated, all AH is going to fall short of how weird and wonderful it is.
indeed
 
Personally, I find space timelines tend to fall into either the camp of "USSR is reinvigorated through the power of space science!" or "USSR falls in the very same year as OTL since despite being 20 years from the PoD it is clear that destiny is real". It would be pretty fun to see a space-focused TL where the Soviets either collapsed early, or collapsed late. But I can understand why @nixonshead isn't doing either here (or appears to not be doing either), since the collapse of the USSR was an extremely complex series of events and this is a TL about the cool space stuff. I think it is perfectly reasonable to say "there's no direct link between A and B, so I will keep thing B the same as OTL even though I have changed A greatly". Real history is absurdly complicated, all AH is going to fall short of how weird and wonderful it is.
Also, it's worth pointing out (as he did earlier in the thread!) that Nixonshead already did "the Soviets collapsed late" for The Snow Flies, though that was more to set up the space aspects of the TL than as a result of them. He explicitly said earlier that he doesn't want to do that again...
 
Also, it's worth pointing out (as he did earlier in the thread!) that Nixonshead already did "the Soviets collapsed late" for The Snow Flies, though that was more to set up the space aspects of the TL than as a result of them. He explicitly said earlier that he doesn't want to do that again...
I thought the USSR didn’t collapse in that timeline.
 
Also, it's worth pointing out (as he did earlier in the thread!) that Nixonshead already did "the Soviets collapsed late" for The Snow Flies, though that was more to set up the space aspects of the TL than as a result of them. He explicitly said earlier that he doesn't want to do that again...
If I remember correctly the Soviets of that timeline were basically made up of the Russia SSR (self-explanatory), Central Asian SSR's (obviously needed for the Baikonur Cosmodrome and Buran-Energia to be funded) and lastly the Ukraine SSR (in order to not derail the entire program with missing critical infrastructure and the An-225 Mriya).

Other "less important" SSR's such as Belarus, Caucuses (Georgia SSR not included) were probably part of the USSR in that timeline.

That was the ideal scenario that @nixonshead had created to save the Buran-Energia from the OTL fate :(.

ss-170516-one-time-use-buran-mn-01.jpg


Although if I remember correctly the Buran Shuttle program was murdered by a Columbia like disaster for reasons I still don't know for in that timeline and the Buran itself never escaped the OTL fate of getting destroyed :(.
 
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Also, it's worth pointing out (as he did earlier in the thread!) that Nixonshead already did "the Soviets collapsed late" for The Snow Flies, though that was more to set up the space aspects of the TL than as a result of them. He explicitly said earlier that he doesn't want to do that again...

I hadn't read that far when I wrote that.

for a party elite that would eventually become the nomenklatura.

The nomenklatura were almost always Party members, but not all Party members were nomenklatura. Nomenklatura isn't another term for Party members - it is a term for the bureaucrat class, whose rise the Communists were really upset about. I don't think that Lenin's vanguardism - as un-socialist as the idea was - was the reason for the rise of the nomenklatura. Rather the need to win the Civil War was the proximate reason, and had the civil war not forced the Bolsheviks to re-build the Tsarist war-economy, the need to maintain some kind of state would have made some kind of bureaucracy necessary, though laying the foundations themselves might have at least led to a less corrupt bureaucracy.

I forgot to elaborate on definitions - when I say liberal, I mean in the capitalist ideology sense. Gorbachev followed similar currents to that - more democratic elections are of course part of the ideology, but so is privatizing the economy and all the hardships that come with that. Being moderate in this context, therefore means that you are willing to implement reforms in a more gradual manner. Being a radical means you want to do it fast.

Well... By those definitions there were no liberals at all in Soviet politics and the people considered moderates at the time would no longer be called moderates.

But the conditions are still there - you're spending too much on the military, you just had to import western grain for bad harvests, your people have low morale and don't have great discipline, and you're using planning methods that are outdated by 50-60 years. Gorbachev does not know how to deal with all of those in a non-liberal context, and therefore collapse is likely.

Eh. They would have been better if they hadn't been spending so much on the military, but military spending is _enormously_ overstated so often for political reasons (by the Soviets because it let them blame the US for failings that were their own, by the US because the hawks wanted the US to spend even more money on their own military). Yes, they needed to import grain, but they needed to import grain because they had an over-developed meat and dairy industry that wasn't efficiently run. Soviet planning methods had in fact changed greatly over the history of the Soviet Union. And Gorbachev knew lots of ways to deal with these problems that weren't what you call "liberal" - he just got impatient because when he did reforms that worked, they weren't working fast enough, so then he tried to accelerate things.

So... All the conditions you are talking about existed, but you are overstating them. What you mention are mostly things that had either been true for decades, or were getting better. As such, if any of them somehow caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, you have to explain why they didn't cause the collapse of the Soviet Union before 1991.

To the best of my knowledge, those are the factors, or at least most of them. How will a slightly better military, or a space industry change all of that? Is a change in date of death of a few months, going to be significant?

You're misunderstanding why the Soviet Union fell. It's fall was fundamentally a political event caused by bad choices. The many problems that caused Gorbachev and his allies to make their bad choices were real problems, yes, but they were problems that at worst would have lead to a slow decline of Soviet power relative to American power, not a complete collapse. Nothing forced Gorbachev to make the choices he did. Collapse was a choice, made by accident, not some iron destiny.

By destroying his own base of legitimacy, by sending the economy into freefall by allowing enterprise managers to gut factories and turn their workers into slaves, Gorbachev was dynamiting the floor he was standing on. And the thing is, it came VERY close to working almost entirely as intended. A few subtle changes to who is running what office and who was elected to which parliament changes the events of 1991 radically.

Something that does more than that, and changes how the Soviets and Americans feel the Cold War is going could have much more than mere subtle impacts. Change the politics, you change the political choices people opt for next. Now, changes might be better than OTL, or they might cancel out, or things will change, but not for the better. The point I am making here, is what really matters is the choices people make.

fasquardon
 
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The nomenklatura were almost always Party members, but not all Party members were nomenklatura. Nomenklatura isn't another term for Party members - it is a term for the bureaucrat class, whose rise the Communists were really upset about. I don't think that Lenin's vanguardism - as un-socialist as the idea was - was the reason for the rise of the nomenklatura. Rather the need to win the Civil War was the proximate reason, and had the civil war not forced the Bolsheviks to re-build the Tsarist war-economy, the need to maintain some kind of state would have made some kind of bureaucracy necessary, though laying the foundations themselves might have at least led to a less corrupt bureaucracy.
I suppose the more important thing here is that the Vanguard party doctrine set up ideology so that it encouraged bureaucratization. By putting the party over the people, you've established a precedent for ignoring the people and creating an elite class.

Rebuilding and needing a state to maintain order does not in and of itself always lead to some kind of bureaucracy. Indeed, the USSR might be somewhat healthier if it weren't for Stalin and how he affected the government, so I believe I committed a mistake therein simplifying the reason to just the Party. As with many things, causes are often multiple reasons in combination.

Well... By those definitions there were no liberals at all in Soviet politics and the people considered moderates at the time would no longer be called moderates.
The liberals are far and few between, but that doesn't mean they are nonexistent. I'd like to again point at Gorbachev. Boris Yeltsin is also an example, and I'd count in his supporters too.
Eh. They would have been better if they hadn't been spending so much on the military, but military spending is _enormously_ overstated so often for political reasons (by the Soviets because it let them blame the US for failings that were their own, by the US because the hawks wanted the US to spend even more money on their own military). Yes, they needed to import grain, but they needed to import grain because they had an over-developed meat and dairy industry that wasn't efficiently run. Soviet planning methods had in fact changed greatly over the history of the Soviet Union. And Gorbachev knew lots of ways to deal with these problems that weren't what you call "liberal" - he just got impatient because when he did reforms that worked, they weren't working fast enough, so then he tried to accelerate things.
the bad grain harvests => bad grain exports => having to buy cheaper machines from the west => lowered efficiency overall

Soviet planning did not change from material balances as far as I could tell, probably until the late 70s or never. There was resistance to the input-output analysis method because Wassily Leontief was seen as a bourgeois economist that should not be trusted. There were plans to change up the planning of the USSR (OGAS, cybernetic socialism) but due to initial resistance; disagreements on how it'd be implemented, that didn't really get have a chance until the 80s, and by then it was killed by the liberals (Gorbachev dismissed the predictions of computer modeling that economic liberal reforms would destroy the economy).

So... All the conditions you are talking about existed, but you are overstating them. What you mention are mostly things that had either been true for decades, or were getting better. As such, if any of them somehow caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, you have to explain why they didn't cause the collapse of the Soviet Union before 1991.
Things don't always immediately lead to collapse. On their own, none of those would ever lead to the collapse of the USSR. But it was a combination of multiple factors, the ones I mentioned that led to that, over a period of time. I forgot to mention that the USSR was also building new infrastructure to replace the stuff they built in the Urals, which cost the USSR a lot of money since it was already operating at full capacity and was based on capital-intensive expansion. I don't know enough about the USSR to say if that is true or not, but if you know anything about it I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.
You're misunderstanding why the Soviet Union fell. It's fall was fundamentally a political event caused by bad choices. The many problems that caused Gorbachev and his allies to make their bad choices were real problems, yes, but they were problems that at worst would have lead to a slow decline of Soviet power relative to American power, not a complete collapse. Nothing forced Gorbachev to make the choices he did. Collapse was a choice, made by accident, not some iron destiny.
I actually kind of agree with you - all those factors will certainly lead to a major decrease in Soviet power. But the rise of liberalism can be attributed to dissatisfaction with the old system, which brought about the traditionalists and separatists. With Yeltsin getting as much power as he did, all those factions will lead to the collapse of the USSR. It's not an iron destiny, I certainly don't believe in a 100% certain fate. But I'd say it has a very good chance of coming out true, in my opinion.

By destroying his own base of legitimacy, by sending the economy into freefall by allowing enterprise managers to gut factories and turn their workers into slaves, Gorbachev was dynamiting the floor he was standing on. And the thing is, it came VERY close to working almost entirely as intended. A few subtle changes to who is running what office and who was elected to which parliament changes the events of 1991 radically.
If you want the USSR to remain as a political entity, it is much easier... But if you want to keep it at the same height, or higher, to create a healthy and functioning country it will be more difficult. You will need something on the scale of the Cultural Revolution for that
 
Indeed, @nixonshead has really outdone himself this time!

The ASAT missile test was also interesting to read about, though I have to wonder how often something worth wrecking would actually approach to within 100 km, even in a wartime scenario.

I have the impression that IOTL Shield 2 was more a proof-of-concept than an operational weapon, and that is definitely the case ITTL. Also, don’t forget the Soviets already have their Polet co-orbital ASAT in operations (as mentioned in Post 4).

Sounds like they're learning that Manned Military Platforms aren't really worth the added expense and complexity when unmanned systems can do the job just as well - kinda like OTL if I remember right.

But one major provocative move made there, there will be consequences - exactly what they'll be though...

Better results with the second of the Zayra 2 Station, and some good progress with TKS as well. And with both under Glushko's Watch (at the time of completion/launch), I suspect this'll play into convincing him that his methods work.

I accelerated the TKS timeline a little compared with OTL. This is a function both of greater focus on Almaz Phase 2, due to a lack of Salyut, and Glushko running the programme instead of the notoriously slow Chelomei.

TKS flies! Still worried about launching crews on Proton though.

Glushko has plans to phase out Proton with a kerolox alternative, based on his RLA architecture, but for now it’s Protons. As Michel Van pointed out, they had a pretty good record at this point IOTL, and had been designed for crewed launches as part of the L1 Zond programme.

I thought the USSR didn’t collapse in that timeline.

If I remember correctly the Soviets of that timeline were basically made up of the Russia SSR (self-explanatory), Central Asian SSR's (obviously needed for the Baikonur Cosmodrome and Buran-Energia to be funded) and lastly the Ukraine SSR (in order to not derail the entire program with missing critical infrastructure and the An-225 Mriya).

Other "less important" SSR's such as Belarus, Caucuses (Georgia SSR not included) were probably part of the USSR in that timeline.

That was the ideal scenario that @nixonshead had created to save the Buran-Energia from the OTL fate :(.

Although if I remember correctly the Buran Shuttle program was murdered by a Columbia like disaster for reasons I still don't know for in that timeline and the Buran itself never escaped the OTL fate of getting destroyed :(.

In The Snow Flies, an earlier coup (1990, before elections in the Republics) led to a short-lived ‘traditionalist’ government, followed by a liberalisation and reorganisation of the USSR under President Nazarbayev. The USSR survives into the 21st century, but is more decentralised and has a more liberalised economy. It basically goes from the Grobachev era to a Putin/Orban style “illiberal democracy” without the Yeltsin period in between (partly because I killed Yeltsin), and with a greater degree of autonomy for the Republics. I didn’t explicitly state in the timeline which republics remained in the USSR, but in my mind the Baltic states left in the early ‘90s (they are explicitly stated as being formal members in May 1991, but don’t send anyone to that year’s CPSU Congress), probably joined by Moldova and maybe the transcaucasian republics. The four “nuclear republics” of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan all remained in the Union.

But I won’t be doing that again :)
 
Interlude : Seven Minutes New

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Interlude : Seven Minutes​


Ivan Smirnov watched his instruments show the descent stage entering the planet’s upper atmosphere. Grasping the heavy headphones to his ears, he stared at the oscilloscope screen in front of him, waiting. The hisses and pops of random radio noise were all he could hear, with correspondingly shallow peaks and troughs on the display. Less than a minute ago, the steady ‘beep-beep-beep’ of the Mars 9 probe had stuttered and vanished as the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere was heated to a radio opaque plasma around the entry vehicle. If all went well, the next signal from the probe would come from about 10km above the surface, as the plasma sheath dissipated and the parachutes deployed. But a lot of things had to go right before that could happen.

One minute

The old control centre at Yevpatoriya was hushed as everyone waited. Around the large table at the centre of the room, the VIPs sat and chain smoked, nervously awaiting the news from space. Georgy Babakin, the Chief Designer for NPO Lavochkin and mastermind of the Mars 4NM mission, sat next to Anatoli Alexandrov, the president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, staring at the television screen showing the last received status of the probe, looking nervous. As well he might. The USSR’s track record for Mars probes was not an impressive one: of thirteen attempted missions, none had been completely successful.

Two minutes

The probe should be approaching peak deceleration now. Telemetry indicated that the delicate petals of its aero-shield had deployed as planned before entry. If any of those moving parts had failed to lock into place it would spell doom for the mission. But the system had been tested on suborbital ballistic missions and on one re-entry from an elliptical Earth orbit. It worked, at least in Earth’s upper atmosphere. But that had been without an eight month soak in the vacuum of deep space, and those petals looked awfully delicate.

Three minutes

Ivan’s mind went back to the previous mission, Mars 8. He’d worked on that mission too, on the flight dynamics team, refining Mars capture procedures. Mars 8 had failed long before it had the chance to validate those procedures, the victim of faulty electronics shortly after departing the Earth, but Ivan had been able to use his old calculations as a starting point for Mars 9’s mission. So far, events had proved his calculations to be accurate, with the spacecraft hitting the middle of its entry window. That should be enough to avoid the probe burning up in the atmosphere, or skipping back off into space, but only time would tell.

Four minutes

A signal! Ivan’s oscilloscope traced a peak, then another, as the familiar “beep-beep” warbled uncertainly through his headphones. Cheers went up around the control room, but were swiftly silenced by Babakin’s waved arm. On Mars, this event was already twenty minutes in the past, but here in Crimea the assembled scientists and engineers still leaned in towards their monitors, as if trying to physically pull the data across interplanetary space. Now the first doppler analysis from the signal was coming through - and look! A spike! That was the parachute deployment and the aeroshell separating, exactly according to plan!

Five minutes

The next indicator to come on, according to the timeline in Ivan’s flight operations manual, should be for radar lock. Bandwidth on this low gain channel was severely restricted, meaning they would not be able to have a second-by-second read-out of the probe’s altitude, just a binary lock/no lock signal, triggered by a change in the frequency of beeps on the carrier signal. The radar was based on the unit developed for the old LK moon lander, and performed the same function, triggering the descent module’s retro-rockets for a final soft landing on the surface. Without a radar lock, the rockets would instead be fired by an automatic timer. If the mission planners were correct in guessing how high Mars 9 would be at a given moment, then that should be sufficient. But if they were wrong by more than a few percent…

Six minutes

Still no radar lock signal. What was wrong? Ivan’s mind raced through fault-tree analyses as his eyes remained locked on his screen. Had the radar unit failed? Possible, though there was a redundant unit for this mission critical component. Maybe the radio relay was down? But they were still getting acceleration data through on the adjacent channel. Maybe some atmospheric or surface effect on Mars was dissipating the radar signal, preventing a lock? That was possible. There was still so much they didn’t know about the Red Planet, with only the twin American Viking landers two years earlier providing any surface data. Well, that plus a few seconds of garbled transmission before Mars 3 had gone silent.

Seven minutes

There was a shout from another console as the tone of the carrier changed again: “Parachutes detached! Retro-rocket ignition!” Ivan glanced quickly across the telemetry feeds. There was still no indication of radar lock, but the propulsion system light was on and the doppler trace showed a jerk from the parachute release, then a steady deceleration from the rockets. Altitude… What was the altitude? Without the radar there was no way to be sure. Did the rockets have enough time to slow the probe to a soft landing? Or were they too high, and the rockets would keep firing until their fuel was expended, dropping their delicate cargo from dozens or hundreds of metres above the sands? What would happen - No, what had already happened - in the skies above that cold, red desert?

Contact light!


.
.
.


Sol 1

Ten minutes after landing, the Mars 9 “Marsokhod” rover unfurled its high gain antenna and pointed it towards a nondescript patch of salmon-pink sky. Circuits closed within the metal body of the probe, and a radio signal was beamed towards its waiting masters on Earth with a simple message: “I am here”.

Around the rover lay the dented carcass of the descent stage. The force of a harder than expected landing had damaged the bottom of the stage and punctured a propellant tank, which had shot away from the rest of the spacecraft, taking the low gain antenna with it. The ramps meant to grant the rover access to the surface were twisted and useless. Not that it would have mattered, as three of the rover’s wheels were themselves a crumpled mess. Still, its instruments were working, its cameras were active, and so its simple electronic brain was determined to carry out as much of its mission as possible. The first step in that mission was to let Earth know: “I am here”.

On Earth, Ivan Smirnov watched his instruments show the descent stage entering the planet’s upper atmosphere. At that same moment (if such a thing can be said to exist in an Einsteinian universe), Mars 9 sat patiently on the surface of Mars, waiting for Ivan to hear its call.

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The liberals are far and few between, but that doesn't mean they are nonexistent. I'd like to again point at Gorbachev. Boris Yeltsin is also an example, and I'd count in his supporters too.

In a large country there were surely some people who actually met your criteria as liberals. But most people didn't, especially not before 1985. Gorbachev, Yeltsin and famous liberal advisors did not start out as liberals. They became more liberal (and some became actual ideological capital L liberals) under the conditions of Gorbachev's rule.

I actually kind of agree with you - all those factors will certainly lead to a major decrease in Soviet power. But the rise of liberalism can be attributed to dissatisfaction with the old system, which brought about the traditionalists and separatists. With Yeltsin getting as much power as he did, all those factions will lead to the collapse of the USSR. It's not an iron destiny, I certainly don't believe in a 100% certain fate. But I'd say it has a very good chance of coming out true, in my opinion.

The thing is, the Yeltsin-era liberalism was a product of the Gorbachev era. Before that, the Soviets were looking at their European satellites and to a lesser extent China and feeling that they were being left behind. That they needed to get better at Socialism. When you go back and read diaries and talk to people who lived during the era, the unease that was growing among the younger generation during the late 70s and early 80s was that Hungary and Poland were outperforming them and that Brezhnev and the other old men were letting them down. They were thinking "maybe we should try the more liberal style of Socialism practiced in these other countries" not that "we should institute market capitalism".

I don't think the development from "we should get better at socialism" to "we should adopt social democracy" to "we should cut the breaks and try to become as much like the Americans as we can" was at all inevitable, especially since even under Yeltsin, there were very few people who were actual liberals. Rather, I think the development occurred in just a few years under specific conditions, and different conditions would lead to different (though perhaps similar, depending on how similar the conditions were) ideas developing.

There were plans to change up the planning of the USSR (OGAS, cybernetic socialism) but due to initial resistance; disagreements on how it'd be implemented, that didn't really get have a chance until the 80s, and by then it was killed by the liberals (Gorbachev dismissed the predictions of computer modeling that economic liberal reforms would destroy the economy).

Quite fairly, really. The Soviet Union didn't have the electronics industry required to implement OGAS, and if they'd tried and put a large effort into building out such a capacity, it would have taken about 20 years to implement and the systems would have been obsolete within a couple of years of starting, so decades obsolete by the time it was fully rolled out.

There were other ideas about how to shake up the planning system, and since the Stalin years, power had shifted several times. Mostly these changes only made the planning system worse, not so much because everyone was trying bad ideas, but simply because reforms were implemented in too little time to actually bed in or because compromises at the top meant that instead of sticking with the old way or making major changes, instead half an idea would be implemented. This all increased the amount of confusion and got in the way of effective planning. On top of this Khrushchev and Brezhnev both decentralized power away from the planners and towards enterprise managers both by official policy and also by accident. For example, Brezhnev allowed enterprise managers to stay in their jobs longer, which allowed them to build extensive local political power bases beyond anything possible during the Stalin or Khrushchev years. Since enterprises were also in charge of housing their workers and providing other such basic services, enterprise managers had significant of leverage to change plans, and could call GOSPLAN or call their political friends and say "well, this plan is rather unreasonable. to install these new tools I'd need to stop the factory for the next 8 months, and if we aren't producing for 8 months I won't be able to guarantee that I'll be able to keep all of my workers housed, please my friend, can't you change the goal a bit so there isn't a crisis here with unhoused workers?"

The main problem with the planning system was that it never broke from Stalinist ideas of how to measure and reward output. This wasn't for lack of trying - Kosygin notably had tried to shift the Soviets towards a system where each enterprise was measured by how much value they added, but Brezhnev watered down the reforms and there are arguments about whether Kosygin had the right approach to achieving that useful goal anyway (some of the authors I've read have been very scathing about the details of Kosygin's original proposals, but none have ever gone into detail about what was wrong with Kosygin's original plan). In any case, the final result was an over-complicated set of goals that everyone just ignored, so even though Stalinist goals to produce more regardless of cost or quantity were no longer the written rule, they continued to be the custom.

So changes were happening that effected how the planning system worked, though whether they did any good is debatable. Also, there were alternatives between Brezhnev-era planning, cybernetic socialism and full market liberalism that would have made things better.

Things don't always immediately lead to collapse. On their own, none of those would ever lead to the collapse of the USSR. But it was a combination of multiple factors, the ones I mentioned that led to that, over a period of time. I forgot to mention that the USSR was also building new infrastructure to replace the stuff they built in the Urals, which cost the USSR a lot of money since it was already operating at full capacity and was based on capital-intensive expansion. I don't know enough about the USSR to say if that is true or not, but if you know anything about it I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

The Soviets indeed over-invested in minor cities and developing resource extraction in Siberia and then moving the resources by train to where the old factories were (shipping coal from Siberia to the Donbas steel mills was a huge stress on the rail network and a major cost - indeed, before 1985 pretty much all of the decline in overall productivity growth in the USSR was the steel industry becoming less productive as the coal and iron ore deposits in the western Soviet Union grew less economical and Siberian sources were developed to replace them).

On top of that, the Soviets cheaped out on development during the Brezhnev years by trying to upgrade existing factories with new tools - this failed because to stop a factory to change the tooling meant the enterprise manager would loose his bonus for the period the enterprise wasn't producing due to upgrades going on, and because in many cases the new tools couldn't even fit in the old buildings. So when the Soviet Union fell, people would go on factory tours and see a bunch of tooling from the 1950s, while tooling that was only about a decade old was piled in some old shed out back.

And one of the deepest rooted economic problems in the Soviet Union was its addiction to capital investments. The systemic failure to properly account for the value added to the economy by the service sector (which is not a uniquely Soviet problem - it exists in a less severe form in Western Capitalism) led to lop-sided growth, where investments in productive capital would produce larger economic surpluses, and the lions share of those surpluses would be plowed back into yet more capital investment. This resulted in an ever larger portion of the economy being devoted to building factories, railroads, streets, nuclear reactors and so on. This resulted in much necessary work getting done - the development of the Siberian oil and gas industry was useful, as was the construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline - but at the costs of even more necessary work getting done, like shortages of plumbers, electricians and removals men who could help people turn the concrete boxes of new-built housing into actual homes more efficiently. From start to end, capital investment consumed more and more of Soviet GNP every year. It was kind of like a cancer that laid golden eggs.

If you want the USSR to remain as a political entity, it is much easier... But if you want to keep it at the same height, or higher, to create a healthy and functioning country it will be more difficult. You will need something on the scale of the Cultural Revolution for that

For sure. This conversation started with a discussion about how likely Soviet collapse was though. Giant-sized North Korea and a Soviet Union that successfully reforms but has economic growth on par with post 1990 Japan might both be considered to be failures as far as "keeping the USSR at the same height", but to my mind are also forms of Soviet survival.

All empires must fall one day, all nations must in time be forgotten as they are replaced by new identities. The Soviet Union could never be immortal, but I don't think it had to die in 1991. Whether or not its destiny after 1991 were happy or not is a separate question.

It basically goes from the Grobachev era to a Putin/Orban style “illiberal democracy” without the Yeltsin period in between (partly because I killed Yeltsin)

Eh, I would say that Yeltsin was also an illiberal democrat. Remember, this is a guy who held power because he turned tanks onto the Russian parliament and hand-picked Putin as his successor.

On another note... @nixonshead, I may have an idea of why your choice of PoD appealed to me so much! Came across that old thread of mine while researching another aerospace WI.

fasquardon
 
Ten minutes after landing, the Mars 9 “Marsokhod” rover unfurled its high gain antenna and pointed it towards a nondescript patch of salmon-pink sky. Circuits closed within the metal body of the probe, and a radio signal was beamed towards its waiting masters on Earth with a simple message: “I am here”.

Around the rover lay the dented carcass of the descent stage. The force of a harder than expected landing had damaged the bottom of the stage and punctured a propellant tank, which had shot away from the rest of the spacecraft, taking the low gain antenna with it. The ramps meant to grant the rover access to the surface were twisted and useless. Not that it would have mattered, as three of the rover’s six wheels were themselves a crumpled mess. Still, its instruments were working, its cameras were active, and so its simple electronic brain was determined to carry out as much of its mission as possible. The first step in that mission was to let Earth know: “I am here”.

On Earth, Ivan Smirnov watched his instruments show the descent stage entering the planet’s upper atmosphere. At that same moment (if such a thing can be said to exist in an Einsteinian universe), Mars 9 sat patiently on the surface of Mars, waiting for Ivan to hear its call.

Ok so less of a rover, more of a lander but they've finally broken the curse and have landed something on Mars that is communicating. It's not going to produce much science but it should be able to take some pretty pictures.
 
In a large country there were surely some people who actually met your criteria as liberals. But most people didn't, especially not before 1985. Gorbachev, Yeltsin and famous liberal advisors did not start out as liberals. They became more liberal (and some became actual ideological capital L liberals) under the conditions of Gorbachev's rule.
The thing is, the Yeltsin-era liberalism was a product of the Gorbachev era. Before that, the Soviets were looking at their European satellites and to a lesser extent China and feeling that they were being left behind. That they needed to get better at Socialism. When you go back and read diaries and talk to people who lived during the era, the unease that was growing among the younger generation during the late 70s and early 80s was that Hungary and Poland were outperforming them and that Brezhnev and the other old men were letting them down. They were thinking "maybe we should try the more liberal style of Socialism practiced in these other countries" not that "we should institute market capitalism".
So liberalism developed later on, but what specifically led to that? I'd be interested in investigating that further, so if you would cite sources in your reply that would be appreciated.
I don't think the development from "we should get better at socialism" to "we should adopt social democracy" to "we should cut the breaks and try to become as much like the Americans as we can" was at all inevitable, especially since even under Yeltsin, there were very few people who were actual liberals. Rather, I think the development occurred in just a few years under specific conditions, and different conditions would lead to different (though perhaps similar, depending on how similar the conditions were) ideas developing.
Yeah, most of the post-August USSR was still communist but the distribution of liberals and communists is different in the government.
Quite fairly, really. The Soviet Union didn't have the electronics industry required to implement OGAS, and if they'd tried and put a large effort into building out such a capacity, it would have taken about 20 years to implement and the systems would have been obsolete within a couple of years of starting, so decades obsolete by the time it was fully rolled out.
The main architect of OGAS was too ambitious in my opinion. A USSR that did cybernetic socialist reforms would likely do it gradually, but a lot of the recovery early on will already come from cutting out the nomenklatura and reforming the planning process.
So changes were happening that effected how the planning system worked, though whether they did any good is debatable. Also, there were alternatives between Brezhnev-era planning, cybernetic socialism and full market liberalism that would have made things better.
I would be interested in hearing more about those alternatives!
The Soviets indeed over-invested in minor cities and developing resource extraction in Siberia and then moving the resources by train to where the old factories were (shipping coal from Siberia to the Donbas steel mills was a huge stress on the rail network and a major cost - indeed, before 1985 pretty much all of the decline in overall productivity growth in the USSR was the steel industry becoming less productive as the coal and iron ore deposits in the western Soviet Union grew less economical and Siberian sources were developed to replace them).

On top of that, the Soviets cheaped out on development during the Brezhnev years by trying to upgrade existing factories with new tools - this failed because to stop a factory to change the tooling meant the enterprise manager would loose his bonus for the period the enterprise wasn't producing due to upgrades going on, and because in many cases the new tools couldn't even fit in the old buildings. So when the Soviet Union fell, people would go on factory tours and see a bunch of tooling from the 1950s, while tooling that was only about a decade old was piled in some old shed out back.

And one of the deepest rooted economic problems in the Soviet Union was its addiction to capital investments. The systemic failure to properly account for the value added to the economy by the service sector (which is not a uniquely Soviet problem - it exists in a less severe form in Western Capitalism) led to lop-sided growth, where investments in productive capital would produce larger economic surpluses, and the lions share of those surpluses would be plowed back into yet more capital investment. This resulted in an ever larger portion of the economy being devoted to building factories, railroads, streets, nuclear reactors and so on. This resulted in much necessary work getting done - the development of the Siberian oil and gas industry was useful, as was the construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline - but at the costs of even more necessary work getting done, like shortages of plumbers, electricians and removals men who could help people turn the concrete boxes of new-built housing into actual homes more efficiently. From start to end, capital investment consumed more and more of Soviet GNP every year. It was kind of like a cancer that laid golden eggs.
I see. I'd be interested in investigating this further too, so I'd like to ask you for citations here too.
 
So they got half a Mars Mission here? Better than before, but still a ways to go.

Based on events, I'd say that they were two primary possibilities for the partial failure:

1) Porous Ground - Such terrain I believe would soak up radar signals, keeping the landing system from achieving a lock, at least until it was too late to prevent a hard landing

2) System Fault - Given (often-times) spotty Soviet Quality Assurance, this can't be dismissed IMHO
 
Still, its instruments were working, its cameras were active, and so its simple electronic brain was determined to carry out as much of its mission as possible. The first step in that mission was to let Earth know: “I am here”.
this line gave me chills, excellent prose as always!
 
You know what they say: any landing you can walk...erm, roll...erm...well, it's sending signals at least.

Maybe a slight editing error--you say 3 of the rover's 6 wheels are crumpled, while the image depicts 8 wheels.

There's one flag the Soviets can claim here, at least: if Marsokhod has the same mass as the OTL Lunakhods, then they've put a heavier payload on Mars than Viking.

Excellent prose--I like the lines about the Einsteinian universe and the nondescript patch of sky, and the Soviet Seven Minutes of Terror are excellent too.
 
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