It has a few PODs, one being a much more brutal gilded age of capitalism in the US and its early entrance into WWI, precipitating a socialist revolution in 1915 (a la 'Reds!', more or less). While the US dissolves into civil war, the still-intact Russian Empire moves in and reoccupies Alaska (along with a number of other powers that come in to take their pound of flesh).
In 1917, the Russian Empire has its February and then Bolshevik revolution in spite of the butterflies, ITTL funded and partly organized at Comintern headquarters in Haywood City (formerly known as Chicago).
However, the reds lose this round. One of the early signs things aren't going well for Lenin & co. is that Yurovsky and friends botch the execution of the Romanovs, leaving Anastasia and Maria alive. The Czechoslovak Legion storms Ekaterinburg a few hours later and finds the Grand Duchesses clinging to life in a puddle of their and their family's blood. They both recover physically, the drunken chekists having proven pretty bad marksmen, but their minds are another story.
Fast forward to the end of 1919--the Reds have been successfully swept out of power. Wrangel has taken Moscow and Yudenich Petersburg. The Bolshevik leadership scatters. Lenin himself is killed in the shelling of Moscow. Trotsky and Zinoviev are probably the most prominent who manage to flee to Red America.
Russia is slowly reconstructed by a shaky white coalition. After three years of tumultuous interim government, it is decided to restore the Romanov as a mild constitutional monarchy. In practice, the country becomes a conservative military dictatorship under Kolchak, with saintly Maria Romanova (blind in one eye thanks to Bolshevik bullets) as a figurehead.
Back in the SCA, the socialists go on constructing their new world. Since the US had been one of 'the developed countries', in the more industrialized areas, experiments are made in transitioning directly to lower communism, abolishing money and the market. This has mixed results.
In 1925, Big Bill Haywood, guiding light of the revolution, dies. What ensues is a many way power struggle that ends with the ascension of Chairman of the Communist International Jack London to overall leadership of the SCA. London proves something of a hard driver, if effective. He oversees massive efforts at the large scale irrigation and development of the deserts in the west, in an attempt to make the SCA self-sufficient, as it is still unrecognized by many of the great powers. The project sees the deaths of many workers (many of whom are forced laborers) and provides much grist for the anti-communist propaganda mill abroad.
In 1927, Vozhd Kolchak dies mysteriously in a plane crash. Empress Maria Romanova drags her feet appointing a new Chief of Government, though the Duma moans and prods. Now 28 years old, Maria has for the most part stopped waking up screaming and the seizures have subsided. But that horrible night in the cellar at Ipatiev House have changed her irrevocably. She is a paranoid woman, seeing socialist assassins in every shadow. She has developed a rabid hatred for communists, liberals, Jews, and Americans (didn't the reds in Chicago spread the Marxist plague to Russia?). In the past few years, she has pushed heavily for rearmament, fearing a phantom Liberal-Masonic-Jewish-Communist international will soon send the armies of America, Germany, and perhaps Britain and France, marching against Holy Russia. She is beginning to chafe at the ceremonial nature of the restored monarchy, and grabs more and more at real executive power. Kolchak held her largely in check, but now he is dead.
To the horror but not surprise of many, Maria appoints Boris Brasol, former Black Hundredist, arch-reactionary, and vicious anti-semite, as Kolchak's successor. The man has few talents in the sphere of statecraft, but he confirms every one of Maria's fears and doubts for her, and heaps on some of his own. The rearmament goes ahead, the peacetime Russian Army swelling to 10,000,000 by 1932. State funds are poured into tanks, warplanes, and technical advisors from Europe, to the detriment of the consumer economy and national standards of living. Maria keeps always a hostile eye turned south of Alaska, at the den of red beasts that is America. She militarizes Alaska to the point that the entire territory becomes one great armed camp. Internally, she launches a renewed persecution against the Jewish population of the Russian Empire. Jews are barred from government positions, the military, and finally from owning wealth above a certain threshold. A 1927 pogrom near Kherson is allowed to go on for days before the gendarmes intervene.
Europe is still a basket case. Germany still lost the Great War and became an unstable republic, and is riven by spats between left, right, and everything in between. It is bordered at the south by Socialist Italy, which underwent her own successful revolution in the last months of the war, but represents a milder breed as against that in America.
In July 1928, a disputed election plunges Germany into civil war between the left-wing Spartakists and the rightist 'Steel Helmets'. The SCA supports the Spartakists with weaponry, funds, and advisors. Russia leaps into the fray and does the same for the right, despite the pleas by Maria's advisors to do otherwise. Even Brasol urges against it, but is overruled. It soon becomes clear there is no more power behind the throne, and that Empress Maria is intent on a revival of the Romanov Autocracy. The civil war ends in a leftist victory in March 1930, and the establishment of the German Social Republic, which affiliates itself with the Communist International. Empress Maria's paranoia intensifies, as she now has what she sees as a puppet of international jewish communism right at her doorstep, kept at bay only by the thin strip of Poland.
Upon the conclusion of the German Civil War, Maria severs what few unofficial diplomatic relations existed between Russia and the SCA. She begins blaming red American agents for most everything that goes wrong in her country. President London, for his part, is not unwilling to lay blame for the occasional factory accident or drought at the feet of 'reactionary Russian provocateurs'. Russia and the SCA become one another's bogeymen.
Terrified of socialist Germany in central Europe and America across the Bering Strait, Maria signs the Franco-Russian mutual defense pact, France similarly unnerved by a red Germany across the Rhine. This becomes known as the 'Reims Pact'. Britain meanwhile, antagonized by Russia in central Asia and on the Indian borderlands, and driven away from France by popular opinion blaming her for British involvement in the eight year Great War and the hundreds of thousands of dead British boys that resulted, signs an anti-French-Russian treaty with socialist Germany, over the protests of not a few conservatives.
In February 1931, Poland's Marshal Pilsudski dies. In ensuing months, a bloodless coup topples his built-up dictatorship and installs a democracy in its place. Though it is a mild liberal state, with Poland's socialist party holding only a few seats in the Sejm, and the communist party, none, Maria views this as proof that the Jewish communists are inching ever nearer to the Motherland. In the winter of 1931, the Russian army invades and annexes the Baltic States, to the outcry (and non-action), of the international community. Only France (under its new Action Francaise dominated government), of the western European states, defends her new ally Russia. Russian troops mass on the border with Poland. In early 1932, Poland signs a treaty with Germany, the latter promising to come to Warsaw's aid in the event of a Russian attack.
In January 1933, the Russian Foreign Ministry presents a long list of grievances to the Polish government, blaming 'Polish-American-German-British-Italian-Jewish saboteurs' for a number of outrages within Russian borders, up to and including the death of Kolchak six years earlier. It demands that Poland turn over whatever agents have been involved in such activity, and also the documents proving Polish complicity with the Communist International. Since these do not exist, Poland prepares for war.
When no answer is received, the Russian Army assaults Poland from the east on May 1, 1933, beginning the second Great War. The German People's Army surges forth to aid her Polish ally, and combined with Poland's own stout if outgunned soldiers, clashes with the Russians just east of Warsaw. Italy also joins in the fray, in support of Germany. France, honoring her pact with Russia, attacks from the west, but is halted at the Rhine. Europe descends into bloody chaos once again.
Vozhd Brasol stands in the Duma, and declares that the war against 'International Jewry' has begun. Halfway through his speech, Empress Maria, unsatisfied with the venom on his tongue, shunts him aside and finishes the speech herself.
Britain, despite her treaty with Germany, is kept out of the war by the Conservatives, who dominate Parliament. However, a December 1933 snap election brings a Labor majority to power, sympathetic to the 'anti-reactionary' struggle of Germany, Poland, and Italy. When a French ship fires on the HMS Hood, Britain declares war on Russia.
The SCA, despite the Comintern membership of Germany and Italy, and wrecked relations with Russia, does not formally intervene, but sells weaponry and supplies to the Alliance. Empress Maria is furious at the devious red dogs in Haywood City who abet her enemies and yet refuse to enter into the fray themselves.
The war in Europe rages on, with the Russian army conquering Poland and pushing on into East Prussia. In the west, the Germans have managed to throw back the French and drive towards Paris, but the Russian behemoth lumbering into Brandenburg necessitates a shifting of troops from the western to the eastern front, allowing the French to lift the siege of the capital and push the German People's Army back towards the Ardennes. Germany resists fiercely, but only the copious aid from the SCA funneled in via the Royal Navy keeps her afloat.
With Poland subdued, Germany squeezed from both sides, and Britain impotent on land, Empress Maria decides it is finally time for a reckoning with the SCA, her great bête noire. On September 9th, 1934, the Russian Army pours down from Alaska, ripping through weakly-defended British Columbia and marching down towards old California. President London's government had expected a Russian onslaught, but not this soon.
The Pacific Northwest falls almost without a fight, and it is not until the Russian Army is knocking at the Golden Gate that the Sixth Red Army under Marshal Butler is able to halt the enemy outside San Francisco. However, even this only lasts long enough for the Jewish population and communist party functionaries to be evacuated from the city. The Russian Army pushes on, rounding the southern tip of the Rockies and then fanning out to drive on the republic's capital at Haywood City.
By January 1935, the Russian invaders are advancing on the Mississippi River. President London issues his famous "every step forward" order. Prince Tukhachevsky's Third Army Group is tasked with taking New Orleans, while Volkhov in the north pushes on for St. Louis. The goal is to control the Mississippi, thus squeezing the SCA to death.
New Orleans is heavily fortified, and the cream of the Red Army from various sectors of the front are transferred here. Citizen militias are raised all along the Gulf Coast for a desperate defense of the Crescent City.
On January 14th, the residents of New Orleans awaken to hear Russian artillery booming to the west.
The hinge of fate prepares to swing.