The Caucasian Spider
1941 - 1952
It was in many ways shocking that Lavrentiy Beria, head of the Soviet Sharashka Program and head of Industry and Science would succeed Kamenev. Beria was a primarily bookish individual with a dash of arrogance and a heavy sense of sarcasm. It was expected by many in the Politburo that it would have been either Sverdlov again, or the more noteworthy SovCom Alexander Antonov that would have succeeded the spot, both being the bright spots for each of their own parties. Trotsky was only not considered because of his close friendship with the currently disgraced Kamenev, which left the running of the government to these three picks. It would take a year, but with a shocking amount of cunning, the Georgian Menshevik managed to outmaneuver or even disgrace his two elder peers, commanding the nation during what became known as the Great Eastern War and reaching the peak of Secretariat power before being ousted and disgraced from his post. Because of these things, he's a very polarizing figure in the Union today, either loved for his positive actions, or reviled for his criminal history, his heavy handedness, and his propensity to ruin others from the shadows.
Lavrenty Beria was born in Merkheuli, the second of three children from a minor Kulak family. A particularly bright child in a similar vein to Kamenev, Beria studied at Baku Polytechnium, getting degrees with plaudits in both Mathematics and in Chemistry. Were it not for the advent of the Great War and the destruction of his future, Beria would have likely gone far as an industrialist or scientist. But the war did come, and it did take much of what he had, including his older brother. This made him bitter and resentful towards the Czar, which changed his early flirtation with the Mussavists to the Mensheviks instead.
Ruthlessly ambitious, he would be assigned to manage the industries in the Caucasus and keep the oil train flowing. He also unofficially used his powers to lean on local Soviets to pick men he was amenable to, preferring a carrot and stick approach rather than his rival for the Bolsheviks Ioseb dze Jughashvili. He would subtlely ruin the former bank robber's credibility in the Bolsheviks by subtly outmaneuvering him in winning the people's minds in the Caucasus and later on planting clues that lead to him being judged insane and left in a sanitarium, and conveniently dying of a stroke five years later.
When the war was won, Zinoviev vaguely realized what a threat the Other Georgian as he called Beria could be, and decided to limit his influence by shifting him over to purely head the Department of Education and Research. He also had more capital than the ambitious Beria, so he was able to limit him more than others might have been able to. When Kamenev succeeded the chair however, this limitation came undone due to apparent faction loyalty, and it allowed Beria to use his industry ties as well as exploit dissatisfied workers to his cause, as Kamenev lacked the gift of gab Zinoviev had. By 1940, Beria had accrued much soft power, tieing with Trotsky in the Menshevik camp for how much influence both had. But due to ties to Kamenev, Beria entered the now established notion of a Troika instead of Trotsky, something the General would regret till his dying day.
It took about 300 days for Beria to get enough blackmail or win over enough support to cripple his two erstwhile companions, but it was worth it. He could assign Sverdlov in working on expanding the Siberian Rail Way and managed to put Antonov in a box. It gave him the opportunity to place people in spots he knew he could trust, regardless of party, as well as make sure that all communist nations followed Petrograd, not Berlin or Budapest. It was also just in time for the Summer Offensive laid out by Japan to smash into the East.
By this point in time, Japan finally felt they had an advantage after victories at Khalkin Gol and other skirmishes in the Mongolian theater went well in their favor. These victories, along with an amazing victory in Wuhan against the Chinese gave a needed shot in the arm for the Army Faction of Japan. The Soviets were considered to be recovering still from the Great War, and rumors of the Second Seven Year Plan going awry gave them hope that they could hit Russia hard and fast enough to force them to the table like they did in 1905. They also had the guarantee of material support from both Britain and even France for this endeavor, both terrified over the fact that Communism toppled Germany and not desiring an anti-imperialist dominant in the East. The plan was simple, overly ambitious, done on a tight budget, and utterly barmy; therefore it was considered perfect by High Command.
While this might have been sort of true if they were striking in say 1938, the issues found in Soviet Doctrine and the worst problems caused by the Second Seven Year Plan were resolved by this point. The Soviets also forged trading ties with the US and Germany as well, which gave them extra ability to industrialize with all the technical assistance they had in exchange for resources. The Japanese were able to grind into the East, but found that after taking Vladivostok and an arduous trek into Mongolia, that the Soviets were not as terrible as they were hoping. In fact, they were a monstrous steam roller that instilled agony and pain wherever they trudged. The counter offensive was slow due to the poor lines in the east (a thing Beria used to remove Sverdlov as a person of interest actually), but the Soviets with relative ease were plowing through the Japanese in spite of heavy casualties, which forced the Japanese to shift critical troops away from China to stop the great Bear
This was convenient for Beria, who had CCP head Chen Duxiu initiate the 100 Days Offensive with his PLA, which took advantage of thinning troops on the ground to great effect. By this point the UK was willing to intervene in the War, declaring with Japan and aiming to use commandos and troops to take the Caucasus and Arkangelsk like before. From there they hoped the Whites and anti-Beria men would join and provide needed support. To help ensure this would be the case, they managed to convince Finland to supporting it in exchange for territory in Karelia. What they underestimated was four things; that the Soviets have indeed attempted to make life better for the peasant, that they were much stronger than they were during the Civil War, that the well for nationalism was much drier due to Korenizatiya, and that the Soviets could and would recruit more men.
While it did drag the war into 1944, the Soviets would ultimately come out on top landwise; Finland was forced to give up Ladoga Karelia and the Peninsula, Japan lost everything on the mainland, and the Communists in China finally became the main player in the wartorn and broken nation. The problem was though that the Soviet navy had no chance at beating either of the two Island nations in the sea, and Beria knew that. This was why he resolved to create a net around Japan using primarily submarines to cripple their shipping. He also heavily bombarded the islands with his Red Airforce. He expected this, and the weakness of democratic regimes of changing leaders, would give him the victory he wanted. After two more years of this farce, Japan finally was starved into submission. This left Britain, who had no desire to fight such a war solo now that their gambit failed and Labour was in charge. They agreed to indemnities, but made a point to refuse to cede Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China, an issue that would spark war later down the line. The results of said war did result in a serious cooling of relations with the US however, due to the USSR's role in China.
Ultimately, the war placed Beria at the top of his game. He helped free China from the yoke of warlordism, he liberated Korea, and even made it so Petrograd was secure and Finland was in his shadow. He also realized now that the west could not easily prosecute a war anymore, and so began funding anti-imperialist factions in their colonies. He also began ensuring that his power never eroded by forcing out, disappearing, and weakening what he saw as potential rivals for the future.
This last act would be his undoing, as an emergency meeting between Social Revolutionaries and Bolsheviks managed to get the Politburo to indite him. The key piece of evidence came from his own protegee, Yuri Andropov. Andropov would go into heavy details about how his patron would abscond with young college girls and violate them. He also managed to point out his influence in the industrial sector and paint it as "sinfully bourgeois". Many thought this was because Beria was planning to replace Andropov with a new protegee, a Konstantin Chernenko. Be that as it may, he was sentenced to a life imprisonment in the infamous Lubyanka prison, where he would later wind up dead at the hands of Warden Batitsky, who willingly admitted to it in his own trial since his daughter was one of Beria's victims. It was obvious a new figure had to take the reins, one as divorced as from the old regime as possible. The pick was in retrospect quite obvious...