6. Russia

Russia occupies more than a quarter of the board, starts life with four units to everyone else’s three, can in theory gain more builds in 1901 than anyone else, and has the one golden advantage of being able to build fleets on both sides of the stalemate line. Russia also wins considerably more games than any other country, certainly at postal play and probably at face-to-face as well: fifty outright wins in the first 303 British postal games, well clear of second-placed Germany with thirty-four. The last American list I saw showed Russia with 121 wins out of 774, a slightly lower percentage than in Britain but still well clear of Germany (eighty-three) in second place.

So does all this mean that Diplomacy is unbalanced after all, and Russia has an unfair edge?

I don’t think so. For one thing, postal results are unrealistic in one respect: because of the higher proportion of missed deadlines, players dropping out and so on, there are going to be more easy wins than in face-to-face play, and obviously, with four neighbours, Russia stands a better chance of profiting than most from these random aberrations. It is notable that in top-class games with reliable players, Russia does slightly worse than Germany (though of course the sample is too small to prove much).

Still, Russia is a strong country no denying that. The naval access to both sides of the stalemate line is the biggest advantage, which is shared by no other country except (in some positions) France; and the ability to switch pressure from one end of the board to the other if things get bogged down is also priceless. Even so, not everything comes up roses, and it’s notable that if Russia doesn’t win he often does really badly. Russia actually comes second less frequently than any other country, and in overall ‘first two’ placings ranks only third behind France and Turkey.


The design of the map makes it appear that Russia dominates the entire playing area, with the ability to become a force anywhere except in the bottom left-hand corner. In fact this is misleading: in play terms, Russia is not much larger than any other country, and any rapid expansion in the north is extremely difficult unless England and Germany play carelessly. The two widely separated coastlines which give Russia such an advantage in the middle and end games are a serious weakness early on ; coherent action by all the Russian forces is impossible, and it has often been remarked that playing Russia is like playing two countries’, with a large area of weakness between them. Russia will stand or fall by what happens in the south early on — if things go well there, the loss of the north can be endured with equanimity, but if the south folds up the north is unlikely to offer adequate compensation.

With four neighbours, Russia looks vulnerable: but in practice only Turkey poses a severe early threat. Germany occasionally attacks, and this is certainly embarrassing when it happens, but it’s rare. Austria is almost always more concerned with defence in the early stages, and England can be a nuisance, but ultimately cannot get far. Russia’s strategic goal is to weather the first few years with a safe position in the north and an aggressive one in the south; if this can be done, yet another Russian win is in sight.


It is not usually possible for Russia to break out in strength in the north, which requires more fleets than most Russias can arrange to build. The limit of expansion in that area therefore tends to be three Scandinavian centres plus Kiel, Berlin and possibly Munich; a single fleet breakout can often add one centre to this nucleus of five or six, and the four home centres bring the total up to between nine and eleven. It is easy to see that three Turkish, three Austrian and three Balkan centres (Greece is often held against Russia from the sea) will bring up the eighteen, Russia’s greatest strength being that it is virtually never necessary to break a stalemate line once a potential winning position has been achieved.

Occasionally Russia will become very much a ‘one-ended’ country, extending to embrace Italy in the south or (more rarely) England in the north; but on the whole the target outlined above is the most likely one for a Russian win.


With four units, Russia obviously has by far the largest theoretical choice of openings. The New Statsman survey lists no less than forty-six (ignoring errors) in 541 games! No opening has a frequency of more than twenty-two per cent, and as many as nine occur two per cent of the time or more, so it is clear that Russia really does have the greatest flexibility in the first season.

We can leave out of consideration any move for the northern fleet except that to the Gulf of Bothnia: the move to Finland has surprisingly been played twenty times, presumably as some sort of sop to Germany, but it achieves nothing the normal move does not, and relinquishes control of the Baltic, which must be strategically bad. So in discussing the Russian openings I shall mention only the other three units.

The most popular opening, by a fair margin, is the Southern Defence: A(War)—Gal, A(Mos)—Ukr, F(Sev)—BLA. Like all variations involving A(Mos)—Ukr it has the obvious weakness of surrendering the north: England takes Norway unopposed and Germany may feel less apprehensive about the consequences of keeping you out of Sweden. Though the opening may result in a good attacking position in the south, it is primarily defensive in nature: you are reasonably sure to take Rumania in the autumn, since you cannot fail to have at least as many units adjacent to it as Austria and Turkey combined, but this is a rather modest ambition for Russia in 1901. More than most, the opening is ambiguous (a virtue, of course): either the move to Galicia or that to Black Sea or both may have been announced in advance to the countries they appear to be ‘attacking’; certainly the move to BLA is to be regarded as defensive even if it succeeds, the one to Galicia being more likely to annoy. For other countries looking on, the best way to interpret the opening is to see what the neighbours do: for instance if the move to Galicia succeeds and Italy moves to Tyrolia it becomes clear that Austria is being attacked. On the whole the opening can be classed as neutral towards Turkey, mildly anti-Austrian and strongly pro-English; it is fairly safe, but far too passive for my taste.

Second in the popularity stakes, inexplicably, is the Austrian Attack: moves as above but with F(Sev)—Rum. The favour shown to this opening convinces me that 16.9 per cent of Diplomacy players are insane. You could only risk this opening if you are sure that Turkey will not open to the Black Sea —and personally, I am not sure of this unless I am playing Turkey myself under an alias. If Turkey and Austria make their most popular opening moves you are in appalling trouble right away: almost certainly, your only chance of gaining a build in the south is to outguess Austria on a fifty-fifty chance which, at best, will give you an isolated army in Vienna or Budapest that cannot survive to the end of 1902. If Austria happens to open to Galicia (as he will over a quarter of the time) your position is even worse. The only consolation, a poor one, is that Germany will surely take pity on you and let you have Sweden!

If by some curious chance Turkey really meant it, and doesn’t move to BLA, you are powerfully placed to attack Austria with your surprising ally. But you will have great difficulty in a good-class game, as you will certainly be denied Sweden while Italy will rush to the defence of Austria.

Playing this opening is like playing Russian roulette with all six chambers loaded and hoping the one that comes up will be a dud shell. Not recommended.

Next, with a frequency of about one game in twelve, is the Turkish Attack: A(War)—Ukr, A(Mos)—Sev and F(Sev)—B LA. Here again you want to be sure that Turkey will not open to the Black Sea, but here you have made the right use of this surprising information. If the moves succeed you have done very well (provided Austria has not moved to Galicia). You will certainly get Rumania, and by moving A(Sev) in you enable yourself to build F(Sev), so that you cannot be evicted from the crucial Black Sea. If Austria is on your side you have a very strong position, perhaps even strong enough to compensate you for the likely failure to gain Sweden.

This opening does, however, have two distinct disadvantages : it is unequivocally anti-Turkish, making subsequent negotiations more difficult; and it is very weak if Turkey attacks you, as he usually will. So reserve this one for the occasions when you are at least ninety per cent sure Turkey is an idiot, and when you are also reasonably confident that Austria will come in on your side (quite a good way of engineering this is to agree with Italy to attack Austria, then let Italy plunge in on his own! Italy’s too far away to conduct any effective reprisals, and Austria will welcome an alliance with you while he deals with the invasion).

The fourth opening in the Russian repertoire, occurring about once every fourteen games, is the Rumanian Opening, A(War)—Ukr, A(Mos)—Sev and F(Sev)—Rum, which I give this name because, if you must play to Rumania, this is surely the way to do it. If Turkey has done what he (presumably) promised and moved the fleet westwards you have the option of stabbing him in the autumn with F(Rum)—BLA, A(Ukr) S A(Sev)—Rum, build F(Sev), though if I’m playing Turkey I can tell you now that you won’t get away with anything as basic as that. Whether or not you really intend to try this simple act of ingratitude, you should certainly tell Austria that that is your plan. Properly prepared, this is the most ambiguous of Russian openings, and hence the most flexible. You are asserting your undoubtedly strong right to Rumania and annoying no one more than you need. Your options for the autumn season are many: to name one of the best, if Turkey has agreed to move F(Con)—AES (well, there are such people, I assure you) you can simply take him out of the game with F(Rum)—Bul(ec) supported by Austrian A(Ser), A(Sev)—Rum, build F(Sev). Curtains.

If Turkey takes advantage of your naivety by opening to Black Sea and Armenia, you are in less trouble than usual. But you must defend right: it is amazing how many Russias in this position order the pathetic A(Ukr) S A(Sev) MS F(Rum), or the same mutual support with A(Ukr) S F(Rum). This is simply an attempt to outguess Turkey on a fifty-fifty basis by supporting the right unit. Much better is A(Ukr) S A(Sev)—Rum and F(Rum)—BLA: now the only way Turkey can take a centre off you without Austrian aid is by A(Arm) S F(BLA)—Sev, in which case you gain the Black Sea and cannot fail to retake Sevastopol the following season. (Rather nastier is F(BLA) C and A(Arm) S A(Bul)—Sev, but now Turkey doesn’t gain Bulgaria, so this set of moves is unlikely to prove attractive.) As in all such tactical positions, elements of bluff and double-bluff occur; but the above is objectively the best defence, since it copes with all good moves by Turkey. If you can rely on Austrian aid, of course, the defence is very easy, and it’s Turkey who’s in trouble; this is in many ways the ideal Russian opening position, as Germany will be unable to risk depriving you of Sweden (it is invariably bad for Germany if Russia fails to get a build at all in 1901). All in all, I would say that this is the second best available opening for Russia, and the best if you can rely completely on Austrian support.

The most important of the other Russian openings are the Northern Opening and its more dynamic offshoot, the Octopus. The Northern Opening is the one move A(Mos)—StP, which obviously brings in a completely new range of tactical and strategic ideas for Russia. In all its forms, the opening accounts for over twenty per cent of all Russian starts, but when it is combined with F(Sev)—BLA it changes completely in character — for this combination see the ‘Octopus’, described later.

In the Ukraine Variation Russia moves A(War)—Ukr, F(Sev)—Rum. This is the feeblest but most popular of the numerous variations including A(Mos)—StP; it is violently pro-Turkish, and leaves Russia almost entirely defenceless against a Turkish attack; while if Turkey proves to be a loyal ally Russia has given up the best chances of teaching him a salutary lesson. I’m not going to waste any time on this one — the southern moves are simply ridiculous — but prefer to consider the move A(Mos)—StP in general.

With this move Russia challenges for Norway, divides his forces equally between north and south, and takes fullest advantage of his flexible position. The move may be played with the intention of actually occupying Norway, by pre-arrangement with England; or as a generally anti-English move, forcing him to use both fleets to take Norway and thus ensuring that he cannot build more than one, and cannot make an all-out anti-Russian attack such as F(NWG)—BAR in autumn 1901. In both respects the move is entirely sound and constructive; as against that, its obvious weakness is that it leaves the south, the critical sector, rather thinly defended. This weakness is highlighted by the pathetic Ukraine Variation, which in most cases is tantamount to abandoning the south before the fighting has started.

If Russia is to move the army north at all, which is certainly desirable, he must make vigorous defensive moves in the south. The Galician Variation includes one such move — A(War)—Gal instead of —Ukr — and is that much better for it. Russia defends himself against the horrible possibility of an Austrian move to Galicia and presumably pleases Turkey, which is at least consistent with F(Sev)—Rum. If the move to Galicia succeeds there is a chance of snaffling an Austrian centre, as in the Austrian Attack. However, the opening is subject to the usual drawbacks of F(Sev)—Rum, and can be absolutely catastrophic if Turkey attacks and Austria moves to Galicia; now Rumania and Sevastopol are both lost, and the southern fleet will disappear for ever, so that one of Russia’s biggest advantages has been thrown out of the window in 1901. Still, one does not play the Northern Opening with assurance of Turkish friendship; and given that, the Galician Variation is certainly more consistent than the silly Ukraine. Mind you, I still say that if you trust Turkey that much, one of you is crazy.

At last, rather low down the popularity stakes, we come to my own favourite, the Octopus. In its most notorious form, as described by me in various articles and played by me in nearly all my games as Russia, this comprises the moves A(Mos)—StP, A(War)—Gal, F(Sev)—BLA. There is also a rather more popular Ukraine variation (with A(War)—Ukr), which I shall call the Squid (an Octopus with limp legs).

The Octopus combines the powerful A(Mos)—StP with the most violent defence possible in the south. If the very worst happens and Austria and Turkey both attack you, you have saved all your home centres, and the northern powers are likely to take fright and allow you at least one of the Scandinavian centres if not both. In autumn you ignore Rumania again, ordering A(War)—Ukr, F(Sev)—B LA, build A(War) and A(Mos), if you’re lucky, giving you a pretty solid defence.

That’s the defeatist view — preparing for the worst. In fact the real advantage of the Octopus is that neither Turkey nor Austria should take too much offence at those southern moves, as in combination they don’t represent an attack on anyone. And there are many diplomatic possibilities open.

Ideally, you would persuade both Turkey and Austria to allow the moves to succeed. Turkey in particular may as well allow you into the Black Sea, because once he knows you are going there it becomes much less attractive for him to try to attack you (a similar situation arises between France and England over the English Channel — see the Openings section of the England chapter). A stupid Turkey will argue thus: if I let you into the Black Sea and order A(Con)—Bul, F(Ank)—Con, A(Smy) stands I won’t dare to order F(Con)—AES in the autumn because that will give you a fifty-fifty chance of taking Smyrna or Ankara.’ There are two answers to this. The first is quite a nice try-on: ‘If you feel like that, why not order A(Smy)—Ank in the spring, then you can work a self-stand-off in Constantinople in the autumn.’ If Turkey says, ‘Yes, fine, why didn’t I think of that?’ you’ve got him cold; you order in the autumn F(BLA) S TURKISH A(Bul)—Con (1) while Austria moves into Bulgaria and you take Rumania ; this is much better than annihilating the Turkish army in Bulgaria, which would allow him to build F(Con). The more sensible answer to Turkey’s whining, however, is, Why would I go for a fifty-fifty guess at one of your centres when I can just take Rumania without annoying anyone?’, to which there is no answer.

If Turkey does decide to let you in, you can try to sell him every Russia’s dream plan, whereby he lets your F(B LA) into Constantinople in spring 1902. I must confess that I have never yet been allowed to do this, though I live in hope — it’s no more unreasonable than the Key Lepanto. The logic is sound enough: the greatest bar to friendly Russo-Turkish relations is the south Russian fleet. While that fleet remains in the Black Sea area, Turkey cannot safely turn his back. There are two solutions: arrange to have the fleet annihilated (which Turkey prefers); and arrange for it to break out into the Med and serve under the Turkish flag (which Russia prefers). The disadvantage is that in most positions Russia will be able to unleash a devastating stab by refusing to vacate Constantinople in autumn 1902 ! I can sympathise with Turkish players who greet this proposal with a brief and emphatic raspberry; but people agree to stranger things in this game. And if Russia goes through with the deal, the Russo-Turkish position becomes extremely strong.

By the same token, A(War)—Gal can be presented to Austria as a defensive move. The argument is similar: ‘Why should I try to outguess you over Vienna and Budapest in the autumn when I can take Rumania with no trouble?’ One point to make here is that you may run foul of the Anschluss: if Germany thinks you have attacked Austria he will probably keep you out of Sweden. There are many ways of handling this: you can get Austria to vouch for your good intentions, you can vouch for them yourself (pointing to your move to BLA as evidence), or, if you think you’re going to get Norway, you can tell Germany to get stuffed. One thing is certain: the whole position is rich in diplomatic possibilities, with endless scope for double-crossing, which makes it the perfect Russian opening for my taste.

The Ukraine move I have called the Squid has only one disadvantage visa-vis the Octopus proper, but it’s a bad one — it leaves you very vulnerable to an Austrian move to Galicia. It’s still a much better opening than most, because it guards against the major risk (Turkey). It is clearly pro-Austrian, which highlights the drawback : if Austria attacks you you’re in trouble, and if he doesn’t England and Germany may feel your prospects are too good, and deny you access to Scandinavia.

It should be clear by now that I have strong views about Russia’s best policy in the opening: defend yourself against Turkey at all costs, and try to set up a strong working alliance with Austria which must not be apparent. Do this, and you have the makings of a really excellent game.

There are three more among the myriad Russian opening systems which occur often enough to be noted, though none is very good. First there is a Galician Variation of the Rumanian Opening (A(War)—Gal, A(Mos)—Sev, F(Sev)—Rum). This is somewhat schizophrenic to my eye; it lacks the defensive merits of the Rumanian Opening proper, and generally gives the impression that you didn’t know what to expect and thought it best to be prepared for nothing.

Then there is the body of openings, rarely seen, which can be collectively described as the Livonian System. This was popular in the early days of the British hobby, after Don Turnbull advocated it in his article on Russian Strategy’ in Games & Puzzles, No. 7 – one of an influential series which brought a lot of people into the game. Don opted (with admitted misgivings) for the drastic Northern Variation of the Livonian System: A(Mos)—StP, A(War)—Liv, F(Sev)—Rum. The intention is to convoy A(Liv)—Swe in the autumn while moving A(StP)—Fin and building F(StP)(nc), then to attack England in combination with Germany, making full use of the heavy concentration of forces in the north. Brrr! All I can say is that Don can’t have had the same opponents playing Turkey that I have. I would only use this opening if I’d bought a cheap day return (not valid after p.m.). Other Livonian ideas are less dramatic, but all involve the cardinal weakness of tying down two units to the uncertain capture of Sweden, the landing of an army in which can hardly be good news for Germany, so why should he permit it?

Lastly there is the German Attack, which in various forms occurs in a surprisingly high six per cent or more of Russian games. The key move is A(War)—Sil, which is the only hundred per cent certain way of making sure you don’t get Sweden in 1901! It certainly causes Germany considerable inconvenience, but why, for Heaven’s sake, pick a fight in this potentially slow-burning area? I don’t say it’s absolutely unplayable, but it would only appeal to me in the most exceptional set of circumstances. The fact that it is most commonly combined with A(Mos)—Ukr and F(Sev)—Rum suggests ifs popular among those who don’t really understand the game.

This has been quite a long survey, necessarily, and I dare say rather confusing. A summary may be useful, if admittedly over-simplified. Always move the northern fleet to the Gulf of Bothnia. Always move the southern fleet to the Black Sea unless you are sure of Turkey’s friendship (and then move it there most of the time anyway !). Prefer to move the Moscow army north, unless you are sure that England won’t let you have Norway, in which case usually move it to Sevastopol. And usually move the Warsaw army to Galicia, unless you have decided on the Rumanian Opening, in which case Ukraine is definitely better.


Russia needs close relationships from the start with most other countries, the possible exception being France. The right handling of France is tricky – you might for instance be happy to see France attack England, but if the only result is going to be to replace a strong England with a strong France it’s hard to see that you’ve made any profit. Perhaps the optimum is to see a violent and entirely unsuccessful attack on France by England; this will give you chances of fastening onto Norway and the northern seas, while the likely victor in the western triangle will be Germany, the easiest for you to contain. So if England agrees to your overtures about Norway, and agrees to attack France, make sure France knows enough about it to defend himself. A spring 1901 stand-off in the Channel is perfect for Russia.

Apart perhaps from Germany-Austria, there is no more certain natural alliance on the board than Russia—Italy. Italy is your great hope, who alone has every reason to wish you well. Buy him drinks, listen to his marital problems, sympathize with him over the evil fate that deals such a fine player such a useless country. Because, make no mistake about it, more than half the players who draw Italy will have abandoned any thought of winning the moment they see the pathetic little green army lying in their clammy palms. And if they are interested only in survival, perhaps second place, you as Russia are their one hope.

If the Russia—Italy alliance once gets launched, it is a formidable one. Italy opens to Tyrolia and Russia to Galicia; if both moves work and Germany is not backing up Austria, the latter’s ruin is already likely. This is when Austria makes another of those early disappearances, and now Italy and Russia smash through into Turkey. Turkey can and will put up a spirited defence over a long period, but cannot hold out for ever meanwhile Italy can turn against France, Russia to the north.

The beauty of this is that Italy cannot stab Russia effectively, not being able to bring fleets to bear against the southern conquests of the Russian empire. In my first postal game as Russia, I worked the Italian alliance with deadly effect: Austria went to the wall in 1903, and Turkey, who had misconstrued my friendly letters as evidence of concern for his well being, followed in 1906. To my considerable surprise and temporary alarm, Italy stabbed me in 1908; this caught me completely off guard, as there was no conceivable reason for him to do so, and for a couple of game years I was on the defensive. But the long-term result was not in doubt: unable to back up his land advances from the sea, he over-stretched himself, and I was able to close the pincer behind his advanced armies, isolate them and quickly annihilate them. He came a bad third; had he stuck to our agreement he could not possibly have come worse than second, and with good diplomacy might have sneaked a draw, though I don’t think he could ever have hoped to win.

Italy takes one of the top two places in about twenty per cent of games – less than any other country. In a substantial proportion of those, the other place goes to Russia. Russia should certainly make every effort to secure the services of this useful and loyal puppet.

Austria is another good ally for Russia to have, though in this case the reasons that might sway Austria’s judgement are rather different. To put it at its simplest, Austria cannot survive if Turkey prospers. If Austria thinks he can use you as a stick to beat Turkey with, you are on to a good thing.

The trickiest decision Russia will have to make during a game is the extent to which he can trust Austria. A good Austria will try to play Russia and Turkey off against one another to his own profit; but when it comes to the crunch he is more likely to come down on Russia’s side. My very first game of postal Diplomacy — 1972—EK — was a case in point. I was successfully playing off the giants against each other, and having formed the opinion (the understatement of the year, as it turned out) that Russia was the more dangerous player, I had decided that when the point of no return arrived I would ally with Turkey. My agreement with Turkey was based on an amazingly naive plan (I was a novice, remember!) whereby he was never to move to the Aegean. In the last possible season of my duplicity, he broke this absurd pact; the scales fell from my eyes and I stabbed him with much venom and some efficiency. Russia and I then raced to dominate the board in very little time, though Russia always held a slight ascendancy over me. I could have forced the draw, but decided to gamble on the win; I stabbed him, and lost. This result — Russia first, Austria second, the rest nowhere — has been many times repeated. If Russia can get the southern fleet out into open waters he has a lasting initiative, and need have little fear that Austria will get the upper hand. Once Turkey has been dealt with Austria has no excuse for keeping units near southern Russia, and a growing demilitarized zone there will leave Russia free to make his victory push in the north, which he can do more rapidly and certainly than Austria can force a way west through Italy.

England may seem an unlikely ally for Russia, but the combination can be briefly effective. I have already speculated on the chances of England’s allowing Russia to dominate Scandinavia, giving Germany plenty of headaches and freeing England to attack France. The alliance strongly favours Russia, as indeed do all long-term alliances Russia may evolve. The process of building enough fleets to attack England is very slow and very obvious, but quite often England will be unable to do much about it; and should it be England that makes the faster early progress, Russia’s defences are good. The flaw of course is that Germany, who is presumably benefiting from England’s war with France, will certainly react vigorously to stop Russia locking up Scandinavia. Whatever the long-term picture, it is important that Russia does not get involved in a war with England in the far north during the early years, though this happens very frequently indeed. Ultimately this benefits no one but Germany, who will indeed strain every diplomatic sinew to bring about precisely this position, and will often succeed, as weak Englands are easily tempted by this apparently soft option. It is easy to imagine a successful long-term England—Russia alliance, with England forging southwards with fleets while Russia smashes through the centre with armies; in fact such a combination is almost unknown in postal play, though I have seen it played with moderate effect in face-to-face games, where players are less likely to consider the long view.

For Russia, Germany is the great rival. On their records they are the strongest two countries, yet games where both do well are very rare (only three recorded instances of a Russo-German 1—2, the worst Incompatibility’ record of any pair of countries except the hopeless Austria—Turkey combine). The relationship between Russia and Germany is likely to start out prickly and deteriorate rapidly.

First, no doubt, will come the argument over Sweden, an argument Russia cannot often expect to win. From 1902 onwards, everything Germany does 15 likely to be a threat to Russia — fleet moves to Baltic and Skagerrak at best, army moves to Silesia and Prussia at worst. The trouble is that Russia’s early commitment in the south is likely to give Germany an advantage in speed of development. There is no doubt about it: a good Germany can stop Russia winning nine times out of ten. All Russia can do is try for an early ‘break’ of the three-way argument in the south — prolonged ambiguous skirmishing is favourable to Austria, bad for Russia, unimportant for Turkey — and build as often as he can in Warsaw and St Petersburg. An army in Finland is a great comfort, but it’s also a luxury, and if Russia can afford it he is doing nicely. A second northern fleet is even more of a luxury and which coast to build it on? Russia’s most promising attitude to Germany is one of frank cowardice: secure Norway and Sweden if possible, and stop at that until such time as the south is sewn up and you can afford an active second front. If your help is solicited against England, you will do well to give it ostentatiously, and for choice ineffectually. Never, never relax vigilance: you can normally make it too dangerous for Germany to try an all-out attack, but the experience is rather like lion-taming: let your eyes flicker away and you’ll get your throat torn out.

It’s a relief to turn to Turkey, the last country and a straightforward one. Your relationship will normally be nice and simple, consisting of profound mutual loathing and constant heavy fighting until one of you goes under.

It was not always thus. The Russo-Turkish alliance used to be frequently seen, and well deserved its names, ‘Juggernaut’ or ‘Steamroller’. Once established, it was simply unstoppable. The reason is easily seen: freed of the threat of attack from Turkey, Russia at once becomes as powerful as any two other countries; freed of the need to attack the mighty northern neighbour, Turkey has only one direction to go in, and can throw everything into the westward drive with single-minded violence. But the overwhelming strength of the Juggernaut is also its critical weakness: Austria’s bleats for assistance are sympathetically heard from Marseilles to Edinburgh, and whatever Austria asks will be done (or should be). If the Juggernaut is met vigorously from the outset, it can be held.

It follows that if you think you can trust Turkey to stay on your side, a very big ‘if’, you should camouflage your relationship for as long as you can. The fleet manoeuvre described under the Octopus opening is one usefully ambiguous area of possible collaboration. A simple stand-off in the Black Sea may fool the more naive onlooker. There are other possibilities; but always the initial problem of trust is more severe between Russia and Turkey than between any other two countries except Austria and Italy, and with good reason.

If it comes to hostilities, as it usually does, Russia has all the advantages. He can choose between two good potential allies, Austria and Italy. He can build fleets in Sevastopol with useful long-range prospects, whereas Turkish fleets built for service in the Black Sea are sailing into a dead end from which, if victorious, they will eventually have to be laboriously moved south. Russia’s attitude will be ‘shoot first and ask afterwards’; expecting the worst, he will never be disappointed.