Russia’s weak position at the start of the century was strengthened by its control of sizeable oil reserves and other natural resources. These brought wealth, and helped quieten the separatist demands of many regions, as well as increasing geopolitical influence. Kazakstan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Belarus all fell under Russian sway, though the remaining Central Asian states were more likely to look to Beijing than Moscow.
The unfettered capitalism of the late twentieth century was realised to be a mistake, and the first priority of the authoritarian government became crushing the dangerous power of the oligarchs. This, and the threat of secession, forced the development of a strongly repressive regime, ameliorated by guarantees of effective democracy at the local level. In this, Russia eagerly studied the successes of China, though it continued to formally reject communism. Nonetheless, by the end of the Long Winter, Russians were more likely to speak Mandarin than English, and Maoism was the philosophy of choice for the young student dissidents. To prevent this ‘decadence’, the leadership clamped down on all expressions of opposition, largely banned access to the free internet and its pro-Communist propaganda, and encouraged a cult of nationalism and leader-worship through mandatory enrolment in paramilitary youth organisations, and compulsory conscription. With economic opportunities controlled by the State, membership in and support of the appropriate civil-society organisations became essential. This elected dictatorship was further legitimised by the threat of terrorism, made clear by the Volgograd Incident of 2033, in which a terrorist nuclear device killed thousands. In the economic sphere, businesses remained private and free, but extensive regulation and state support for favoured companies allowed the State to direct production itself, although more to maintain power than to maximise efficiency.
This regime attempted to ensure full employment, but in the Long Winter it failed terribly, and could no longer claim popular support. Maoist insurrection and foreign interference lead to civil war, which became horrifically bloody, with all sides employing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. As a result of this war, a variant of smallpox created a global pandemic; fortunately, the variant strain had lower infectiousness, and only millions perished. It was clear, however, that Russia could not be allowed to destroy itself, and the country was partitioned between the major powers – chiefly America and China. All parts were broadly ruled by military dictatorships charged with finding and destroying all remaining weapons of mass destruction.
However, the Partition of Russia did not end Russian nationalism, only strengthen it, and Russian Nationalist terrorists became a major global threat in the following decades.
The travails of Russia were nothing compared to those of India. Lauded as a future world power, it in fact entered the century with crippling inadequacies of economy and institutions: only 10% of the workforce held formal and regular jobs; half of all children were malnourished; the proportion of underweight children was higher than in sub-Saharan Africa; one third of all local authorities were experiencing regular terrorist incidents; one quarter of the national legislature were under investigation or facing charges, not only for corruption but also for such crimes as rape and murder; several states had legislatures composed predominately of convicted criminals. The agricultural system was immensely inefficient, characterised by extremely small private holdings each with an unnecessarily large workforce; the government bureaucracy was extensive but inefficient, and the public sector faced endemic absenteeism, with a quarter of education staff, and two-fifths of all medical staff, not being present at their posts according to some studies. At the same time, the country faced deep divisions of race, caste, religion, wealth and ideology; and was neighbour to a nuclear-armed enemy.
The collapse of India began with the collapse of Pakistan in the 2020s; Indian forces rushed in, with the backing of the Pakistan military, to secure Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, but were only 99% successful: one silo was able to launch nuclear weapons that penetrated the Indian shield and struck Mumbai, Ahmadabad, and Kanpur, in the so-called ‘Rain of Fire’. The attacks triggered ethnic and religious violence that killed millions, as Hindus persecuted minority groups, particularly Muslims, in retaliation – the unordered nuclear revenge by the Indian army further inflamed Muslims, who in turn massacred Hindus. The failure of the central government to end the strife caused many separatist movements to rebel.
Although the violence was quelled, and peace and prosperity regained, the foundations of the state had been fatally wounded. A military dictatorship attempted to hold the country together, but was insufficient to the task. Eventually, India was irreversibly divided into three parts: West India, Naxalite East India (a Maoist dictatorship) and South India; all of which in turn suffered varying degrees of civil unrest. Other areas also declared independence: Assam, Kashmir, and Punjab.
West India at the end of the Long Winter was ruled by a religiously fundamentalist cadre of extremist nationalists. It remained a largely agricultural society, continually threatened by famine, although it had also developed industrial and high-tech sectors, which together with its immense population was enough to make it a significant world power. However, there was widespread unrest in the countryside and among the urban youth, the government was perceived to be corrupt, and the nuclear standoff with the increasingly unstable Naxalite state to the east was growing uncomfortably tense. Liberals argued for a return to democracy, but in the absence of food and water the cause of tolerance seemed doomed: war appeared inevitable.