OK: this is basically an ASB scenario, but its got a map, too...
May 17, 1987: what appeared to be a new Soviet space station in the works (a few large modules had been bolted together) was passing a few hundred miles above the US, when it suddenly vanished in a flare of light more brilliant than the sun.
Those noting the light and the almost immediate and messy deaths of televisions, radios, etc. might well have been forgiven for assuming an EM attack through atomic weapon, presumably a precursor to a Soviet full launch.
Nonetheless, they would have been wrong.
An EM pulse would not affect NORAD, buried under a mountain. It would not affect the ICBMs buried in their silos. Given that, plus the continued survival of nuclear missile submarines at sea, an EM pulse attack on the US would be just as suicidal as any other form of first strike strategy during the 1980s.
It was not an EM pulse.
The Sakharov-Vanko Device (named after its original developers, Ivan Vanko and Andrei Sakharov, who committed suicide after its use that day in May) was originally meant to be a means of tapping into zero-point energy. In the end, it proved ineffective as a power source, since the energy released in the form of incredibly intense electromagnetic energy could not be safely controlled on earth. In orbit, pointing downwards, on the other hand…
A few seconds of time later it became rather clear that whatever it was, it was not a nuclear explosion: it just kept on happening. The eye-searing point of light in the sky remained visible for over an hour, as it crossed the width of the United states and began to sweep across the Pacific, before the massive protective shield melted away entirely and destroyed the zero-point field generator (to the relief of Soviet observers, which had been worried that the predicted breakdown might not happen until after the edge of the radiation front had reached the eastern USSR). During that hour, not only did every piece of electronic equipment in operation in the US fry, but huge amounts of electrical equipment _not_ in use met a messy end as huge charges built up in any sort of lengthy piece of metal. NORAD was rendered blind and dumb. Pipelines exploded and factories burned. Planes fell from the sky. Power distribution networks flared and collapsed, leading to nation-wide blackout. Massive electrical discharges flared between the earth and sky. Thousands were killed by lightning strikes and tens of thousands were blinded by looking too long at the sky. Millions would later contract cancers.
Confusion reigned. Was this the Soviets? Was it a natural phenomenon? With the breakdown in communication, several ICBMS were hastily launched from their bunkers in the direction of the USSR: none survived, warheads exploding prematurely once they left the protective blanket of the atmosphere and were exposed to the full radiation flux. There remained the US forces in Europe and a few subs at sea (the Soviet espionage and spy satellite network had been instrumental in picking the best time to strike): with not a single incoming missile on radar, they waited for orders while making the necessary preparations for Armageddon.
“I address the people of America. I address the American forces in Europe and the submarines at sea. I address all surviving US nuclear forces.”
“As of this morning, a new weapon system was deployed. Unlike the capitalist Neutron Bomb, which saves property but kills human beings, this one destroys technology but does not kill human beings.”
“Your national defense system is in ruins. Your country is now in a state of collapse. There is not a functional piece of electrical equipment between Boston and San Francisco. However, comparatively few Americans have died. Whether that remains the case is up to you.”
“This weapon also acts as a defensive system. None of the missiles that were fired from US soil in blind anger at the Soviet Union survived.”
“I am currently in communication with the President of the United States, and I am negotiating the surrender of all US military forces at home and abroad. Any attack on the Soviet Union will be ineffectual, and will lead to the total destruction of Western Europe and what remains of the United States.”
“Think carefully before you take any precipitate action.”
In those areas where the broadcast was repeated on television, the man with the large birthmark on his forehead no longer looked friendly at all.
Ten years have passed.
With the US brought to its knees, the Soviets have become the global hegemon. Not the rulers of the world: with barely 1/20 of the world’s population even after expansion, and more than half of that of somewhat dubious loyalty, the Soviets were hardly in a position to occupy or police the globe.
There was always the option of “do what we say or we nuke you” of course, but in most situations it was a bit of a 50-ton steam hammer for swatting flies: either the threat becomes degraded through too much repetition, or you have to carry out regular “examples”, which may bring obedience out of fear, but which will inspire universal hatred, and undermine rule at home: the average Soviet in the street (or for that matter, in the Academy or collective farm or whatever) would be repulsed by the notion of the regular use of mass murder to, say, persuade the inhabitants of third-world countries to sell the Soviet Union cacao beans at below market prices. After all, since 1953, certain limits on state oppression, and correspondingly a certain level of concern about what people thought, had come into existence to protect both elites and masses.
Nuking China had been acceptable because the Chinese had been building up their nuclear arsenal in defiance of post-87’ Soviet pressures (and the fundamental problems in using the Sakharov-Vanko device against a nation overlapping a number of Soviet time zones): using as a regular means of control like some sort of evil genocidal victorious Nazi Empire? (Some of the Soviet leadership were big enough assholes to go for the idea, but consensus prevailed against them).
The United Nations no longer exists as a meaningful organization, since China and the US were taken off the Security Council and the UN regulations re-written to reflect the Soviet global hegemony. A number of nations have quit in protest at the changes: those which are left and disagree with UN policy can at best register protest votes in an organization dominated by the USSR, its puppets and allies and kiss-ups. (The UK and France have lost their veto power). One of the most controversial changes has been the Soviet use of the UN as a fig leaf for military operations: supposedly the Soviet occupation of the US ended three years ago, replaced by a UN force meant to “suppress terrorism and maintain peace and good order”, but which is in fact composed almost entirely of troops from the Warsaw Pact and close Soviet allies (including a fair number of Greater Cubans).
In essence, although the Soviet sphere of direct influence has been greatly expanded, and several new SSRs have been added to the Soviet Union proper, most of the globe has been “Finlandized” rather than directly puppetized. The Soviet Union has extended its borders to the Persian Gulf, and gained a stranglehold on the majority of the world’s oil supply and thereby a non-nuclear method of putting pressure on the industrial nations outside its direct control. Manchuria has also been incorporated, after the majority of its Chinese population was killed or expelled. (Certain historically disputed areas of Manchuria have been granted to Korea, which is just as ghastly a place as you would imagine, if so far with no unintentional famines).
China is a radioactive mess, but there are still hundreds of millions of (very pissed off) Chinese, and most of the country is now under the control of a wacky nationalist  regime whose principal activities currently involve fighting an even crazier nationalist rival and building a nation-wide underground bunker system that makes OTL N. Korean efforts look like the scratching of a six-years-old trying to dig to, well, China. Occupying the place would be lunacy, and some in the Soviet leadership are talking about finishing the job of ’89: on the other hand, the fallout in central Asia and Siberia from the previous effort was bad enough, and the following year was a particularly cold and gloomy one…
Japan, given a lack of local nukes or allies and with an object lesson settling into their rice paddies and bones, have become effectively a Soviet satellite state, and an oddball coalition of the left led by a revived Japanese Communist party have set about dismantling the old LDP system (with the implied backing of a sizeable local Soviet and Korean military presence) with such enthusiasm that the economy has shrunk two years in a row, which rather annoys the Soviets, who hoped to see heavy Japanese investment and technology exchange stimulating the eastern parts of the Soviet sphere.
EC Europe, despite what Americans may moan and groan about, are still relatively free: they had their own nukes, and using the Device would have fried parts of the western Soviet Union. Also, the conquest of Europe would eliminate the only functional center of Capitalist finance and production on the planet: as it was, the defeat of the United State, the massive damage to its infrastructure and the occupation by Soviet and later “UN” forces, followed by its breakup into multiple economically no longer integrated zones, had pretty much collapsed the global economy. Raw materials prices collapsed, and the Soviets no longer had anything anyone wanted to buy, until their move to the Persian Gulf gave them something everyone had to have: and even then, “tribute” in the form of food had to be levied on US farmers whose foreign markets had collapsed.
Although none of them would admit it, most Soviet leaders were too aware of the truth behind an old joke:
“What happens when the Soviet Union conquers the Sahara desert?
“First fifty years? Nothing much. Then the Sahara runs out of sand.”
By the 1980s, foreign loans, foreign investment, foreign markets, duplication of foreign technology, etc. had all become terribly important to the USSR. Could the Soviet Union’s already sluggish economy  continue to grow, much less return to early 70s levels of growth, if the capitalist world was essentially eliminated by fiat?
These considerations were important in determining the continued independence of Western Europe, and (to a lesser degree) Canada and Australia, combined with the uncertainty whether military threats and brinksmanship alone would be enough to bring Europe to a total surrender. As one Politburo member reportedly said, why kill the cow when we can milk it for years? Such considerations were made somewhat more politically palatable by the fact that Europeans responded to the global depression following the US surrender with a variety of “lefty” government interventions (the worship of Lord Austerity, Son of Mammon, had not yet become prevailing opinion in 1987) made the continued independence of the European Community more ideologically palatable. The UK remained a bit of an exception, but generally “fell in line” after 1988, continued economic difficulties and the Soviet refusal to deal with any UK government under her leadership led to Margaret Thatcher’s fall from power.
Although still relatively free, no matter what grumpy Americans might say, the European Community has become increasingly “Finlandized” over the years (as has Finland), increasingly a source of low-interest loans and investment to the Soviets with no real recourse if a profit fails to appear, dependent on the Soviets for oil and gas, and pressured into cuts in their nuclear arsenals under the excuse of maintaining “balance” with the USSR (which has indeed made cuts itself to save costs, now that the US is no threat and China doesn’t appear to be one). Civilian nuclear power is even more extensive than OTL, as Europeans work to free themselves from dependence on Soviet-controlled oil. On the other hand, as US productivity shrinks, food imports from the EC are becoming more important to the Soviets.
Under various Soviet-developed international “anti-terrorism” laws, the Europeans cooperate with the Soviets in catching for deportation anti-Communist “terrorists” on their soil, whether from the US, the Middle East, or Eastern Europe. There is some migration from the US to Europe, but it is hard to get a passport to get out of the occupied US even if your dossier is spotless. A fair amount of people-smuggling occurs through Canada from the US: in spite of Soviet efforts, it’s still extremely hard to guard a border that long.
Eastern Europe remains restless: the defeat of the US has ironically made some members of the resistance bolder, rather than less, since they no longer worry about struggle in their countries bringing about WWIII. Of course, the Soviets could just nuke East European rebels, but what legitimacy would any pro-Soviet government have after that? Yugoslavia melted down in the early 90s, and the Soviets took advantage to bring the fragments of the country into the Warsaw pact (there was some talk of keeping it united, but in the end the need for even more troops to keep rebellion from flaring up again led to Catholic/Orthodox division). Albania, at least from outside, looks like OTL North Korea on a bad day, and the skeletal nature of the locals occasionally seen tangled in the many layers of barbed wire along the borders creeps out even the Soviets: some talk about intervention.
Pursuing a anti-colonial, anti-fascist Agenda at least in part as a genuine belief as well as propaganda, the Soviets worked to overthrow various “reactionary governments” (those which didn’t simply change their flags and propaganda, anyway), and aided a variety of “progressive” groups. The bloodiest such case was South Africa, where African armies aided by Soviet advisors and massive amounts of Soviet hardware joined with local revolutionaries to overthrow the Apartheid government in 1994. Unfortunately, the new Socialist Republic of Southern Africa is to say the least a mess (Nelson Mandela was shot to death in his cell in this world), as is much of Red Africa. After a brief flurry of activism in which the Soviets tried to prove the superiority of a Soviet-led world to a US-led one through progressive intervention, the Soviet leadership has largely given up on direct intervention, and as long as the tropical products and minerals still flow north, are willing to let much of the continent go to heck: the rat-holes of Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, and Guinea are enough of a drain on the Kremlin’s purse, and the European and Latin American press are actually so bold as to talk about “Soviet Neo-Colonialism!”
The recent coup in Indonesia seems headed for its own sort of disaster, and the Palestinians are still whining over the fact that the Soviets didn’t exterminate the Jews outright. (The crazy Israelis that have stayed in their rump state are currently apparently in a contest with the Chinese as to how deeply they can dig themselves in). And the loonies in Peru have cut themselves off entirely from Soviet aid on the basis of ideological differences: headlines such as “a new Albania?” appear in the newspapers.
Chinese ally Pakistan got caught up in the war, where India joined in on the Soviet side (after the USSR had wiped out the Chinese nuclear arsenal) to get ahold of some disputed border areas. In the end, Pakistan has been broken to bits: the remaining Punjabi core is isolated, dirt poor, and somewhat on the lines of what an independent north Nigeria would be. India is doing alright: it hasn’t instituted many of the reforms of OTL, neo-liberalism being almost extinct as a form of thought in this world, but it isn’t much worse off than it was OTL 1997, something that cannot be said for a lot of countries in this world. A large presence of Chinese troops and a disinterest on the part of India in marching across a 15,000 foot high plateau has meant that Tibet remains under China’s tender mercies, but Bhutan remains pretty much as OTL: really, nobody cares what they get up to.
Latin America varies from lefty to far lefty: under a moderate regime, Brazil has shown some fair economic growth lately as the global economy has moved from depression to mere deepn recession, much to the annoyance of their more leftist-orthodox Argentine neighbors, now in deep economic crisis. Bolivia is actually doing a bit better than OTL 1997 (finally having a coastline back has helped). The new revolutionary government of Guatemala is considerably nastier than the Sandinistas, and has no interest in joining their Federation: but at least the Maya get a fair shake for a change. The PRI remains firmly in charge in Mexico, it’s revolutionary credentials carefully buffed and polished and the rhetoric well to the left of where it was in 1987.
Castro reigns as the Grand Old Man of Latin American Socialism, and with Soviet help Cuba has assimilated Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, while corralling the rest of the Caribbean into a Cuban-dominated Socialist Federation (he had dreamed of unifying all of Spanish-speaking America, but the mainland countries weren’t buying and the Soviets weren’t going to give him that much help). Diplomats from the USSR always get the best beaches.
The US has been divided into a dozen occupation zones, with limited inter-zone travel to help prevent any coordinated resistance. Three cities have been set up as showcase “international cities” of Socialist brotherhood and progress, and of course are more heavily policed than anywhere else. Ten years later much of the damage from the Electromagnetic Event remains unrepaired, and quite a few areas off the main drag lack reliable electricity, and TVs and radios are in shortened supply. Some in the Soviet leadership called for leaving the US largely independent and milking it for all it was worth, but in the end fears of a US revival prevailed, and a policy of strict suppression and state-backed looting was implemented. In the end, the Soviets managed to thoroughly wreck the US economy without doing much for their own: the fine factory machinery shipped back to the Soviet Union has often broken down and not been repaired for lack of local support networks, and in any event ended up being used by those famous workers pretending to work while the government pretends to pay them.
As inputs of heavy machinery, fertilizer, etc. have declined, US food production has dropped, and farming has become increasingly unpopular as a form of employment as the farmers have become impoverished. Nor are they happy with the fact that a large share of the food they produce is leaving the country for the Soviet bloc without their getting a penny from that exchange. Various laws have been passed making it harder for farmers to leave their jobs, leading to violent protests and cries of “serfdom!” Quotas are met with sullen defiance and inaction, and local authorities lack the resources to properly collectivize the farmers –which would probably make things worse anyway. Hunger, which returned briefly but savagely in the immediate aftermath of the Event, has now crept back. Increasingly savage regulations try to keep people from moving en masse from the harder-hit areas: legitimacy of local governments is near zero wherever they try to enforce Soviet-required rules, but if they fail to do so, they will soon be replaced by a new set of collaborators. The Soviets have taken advantage of the massive unemployment prevalent in some parts of the country to set up recruitment bureaus, where people with useful skills and their families get the opportunity to move to the USSR and help build atomic power plants in Kurdistan or whatever. (Moving back is harder).
Rebellion – initially weakened by shock and the chaotic aftermath of the Event, and by bland Soviet assurances of an only temporary occupation and a swift return to “normal life” once the remaining US nuclear arsenal had been dismantled – has grown worse over the years. The Soviet leadership is growing nervous as the local collaborating governments founder, and violence and terrorism rise. It was never practically possible to get rid of _all_ the weapons in a country as full of guns as the US, and after a number of destroyed towns and massacres of hostages and other embarrassing incidents it became unofficial policy to let local authorities handle such things, and not to check too closely to see if a thorough disarmament took place: as long as the US population remained too battered and stunned and struggling with just getting through the day to rebel in masse, a certain amount of live-and-let-live could take place. But now that Soviet exactions increasingly bite, after a decade of economic decay, a cycle of violence, retaliation and counter-retaliation is beginning.
Violent resistance never quite stopped in the Rockies and the Appalachians, and now is increasingly prevalent in the north plains, the backwoods of New England, and beyond. Withdrawal from any activity that aids the occupation and Good Solider Schweik-ism are common everywhere.
The new Big Idea is to break the US into a set of separate nations, weak enough to be more easily kept in line, but economically productive and stable enough to be an asset to the Soviet system rather than the alarming mega-West-Bank (to use an OTL analogy) they threaten to become. US states will regain a good deal of sovereignty in exchange for losing their unity: Soviet propagandists are already working on finding ways to encourage localism and mutual xenophobia (they have high hopes for turning the South Central region into Greater Texas, for instance). Given that the alternative is “nuke them till they play nice, or, if that don’t work, until they’re no longer a threat” , the local Soviet officials on the ground, many of which have become quite fond of America and the Americans, are desperate to see this work. But first, the feeble shadow government of the US as a whole needs to be eliminated. A largely powerless Congress and Senate still meet: having them blown to fragments by “US terrorists” attacking “collaborators” will work well: after all, it’s not like a lot of US rebel groups don’t loudly condemn the Washington government as collaborators anyway…
The initial “test case” will be the new nation of “Heartland” (they did a consumer survey and everything): it is hoped that as a free nation able to set its own prices for goods and sell its grain and other products on the open international market, it will be a lot more productive than now. The Soviet Union has dominated the globe for a decade, and little good it has done anyone: the spike in national income from oil, from extorted loans and investment, from unfair trade deals and the looting of the US for industrial equipment and raw materials is flattening, and the unpleasant notion arises that by wrecking the economy of so much of the world they have cut off their nose to spite their face. Still headed by the ruthless and treacherous Gorbachev, who has outmaneuvered and destroyed all those who arose to threaten him (with no need to make nice for foreign reporters anymore, Yeltsin is currently occupying one of the lower levels of a peat bog), the Soviet leadership has no intention of relinquishing global leadership: however, some sort of real Perestroika, for the Soviet Union and for the majority of the global population it dominates in one way or another, will have to be implemented.
 Half true: if you set the device off over your nation, it sure as shit will blow up any incoming missiles above the atmosphere, but will fry your own nation in the process…
 Bloodthirsty xenophobes, not the guys on Taiwan
 The Soviet economy in this TL was doing a bit better: this world’s Gorbachev, being an Evil Schemer, didn’t put through the half-assed reforms that did more harm than good, and anyway the Soviet economy was always more productive in Paranoiaworld than OTL.
 The Soviet leadership is pretty certain that if the US goes into full-blown rebellion mode, the expenditure on troops and resources needed to crush it and keep it crushed will be economically crippling: after all, the best stuff has already been looted…