"Suffice it to say that bigger-army diplomacy was involved."-CGP Grey
The latter half of the nineteenth century was marked by the dominance of Austria, Russia, and Britain over world affairs, and the tensions among them. The armies of the Imperial League (Austria and Russia, plus Italian, German, and Balkan allies) dominated central and eastern Europe, but the British, along with the Chinese and Japanese at times, managed to hold off Russia in Asia. Although the two great powers seemed grand indeed, the relative lack of long, large wars hid both's massive weakness, despite new technologies and vast empires.
Anything not mentioned is assumed to have gone as OTL, including basically everything in the Americas.
The Danubian War and RussiaThe Danubian War began over a dispute between France and Russia over church rights in the Holy Land, but the pavement on the road to war came from the 'Eastern Question,' the division of the tottering Ottoman Empire
. Austria, Russia, and Greece, thanks to the leadership of Marshals Ivan Paskevich and Joseph Radetzky, decisively defeated Britain, France, and the Ottomans, leading to a the stripping of the Ottoman's Balkan provinces under the Treaty of San Stefano, and the creation of multiple new balkan states, though with governments that followed St. Petersburg's and Vienna's orders. Nicholas I, the hard-line conservative whose policies lead to the practical end of Ottoman Europe, died in early 1856, and Alexander II ascended to the Tsardom. Upon taking office, the liberal Tsar began a program to free the serfs, and with the urgings of Marshal Paskevich and Minister of War Dmitry Milyutin, launched an ambitious military overhaul. Domestic reforms, however, proved more limited than in OTL, without the shock of loss in the Crimean War.
The Ten Weeks' War and Austria
The Second Schleswig War went as OTL, and the dispute over administration of the Danish lands led, as in OTL, to conflict between Austria and Prussia. The Ten Week's War became a much wider conflict than in OTL, as Russia backed Austria, Napoleon III chose to help Prussia, desperately needing a foreign policy victory, and Sardinia attempted to unify Italy. Thanks to superior Austrian artillery, slow French mobilization, and the generalship of Dmitry Milyutin , the Austro-Russian alliance prevailed, placing indemnities and military restrictions on Prussia and Sardinia, though both nations avoided the latter. Despite giving financial support to France, Britain chose to remain in 'Splendid Isolation,' a position which public opinion regarded as cowardly. Despite her defeats, under Bismark's leadership, Prussia's economy boomed, while she secretly prepared an even more powerful army. France, however, collapsed, changing to a republic, which also instituted military reforms.
After the war, the Holy Alliance was officially dissolved and replaced by the Emperor's League, consisting of Austria, Russia, Austria's German allies, all Italian states except Sardinia , and the Balkan nations. The League mainly functioned as a military alliance.
Without the disastrous Austro-Prussian war, Austria did not morph into Austria-Hungary, and the Hungarians never oppressed the Balkan peoples, significantly reducing (though not altogether avoiding) the empire's chronic ethnic troubles. Thanks to the economically liberal Baron Alexander von Bach staying in power, the Austrian economy rapidly improved along with industrialization, with one of the highest growth rates in Europe. The Empire also greatly benefited from increased trade with Russia and her empire in the Balkans.
The BalkansIn 1867, Otto I of Greece died without any legitimate children. The Greeks deeply resented him, but they preferred a British candidate. Russia and Austria would have none of this, so they and the other Balkan nations massed troops near the Greek border, preparing to put Luitpold, Otto's brother, on the throne. Most of the Greek army chose to surrender without any major fighting, but it took several months to quash Greek resistance, especially due to the British backing the insurgents from the Ionian Islands. Lutwig, however, proved a capable and popular ruler, who gave the Greeks wide autonomy in their own affairs.
The assassination of Alexander II by leftist extremists and the ascension of Nicholas III brought Russian and Austrian attempts to even further control the Balkans with secret police. Numerous revolutionary organizations prepared to rebel, and got further assistance from Britain and the Great Comet of 1882, which they saw as a divine sign. Revolts occurred everywhere, but the main large-scale successes came in Bosnia and Novi Pazar, which always opposed the Habsburgs, and Bulgaria, where the Russian-born monarch Michael Ihad an extremely popular son, Prince Nicholas of Bulgaria
, who, however refused to take the throne. Stefan Stambolov , the brave and charismatic leader of the Bulgarians, did gain some success, but the power of the Russian army proved unstoppable. Afterwards, the Russians and Austrians placed all of the Balkans, except Greece, whom the shrewd political games of Ludwig protected, under direct occupation. In 1884, the last embers of revolt died down, and Bulgaria lost much of Macedonia and all of Dobruja. Stambolov fled to Britain.
The Great Game
The 'Great Game,' despite the term's Central Asian origins, came to name the long and hard 'Cold War' between Britain and Russia for colonial influence in Africa and Asia, from the Danubian War, up the the First World War.
Turkey, Egypt and the Aegean
The Ottoman Empire 's power declined sharply after her devastating defeat in the Danubian War. Without the bloody suppression of the April Uprising, Britain's alliance with the Ottoman empire never breaks, and slowly the country came under more and more British economic and political control, though this did somewhat help development. The British, wanting a stable ally forced Abdulhamid II to abandon some of his more hardline policies, and supported the creation of an Ottoman parliament, which lasted until the Young Turk Revolution.
After a Greek Revolt, the British took complete control of Cyprus. The British, despite local opposition, fully annexed the Ionian islands, and heavily fortified them. In response, the Russians intensified construction of the Corinth Canal, also increasing its width to 90 feet, to allow Russian warships access.
Once the Suez Canal was completed, Egypt became vital to British interests, and the nation slowly came under more and more British influence. Resistance took form both in Egypt (the Urabi Revolt of 1879-1882), and in Sudan (the Mahdists, beginning in 1881). Russia provided limited support to the Mahdists, but the British public began to see Russian conspiracies everywhere, leading to the British occupation of Egypt, although the Mahdists would continue to hold out until their final defeat in 1907.
Most imperialism in the region goes as OTL unless stated otherwise.
In the peace negotiations after the Second Opium War, Britain forced the Chinese to allow British troops through Tibet, should it ever become necessary. In 1862, a dispute over the pricing of bamboo poles led to large-scale Muslim revolts in Xinjiang, Shaanxi, Gansu, and Ningxia. The revolt was an extremely chaotic affair, with dozens of groups fighting the Chinese and each other, although none of them seemed to wish for a march on Beijing. At first, the British took no interest in the fighting, but when the Russians started supporting Taranchi groups in the Tarim Basin, the British supported other rebel groups, and sent a force under Sir Robert Napier through Tibet. The Russians responded by extending their support to non-Taranchi groups, and sending in their own forces. The Russians gained the upper hand, but the British sent their fleet to force the Chinese to support them, and eventually gained the upper hand over Russia, but the arrival of Dmitry Milyutin saw the Anglo-Chinese forces pushed out of Xinjiang. Eventually, Disraeli negotiated the Treaty of Hong Kong, where China lost numerous border areas to Britain and Russia, Tibet and the Dungan areas outside of Xinjiang became Anglo-Chinese 'condominiums' (emphasis former), while the Tarim basin became a Sino-Russian (Emphasis latter) condominium, legally with similar status to Ottoman Egypt. The British, supported by the forces of Yaqub Beg, fought one last campaign in Kashgaria, against the oncoming Russians, but it proved futile, and all of Xinjiang fell to Russia. The Dungan War , lasting until 1878, is usually considered the height of the Great Game, and saw the deployment of tens of thousands of British troops deep into Chinese territory.
Japan mostly progressed as OTL, with one major exception: the Tsushima incident. When the Russians attempted to turn the Japanese isle into a naval base in 1860, the British responded by sending warships to the area. Russia backed down and abandoned the island, but Viscount Palmerston made a British guarantee of Japan's security from Russian aggression.
Persia and Afghanistan
Britain always feared that Russia would seize the two nations. The First and Second Anglo-Afghan Wars went as OTL, but the Pandjeh incident of 1885 nearly led to war between Britain and Russia-eventually Russia got most of what they wanted in Afghanistan, in exchange for the British occupying most of Persia (along the 'no concessions' line of the OTL Anglo-Russian Entente.) Despite the British getting the better of the deal (Alexander III quipped that Russia had given the riches of Persia for 'even more snowy mountains'), the British public saw the deal as cowardice, and the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, was forced to resign in favor of Gladstone, who dominated British politics up until the disastrous Dnieper Campaign, during World War One
The Scramble for Africa goes mostly as OTL with the exception of Italy and Germany, which don't exist. The German colonies are split between Britain, France, and Belgium, like after World War One in OTL. The British take Italian Somaliland, although it is handed over to France after World War One. In OTL, there was an abortive 1889 Russian attempt at settling Djibouti, but in this TL they choose Eritrea instead and establish a colony, albeit by treaty with the British, they may not base anything larger than a gunboat there. Libya remained Ottoman, as did the Dodecanese.
The Slide Towards War
Both the Panjdeh incident and the establishment of Russian Eritrea nearly led to international conflict, but few at the time thought Japan's 1894 attack on China would lead to the same. The Sino-Japanese War went as OTL, but with Germany nonexistent and France inimical to Russia, only Russia and faraway Austria demanded a Japanese withdrawal from the Liaodong peninsula, which Japan refused to do. The crisis deepened when Russia occupied Manchuria, taking the land by July 1895, and recognized the Republic of Formosa, at war with the Japanese. British Prime Minister Archibald Primrose (Yes, that was his name. Did I mention he was Earl of Rosebery?) proved unable to handle the crisis and resigned. The new PM, Arthur Balfour, wished to avoid war, but when Russian troops began launching shells over the Yalu in late August, he gave the Russians an ultimatum: retreat or face war. Alexander III of Russia had just died, and the new, hotblooded Tsar, Michael II wanted war, and he rejected the ultimatum, believing that the British were bluffing. They were not. Within a month, nearly every nation in Europe joined one or the other. World War One had begun.