The first turn of Twilight Struggle is arguably the most important one. An empty board means that the board is rife with both opportunity and pitfalls. Even the smallest mistake early on can have dramatic ramifications: misplaying into Asia on Turn 1 can easily cost you Asia domination for the rest of the game.
There are five great USSR headlines on Turn 1: Red Scare/Purge, Suez Crisis, Arab-Israeli War, Socialist Governments, and Vietnam Revolts. The benefits of Red Scare/Purge are obvious. Suez Crisis (and Arab-Israeli War, with a 50% probability) plus a successful Iran coup will wipe the US out from the Middle East entirely. Socialist Governments allows you to make a strong play for Europe. Vietnam Revolts provides you with immediate access to Thailand and all but guarantees you’ll be able to take it before the US does.
On AR1, you realistically only have two options: coup Iran, or coup / play for Italy. Traditionally, USSR players made a play for Italy, but modern Twilight Struggle thinking is that access to Pakistan and India is simply too important. The Iran coup is critical not just for the Middle East, but also to secure western Asia against the US. Letting the US into Iran means letting them into two Asian battlegrounds, and makes it very difficult for you to prevent Asian Domination.
As far as the rest of the turn goes, you have several priorities. In Europe, it’s usually difficult to break through to France, so you can only content yourself with nabbing Greece/Turkey. In the Middle East, an early Nasser can net you both Egypt and Libya, and if the US is still in Israel, taking Jordan and/or Lebanon puts some real pressure on the US position. Their only option for presence would then be an Israel incredibly vulnerable to Arab-Israeli War. In Asia, assuming you successfully took Iran, you want to expand eastward from western Asia (while watching out for the Indo-Pakistani War), while for keeping alert for an opportunity to grab South Korea and Thailand. Obviously Decolonization and Vietnam Revolts will help greatly with the latter.
Assuming the USSR takes Iran, you have quite a few priorities:
- Protect Israel via Lebanon and/or Jordan.
- Make your way through Egypt into Libya before Nasser wipes you out.
- Gun for Thailand via Malaysia.
- Shore up South Korea while guarding against the Korean War.
- When you have a chance, take Greece and Turkey before the USSR does.
If the USSR opening coup of Iran is too good, then I wouldn’t bother dropping DEFCON to 3 by couping Iran back. You not only risk being couped back if you succeed, but the USSR may be able to take Thailand first with Decolonization if you don’t succeed. On the other hand, if the coup was weak, then I’m willing to gamble on the Iran coup in hopes of getting something into western Asia. Overall, I’d much rather have the last coup of the turn than the second-to-last.
On the whole, your goal should be to survive rather than triumph. All of the initiative is with the USSR; your main objective is simply not to fall behind too much in board position and VPs. You should accept the fact that you will almost certainly be behind in VPs at the end of the Early War. That’s OK, so long as you aren’t losing in every region. Recognize when one region is beyond repair with just Ops, so you can cut your losses and be content to tread water there until you are able to take advantage of a major event to shake things up.