“”I’d like to go to Russia very much – although the bastards murdered half my family.
Russia is where invasions go to die (unless you're the Mongols). It's the largest country in the world, situated between Europe and Asia, or encompassing the majority of Europe, or taking up all of Northern Asia. Take your pick; it's a subcontinent in its own right thanks to Siberia.
As the successor to the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation includes 83 oblasts, republics, autonomous republics, territories, districts and federal cities. This is even more complicated than it sounds. Imagine if the US had 83 states that occasionally had shooting wars with each other.
Despite Russia housing hundreds of ethnic groups, those are mainly concentrated in semi-autonomous republics. Russia is overwhelmingly slavic, and a shared Russian identity is a core part of their fabric. Is all Slav, is brothers: Have in common pickles, black bread, wodka, cigarette, Adidas tracksuit, and sense of existential despair.
- Yuri Gagarin — the first man in space.
- Nikolai Vavilov — a geneticist who was persecuted by Stalin's regime.
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky — one of the world's most popular classical composers.
- Vladimir Nabokov — the Russian-American writer best known for his novel Lolita.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky — probably the best known Russian writer among Westerners.
- Leo Tolstoy — rivals Dostoevsky in popularity, best known for his monumental work "War and Peace".
- Lev Landau — 1962 Nobel Prize laureate in physics.
and so many more of them…
The Eastern Front
“”Anything up to five degrees below zero I don't even notice. Quite a number of young people of today already wear shorts all the year round; it is just a question of habit. In the future, I shall have an SS Highland Brigade in lederhosen.
|—Adolf Hitler, meteorologist|
Napoleon found his grip on Europe weakening thanks to Spain, and was in search of a big symbolic victory over Russia. His first objective was taking Vilnius. When he took Vilnius without having fought the Russian army, he decided to move straight into Russian territory in the direction of Moscow, hoping that this would cause Alexander to bend the knee. Napoleon's subordinates were urging him to halt and dig in for the winter, but Napoleon saw this as admitting defeat, so he marched on. ("Avant deux mois, la Russie me demandera la paix.") By the time the Russians finally stopped "retreating", Napoleon had lost most of his 600,000 men to the arduous pursuit, starvation, exhaustion, and garrison duty.
Hitler had similar delusions, and on the anniversary of Napoleon's statement, he began the "European crusade against Bolsehvism." The Second World War was already over when the Germans bit off more than they could chew and attacked Russia in winter. Russians were literally throwing live Nazis on the ground, spraying water on them until they froze, and then driving over them like roads. Old joke: What's the only thing the Nazis didn't slap a swastika on? Answer: Moscow.
Exporters of democracy
“”The sucking-up to the master is completely genuine, but as we’re all liberated 21st-century people who enjoy Coen brothers films, we’ll do our sucking up with an ironic grin while acknowledging that if we were ever to cross you we would quite quickly be dead.
After experimenting with
anarchy democracy in the 90s under Yeltsin, Russia is, thanks to Vladimir Putin, an enlightened "sovereign democracy", which has cut assassinations of journalists down to only two or three a year, and doesn't cut off the gas supply every time a foreign country criticizes it. Their "democracy" is now so successful that the United Russia party scored 238 out of 450 Duma seats in the 2011 elections with only minimal widespread electoral fraud.
One of their many favorite pastimes is insisting that NATO is out to get them. Every time the situation gets a bit dicey at home the solution is easy. "Take back more of Russia!" They have enough of Russia already. That whole area of Siberia? Just develop the land slowly and you could have a country which rivals China in resources. Seems like Russia is thinking, "Tired of being cold. Maybe take back land which is warm."
Apparently, the country is also adding the spectator sport of public creationist silliness, as demonstrated by a protest by Russian Orthodox Young Earth creationists outside of Moscow's Charles Darwin museum. In addition, the newer competitive events of passing laws against free speech in order to combat Teh Ev1l Gay and
beating up detaining human rights activists and Pastafarians seem to be crowd favorites as well.
European or Asian?
Maybe even Eurasian
“”Russia is not between Europe and Asia. Europe and Asia are to the left and right of Russia. We are not a bridge between them but a separate civilizational space, where Russia unites the civilizational communities of East and West.
|—Vladimir Yakunin, Russian oligarch|
“”Russia's only real geostrategic option - the option that would give Russia a realistic international role and also maximize the opportunity of transforming and socially modernizing itself - is Europe.
Given Russia's territorial belongings and peculiar history (starting off as an Eastern European country, and spending about 200 years under the Tatar yoke), there's a lot of debate about whether it actually belongs to Europe or to Asia. Nowadays most evidence, including genetics, points to the former: haplogroups in Russian genetic pool form a cluster with Northern and Eastern Europeans, especially Ukrainians and Poles, but are very far from Turkish and Mongol groups. This is also evident in the country's traditions and customs, which originate from Slavic paganism, Eastern Byzantine Orthodoxy, and European culture.
Nevertheless, it was a common propaganda tactic in the 19th century to portray Russians as "asiatic" (which, due to the epoch's racialist trends, was just a euphemism for "barbaric"/"inferior"). This view was promoted by France after the 1812 defeat (most notably by Henri Martin), by Poland after the suppression of the November Uprising, and by Britain during the Great Game; about a century later, it was also exploited by Nazis during WW2 in order to justify the Russians' "racial inferiority" and the conquest of USSR. After 1945, when racialism quickly declined in popularity, the association between Russia and Mongols/nomads also went out of fashion since it lost its propaganda value; nowadays it remains popular only among hardcore Ukrainian nationalists who seek to establish their country as the true heir to Kievan Rus. Some Russians argue that the country has a unique "Eurasian" path between East and West; history disagrees, however: Russia's closest cultural ties have always been with the West, and the relations with Asian countries were of the same type that Britain had with India: either conquest or trade.
Russian-American writer Nabokov provides an interesting take on this question in his novel "Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle". It takes place in an alternate reality called Antiterra (Demonia), in which Russia and the US are comprised into one country called Estotia, and the Russo-Anglo-American Atlantic world is fighting the Golden Horde in this world's analogue of the Cold War.
41 of the over one hundred ethnic groups in Russia are legally recognized as “Indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East.” To receive legal protection, these peoples must number less than 50,000 people, maintain a traditional way of life, and inhabit seperate territories. There are also 24 larger ethnic groups that are identified as national identities but which do not qualify for assistance. Unemployment in Indigenous populations is 1½-2 times higher and incomes are 2-3 times lower than other Russians with over a decade's difference in life expectancy for men and women. 
Siberia is the Asian portion of Russia (a "portion" comprising two-thirds of the country's landmass, though home to only one-quarter of the population). It became notorious as the destination of prisoners of conscience exiled during the times of the Russian Empire and of the Soviet Union. So notorious is the association of the words Siberia and prison that the place is routinely described as the destination of all Russian prisoners, even when they are sent to Mordovia, as far west of Siberia itself as London is from Warsaw. Apart from its penological functions, Siberia is a major source of oil and gas. Siberia has almost every known natural resource to offer, from timber to diamonds to abandoned barrels of nuclear waste.
Today, Siberia is a mostly-settled region with several large cities connected by a network of highways and railroads; indeed, Novosibirsk, the unofficial capital of Siberia, is the third-largest city in Russia, with a population of 1.47 million people. Settlement far away from established urban centers can still be impractical due to the harsh climate and long travel distances, but at least the era of the phrase "send them to Siberia" in the sense of imprisonment or exile is almost over. However, the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in a Siberian penal colony shows that this assumption is a bit premature.
Vodka is — not surprisingly — the national beverage. Thirty percent of all deaths in 2012 were attributable to alcohol according to the OECD. Researchers found that Russian men who drink large amounts of vodka have a 35% risk of death before age 55.
The Chechen Republic is a constituent republic of the Russian Federation, known for separatism, terrorism, and being an enormous pain for Moscow. There have been no fewer than 2 civil wars between the Chechen separatists and the Federal Russian Government following the dissolution of the USSR. Currently, the score stands as 1 win for the separatists, and a more recent win for the Russian Federal Government.
For modern-day Russia, the Chechen wars drastically reshaped both countries, their leaders, and their peoples for decades to come. President Boris Yeltsin, planning a blitzkrieg against the separatists, quickly collapsed under his own weight and the war descended into a quagmire, humiliating the Kremlin and forcing them to essentially sue for peace. In comes Prime Minister Putin who orchestrated a far more organized and brutal campaign against the separatists, beating them down and flattening the country before installing the Kadyrov clan into power. The Chechen wars helped destroy Yeltsin's approval ratings while turning Putin into an eternally popular strongman, whose tough talk, uncompromising rhetoric, and insistence that "There is no border with Chechnya" won over many disaffected Russians who resented the separatists' terrorism. 
The President of the Chechen Republic is Ramzan Kadyrov, a barely 40-year-old man who passes time by joking about killing members of the opposition.  He acts like a warlord, crushing any and all opposition, presiding over abuses of human rights by his unaffiliated supporter militias, and more recently, putting gay men in concentration camps while insisting there are no gay men in his country; he went on record to brag about how he wants to eliminate the gay population before the end of 2017.  In effect, the Kremlin has fed a dragon that's gotten too big for even them to control.  Putin has little choice but to back Kadyrov and not truly investigate the allegations, lest he risk pissing off the real-life Ramsay Bolton. 
- Russia Explained (And more!)
- The Dying Russians, The New York Review of Books
- Louis Potgieter would be proud.
- Dash cam videos are Russia's largest export, after vodka, oil, weapons and suicidal novelists
- Prince Philip quotes: Relive his classic gaffes on his 94th birthday By Paul Cockerton (07:30, 10 Jun 2015 Updated 07:37, 10 Jun 2015) Daily Mirror.
- Pomerantsev, Peter, "Putin's Rasputin", London Review of Books Vol. 33 No. 20, 20 October 2011 pg. 3-6.
- Similarly, the Russian economy has developed from Yeltsin's crony capitalism to a stable and diversified economy under Putin.
- See Russian Journalist Assassination Comes After U.S. Congressional Resolutions Urging Protection for Media and Wikipedia's list of journalists killed in Russia
- Because that is how many it takes to intimidate the surviving journalists.
- Russians protest against election fraud, Australian Broadcasting Corporation
- Russian Creationists Denounce Evolution, Dispatches From the Culture Wars
- Russia: Investigate Violent Raid on Rights Group, Human Rights Watch
- Humor failure in Russia: Crackdown on 'Pastafarians' shows Kremlin-church ties, NBC
- Vladimir Putin: The rebuilding of ‘Soviet’ Russia, BBC
- Mitochondrial DNA sequence diversity in Russians
- Two Sources of the Russian Patrilineal Heritage in Their Eurasian Context
- Neatly explained by the fact that Mongols rarely had direct contact with Russians.
- The geography of Antiterra
- "Who are the Indigenous People of Russia?" Cultural Survival, February 19, 2014
- "Mordovia, while Maria Alyokhina was shipped to a similar institution in Perm. The two cities, located in the freezing central region of Siberia..." So the Republic of Mordovia is a city now? And Perm, although a city, lies on the other side of the Urals from Siberia...
- Yakutsk, the saddest city in the world.
- Welcome to penal colony YaG 14/10. Now the home of one of Russia's richest men, The Guardian (He's since been freed and giving Rosneft a run for its money.)
- Russian official urges action on workplace alcohol abuse (Wednesday, September 16, 2015) Irish Examiner.
- Russian men losing years to vodka: Spirit linked to 35% of cases where a man dies before age 55, with study citing national sport of spectacular drunkenness (Friday 31 January 2014 11.55 EST) The Guardian.