To talk about Russia is to talk about several topics at the same time. That is why I like to use the figure of the matrioshka: Russia is Russia within other Russias.
Russia must be opened and discovered...
- of more than 17 million km2;
- with 146 million inhabitants;
- with eleven time zones;
- bordered by 16 countries: Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, People's Republic of China, Mongolia, North Korea, Japan and the United States;
- with 160 ethnic groups speaking more than 100 languages;
- where The Russian Federation consists of a large number of different political subdivisions: 85 federal subjects;
- that historically is the Russia of Kiev, of the Mongolian influence, of the Romanov dynasty, of more than 70 years of the Union of Soviet Republics and, now, of the Russian Federation...
Russia that, in its various historical stages, built and accumulated its national essence.
This is why, I understand, Russia either remains unknown or is subject of prejudice.
A good example of this is constituted by the fact that Winston Churchill’s famous definition of Russia in the sense that Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, within an enigma, is usually quoted. But Churchill didn't just say this; then he added: “But there may be a key”. That key is Russia’s national interest.
In order to get to know Russia, one must first discover it, and then understand it and discover it; the key is in its national interest, designed and elaborated over more than a thousand years ago and manifested, particularly, through the Russian soul.
Thus, Russia must be approached through at least three categories -history, geography and culture- that since 988, when the christianization of Ancient Russia by the Holy Prince Vladimir took place, have been feeding what is called the Russian soul: that of which Fyodor Dostoevsky, Nikolai Gogol and Lev Tolstoy speak, and that is masterfully painted in their icons by Andrei Rubliov.
The Russian soul is rooted in the history of Russia, in the invasions, in the sufferings and misfortunes of more than a millennium of history.
To survive in these conditions and not give up and surrender, Russians are cautious and patient, but also reckless and proud.
Witty and funny, the Russian joke can be sarcastic and even bitter. But they are a happy and ever-laughing people.
Beauty will save the world, wrote Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky; beauty that for him is not only aesthetic: it has an ethical and religious dimension.
Ricardo E. Lagorio is a political scientist and expert in International Relations. Member of the National Institute of Foreign Service, he is currently Ambassador of Argentina in Russia.