Russia is an exceptional country, the biggest in the world. It is both European and exotic, powerful and weak, brilliant and flawed. Why are we so afraid of it?
Time and again, we judge Russia by unique standards. We have usually assumed that it possesses higher levels of cunning, malevolence and brutality than other countries. Yet it has more often than not been a crucial ally, not least against Napoleon and in the two world wars. We admire its music and its writers. We lavish praise on the Russian soul. And still we think of Russia as a unique menace. What is it about this extraordinary country that consistently provokes such excessive responses? And why is this so dangerous?
Mark B. Smith’s remarkable new book is a history of this ‘Russia Anxiety’. Whether Russia has been ally or enemy, superpower or failing state, it has always had a exceptional status in our imagination.