Russia has an economic problem, a population problem, a currency problem and a leadership problem. And Russia’s given the world 24 hours to get out! And they make that demand emphatic by bragging about their new ballistic missile, which they named “Satan-2.” Great old bunch of boys, right?

Next time you’re in Moscow watch this little “silent movie” and you’ll learn much more than anybody could possibly teach in so few seconds. I’m referring to the real-life video you get when you’re on one of those Moscow subway escalators that’s so long it seems to fade into the horizon. Look at the faces of the people coming the other way on that escalator. An alarming number of those faces are not white, high-cheekboned Slavic people. You’re staggered by the number of people on that escalator who are Asian. You may not be alarmed, but be assured the white, high-cheekboned Russians see quite a bit to be alarmed about.

America has four time zones. Russia has eleven! The easternmost of those time zones are populated by people Americans could easily mistake for Chinese. Farsighted geo-politicians have, for decades now, been expecting an eruption in which the ethnic Asian population of Russia rises up for independence or unification with China or some kind of combination of both. In those eastern territories, Russia treads as lightly as a nudist crossing a barbed-wire fence, lest some incident trigger a confrontation setting these powerful forces in motion.

Sheer inertia seems to have kept things quiet so far. The acceptance of Russia as master and Communist China as servant-state has run deep and strong ever since China became Communist in 1949. At that time the Soviet Union, led by Russia, was a superpower, and Communist China a loyal subservient “student” state under Mao Tse-tung (nowadays rendered as Mao Zedong).

The only documented quarrel between Moscow’s Nikita Khrushchev and China’s Mao came when Mao suggested it was unfair to expect the Chinese to learn Russian, and that the Russians should honor their huge partner by learning Chinese. “Oh, no!” scoffed Khrushchev, “Chinese is much too difficult.” “It’s no harder for a Russian to learn Chinese than it is for a Chinese to learn Russian,” protested Mao.

Fast-forward from 1949 to today. Russia is no longer the superpower it was. China is! Russia’s economy is far behind China’s. And Russia isn’t even Communist any more. (Nor, for that matter, is China. But they hang onto the name while enjoying many of the blessings of capitalism!)

America may be flattering itself by supposing Russia’s Satan-2 missile is designed to intimidate the United States. Many experts think its purpose is to impress China, lest it get any big ideas about getting bigger.

Why does Russia now behave like the superpower it used to be, picking unproductive and unnecessary quarrels from the Baltic to Crimea? There are as many answers as there are experts. Don’t forget, Vladimir Putin said the greatest calamity of the 20thcentury was allowing the collapse of the Soviet Union.

One theory pinpoints the personality of Putin as that of a classic military dictator. He may just be performing according to traditional expectations.

Another theory is that Russia never got the love and respect it deserved for playing the lead role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. No country suffered or sacrificed more in that epic conflict than the Soviet Union. And instead of praise, the Russians had to listen to regrets in the West that America and Britain didn’t team up and attack a war-weakened Russia after Germany surrendered.

Another theory is that Russia never did experience the Enlightenment. Russians certainly never enjoyed any sustained experience with real democracy.

Poor old barreling, bullying, uncomfortable, anti-social Russia! Perhaps it was best said by a professor of comparative drama, who wrote, “In a Russian tragedy everybody dies. In a Russian comedy they all die, too, but they die happy!”

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