"A riddle wrapped inside of an enigma?"
So was Winston Churchill's assessment of the vast land known as Russia.
Americans tend to base their overall Russia positions on tradition, opinions from narrow political leaders and media bias. Delving deeper, they are greeted with surprises.
Russians look like Americans, for the most part. More so than most Europeans. The reason? Like the U.S., there has been much intermarriage between Europeans. There are scores of European peoples indigenous to European Russia.
The Mongol occupation lasted from 1200 to 1450 A.D. Naturally there was intermarriage. Centuries later, there was intermarriage with Tatars, who were akin to Middle Eastern peoples.
When Europeans were settling the North American continent, common practice saw European men marry Native American women. Later, European men married Mestizos. Texas was originally explored by men from Tennessee and Kentucky. They would invariably take Mexican wives. Most Mexicans living in Texas then and now were a mix of Spanish and Native American.
It's human nature to assume that foreigners so strongly resembling Americans, think like Americans. Here the resemblance ends.
Russians did not grow up with Aesop's Fables or Canterbury Tales. Nor, did they experiment with Democracy as the West did. Their Bible was never translated into Latin. Whereas Western Bibles were translated from Greek to Latin, the Orthodox Bible went from Greek to Old Slavic.
In short, Russia is not Western Civilization.
Russia's history has been a long, continuing saga of being invaded. Mongols from the East. Vikings from the West. Later, British and Turks from the South, Poles and Swedes from the West. Still later, the Napoleon lead French and finally Hitler and the NAZIS.
Most Americans are at least vaguely familiar with the Bolshevik Revolution. Few know about the first revolution, the one of velvet variety that immediately followed the Czar's abdication. Almost nobody is aware of the fact that the Bolshevik Revolution that replaced it, was largely financed by Western interests, including New York banking interests.
It's understandable why Russians aren't trusting! Theirs is a legacy of being invaded by countries who had previously sought alliances and signed treaties. One point of view that still holds is that America meddled in their revolution. Which is also understandable! In reality, America didn't; but Americans definitely did!
Vladimir Putin is easier to fathom. He comes from a "security" background. In fact, his ancestor was a member of Ivan the Terrible's "Oprichniki," the original secret police. This was 1569. Czar Ivan organized this small, but lethal private army to deal specifically with the Boyars and rebellious city, Novgorad.
In 1989, Perestroika(restructuring) found Putin in Dresden, East Germany . I later witnessed his appointment to Prime Minister by then President Boris Yeltsin, August 1999 while in Moscow. I recall my wife's surprise, questioning "why" President Yeltsin had chosen a "KGB guy."
There were discussions with several Russian friends about the appointment. Yevgeny Primakov's firing the previous May had taken many, both inside and outside of Russia, by surprise. Insight into Yeltsin's action came in reading the third chronicle of his autobiography, "Midnight Diaries." As he phrased, "Primakov's palate was simply too red."
Putin was a member of the Communist Party up until the Soviet Union dissolved. So was everyone else. Today, it's a consensus that Putin is not a Communist. In fact, his Presidential election opponent in 2000 was Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party representative.
To Americans, Putin's actions have often been questionable, if not despicable. From jailing and murdering Journalists to invading Crimea. It's a foregone conclusion, at least by Democrats, that Russia meddled in the 2016 American presidential election.
Putin insists that the Russians didn't meddle in the 2016 election. But what if they did! It's not that America has been "squeaky clean" regarding attempts to influence foreign elections!
Putin holds most Journalists in contempt. Not that he promotes sedition! Read the Moscow Times, the English language newspaper published in Moscow. It's spares no punches!
It should also be noted that Russia is arguably the "most homo-phobic non-Arab country in the world." There, homosexual men are referred to as "blue boys." It's understandable that gay media members see closer ties with Russia as potentially synonymous with a "return to the closet." Russians are well aware of strong American sentiment for a "sanctity of marriage amendment" to the U.S. constitution.
President Putin recently acknowledged his understanding of Donald Trump's battles with the "fake news" that has mushroomed since inauguration. In Putin's eyes, many of these Journalists represent Communists or, to use the label most recently applied by surprise, New York Congressional primary winner, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,"Democratic Socialists."
Putin's security background has ingrained within him, the danger signs. He knows that the dreaded enemy; those who want to return to the old way, is always lurking.
Putin is painfully aware that the Bolshevik revolution subsequently left more than 100 million dead, in it's wake! Better to deal with it in it's infancy! The rest of the world might take exception. But, the real danger lies within.
In many ways, this isn't a great departure from a Czar's mentality. And that might best explain Vladimir Putin and his overall methodology. He's well aware what happened in 1917. He has seen fringe elements rise and take control when receiving help from outside.
The Bolsheviks were only 60,000 strong. Yet, they gained control of a nation of 150 million. Trusting anyone, especially a divided America, is difficult. Perhaps more than any political leader on the planet, Putin knows what Donald Trump is facing.
Probably "two thirds," maybe even "three fourths" of the Russian population approves of President Putin. This shouldn't be surprising for people who have studied Russian history. There is a traditional affinity for strong, patriarchal figures; whether it be Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Joseph Stalin or Putin.
Crimea? Forget it! Here are the brief facts: 95% of Crimean residents are Russians, not Ukrainians. As history reflects, the original inhabitants were called "Crimean Tatars." Resembling Turks and predominantly Islamic, they greeted the NAZIS with open arms when they invaded in 1941.
When the allies reclaimed the peninsula in 1944, the Crimean Tatars caught the "wrath of Stalin." They were expunged from their homeland and exiled to Siberia. Most died in route.
The mild weathered peninsula became "Russia's Florida." Residents today, are mostly grandchildren of post WWII Russian transplants. 95% of Crimean residents speak Russian, not Ukrainian. Frustrated with alleged Ukrainian corruption, they asked Russia to occupy.
Russians point out that Boris Yeltsin was not authorized to trade the peninsula for nuclear weapons then housed in Ukraine. Military minds note that the Russia's Black Sea Fleet is anchored as Sevastopol. The existing lease expires in 2036.
Trump's suggestion that Russia return to what would again be the "G-8," drew immediate applause from Putin. Relief from U.S. sanctions also tops the wish list. The question becomes, "what concessions would Putin be expected to make?" One thing that the Russian President understands is "a deal."
Credit Donald Trump for acknowledging the truth about Crimea. He knows that this is one thing that Russia will not give up. Putin recognizes from a political standpoint, how great a concession Russia's annexation of the peninsula would be.
He's prepared to pay for it!