Being the largest country in the world – spanning 11 time zones – and the first to put a man in space, Russia is a colossus with stratospheric reach and geopolitical punch.
The end of history
When the Soviet Union fell it was said that history had ended, and the democratic capitalist system had triumphed. The long arc of Russian history suggested it might not fit that narrative quite as well as Western liberals hoped. From its roots in Orthodox Christianity, centuries as a Tsarist empire and 70 years as the key constituent of the USSR, Russia has always been too big to play a bit-part in someone else’s story.
From St Petersburg, its great European city built by Peter the Great to compete with the likes of Paris and Rome, to its Asian tip in Vladivostok, Russia incorporates such diversity as to be a world within a world (and, some would argue, a law unto itself).
The 11th largest economy in the world and the ‘R’ in BRICS, Russia’s GDP per capita lingers in the $10,000 region, just behind China. Existing Western sanctions and the threat of more have a chilling effect on finance, though trade – in gas in particular, which Europe in particular guzzles like it is going out of fashion – has held up, thanks in part to trade with China, its largest single trading partner.
As well as fossil fuels, Russia’s agriculture and fisheries are of global importance, as are its forests, the largest in the world. Russia is largely self-sufficient in manufacturing, and a big exporter of armaments to other countries around the world.
The opportunity and the challenge
The Russia of Tolstoy, the Bolshoi and the world’s best composers (in the author’s opinion) offers a cultural fix for every taste, in a climate that varies wildly across this vast land. The Ruble’s fall against the dollar makes Russia a relatively inexpensive place to live, and the linguistic challenge for foreigners is mitigated by the hospitality (and vodka) for which Russians are famous.
Many businesses are cautious of doing business in Russia, fearing corruption, pollution and an increasingly unpredictable and undemocratic regime (not to mention the Russian winter). Local knowledge, not just of the laws but of everything in between, is vital for a successful venture.
Despite these concerns, the draw of Russia’s culture, its huge resources and the warmth of its people makes the country a destination of choice for many.