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Shifty Lines: Russia

Russia is really big.

Russia is twice as large as the next-largest country even after shedding 14 smaller countries from its periphery.  Russia is the largest country in Europe and Asia even without counting the parts on the other continent.  Russia spans nine time zones.

It’s difficult to imagine, but Russia spent a great deal of its early history as “the empire without a coastline.”  The original, ancestral homeland of the people who would become the Russians is the general vicinity of Moscow.  While the East Slavs were still coalescing as a people, they bordered the West Slavs on the west, the Karelians and other Finno-Ugric peoples to the north, the Khanate of Kazan to the east, and the Nogai Horde to the south.  To reach a coastline and the massive economic advantages that come with access to the sea, the Russians had to conquer their way there.  And conquer they did, until they dominated much of the Arctic Ocean, Baltic Sea, and Black Sea boundaries and all of the peoples living therein.  Russia is smaller now, but its enormous expanse still contains numerous groups of people who do not see themselves as Russians and which the Russian state is assiduously trying to destroy.  We have already met the Caucasus peoples and their finely granulated quests for national self-determination.  Russia’s imperial designs have spanned much farther than these ongoing altercations, and tell a very familiar story.

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Shifty Lines: Russia