When you’re talking countries, it’s the big one, geographically at least. Even after the end of the Cold War, and the loss of territory the Soviets called their own, we’re still talking about the largest country in the world by square mile of land. It’s not unique in spanning two continents. Turkey also has that distinction, but nothing comes close in matching its sheer scale.
Growing up of course, The Soviet Union was presented as the bad guy, a tale that juvenile me eagerly lapped up. I went into Rocky IV with as much Western motivation as anyone I also read a lot of Tom Clancy as a teenager and had no problem with his largely idealised world of American good guys and Soviet bad guys. I read those books post-perestroika, but the red menace of the Soviet Union was real enough for me.
After 1989, I had high hopes for Russia rejoining the world stage, unburdened with both its previous ideological constraints and a bit of separation between Russia and the crimes of the Soviet Union. I wasn’t alone. Nearly everybody did. After forty years of living under the spectre of mutually assured destruction, everyone was happy to see a friendlier Russia, even the US.
So why aren’t we now? What are the current tensions about? We can skip major differences in ideology. Russia now operates in a market economy, a nominal if obviously abused democracy. Communism has withered away. The West need not fear waves of Bolsheviks coming from the East seeking to conquer. Is our present enmity and willingness to make them a bogeyman a result of reducing Russian influence on world opinion? Simple racism? Putin?