History might not repeat itself, but some regions seem to have a habit of regressing into roles that have dominated for centuries.  No matter the state of the world, the evolution of industries or the disposition of their people, some places on earth just have difficulty escaping their past.

            So here they go again.  Russia entered the 21st century the same way they entered the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.  They have a lone autocrat calling all the shots from Moscow.  They have an elite oligarchy controlling all of the major resources.  Their government polices the media, silences opposition and breeds apathy.  They fear the allure of Europe might pull their people to the West, so they close off their borders and ensure a widening sphere of influence keeps their vast nation buffered from the influence of outsiders.  They have more farmland than anywhere else on the planet, but their people still starve.  They seem to have one foot in the world of the advanced countries, but one still stuck in the quagmire of the developing world.

            Russia is a paradox of extremes, and it is no closer to resolving these disparities than it was under the reign of Peter the Great or Catherine the Great or even Josef Stalin.  In fact, it looks like they’re heading backwards.

            After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, Russians briefly experimented with democracy and capitalism. 

            They failed. 

            Russia opened up its polls to free elections and opened up public industries and lands to the highest bidder.  It released its hold on the Soviet satellite nations, allowing each to pursue its own destiny.  Russia turned inward, hoping the wonders of the free markets and the invisible hand would sweep in and compensate for decades of mismanagement and outdated business practices. 

            Opportunistic moguls who had friends in the right places swept in and gobbled up the factories, mines and farms from the government, buying them for kopecks on the ruble.  These moguls became billionaires.  The former Soviet republics degenerated into chaos, totally unprepared for self-rule.  By 1998, Russia was a mere shadow of its former self.  Its people were mired in a recession that left banks closed and 60% of their population below the poverty line.  Boris Yeltsin had won another election, but everyone knew the democratic process was a sham, and that corruption and ballot tampering ruled the system.  The nation that was once a superpower had failed at communism, and it now seemed like it would likewise fail at their bastardized form of capitalism and democracy.

            Then Vladimir Putin took over.  But more importantly, then oil prices started going up.  China and India needed energy and Russia had the oil, the natural gas, the coal and the timber to fill their insatiable hunger. Within a decade, Russia was clearly...