During the last century Russia’s flaws and threats were invariably put down to her Communism, and consequently used as a potent argument against that political ideology. Historians however were aware that authoritarianism and imperialism had long been a feature of the Tsarist régimes that preceded the Soviet one, and consequently could be regarded as an inheritance from that era rather than as something essentially ‘socialist’. This should have warned those who had hoped, and even predicted, that the death of Communism in Russia would give way to a new age of political and social Liberalism there, that the transition might not be as smooth and simple as that.
Autocracy can wear many clothes. Putin’s sort can be traced back to the 19th century, if not earlier; when the threat from the ‘Russian Bear’ was believed to be the major one facing Britain (and British India), manifested in countless cartoon images. (Google ‘Images – Russian Bear’.) Russophobia was widespread in Britain then – books have been written about it – and not always as misdirected as such phobias often are. ‘Just because I’m paranoid’ – about the Russians – ‘doesn’t mean I’m wrong.’