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28 area of Russia, compared with only 44 percent in northwestern Russia, for example. Despite their religious beliefs, Russians still reflect much of their pagan, pre-Christian past. A superstitious people, they just do not do certain things, and neither should visitors. Shaking hands across a threshold is believed to bring bad luck; in traditional Russian folklore, the doorway is where the house spirit is believed to reside. Whistling indoors brings poverty. Sit at the corner of a table and you will never marry.

Its expansion, moreover, resulted in even longer undefined borders as well as heightened suspicion of neighboring nations. With such a vast territory to govern, Russia evolved into a state ruled from its center and organized along paramilitary lines. Service to the state was a duty for both nobles and peasants. Surrounded by hostile powers, Russia became dependent on the use of force in its relations with neighboring states and obsessed with security—traits that still survive. Although the Mongols invaded Russia some seven hundred years ago, the memory of their rule is one reason for Russia’s deep-rooted suspicion of China today.

In 1852, in his coverage of events leading to the Crimean War, Marx wrote: Russia’s acquisitions from Sweden are greater than what remains of that kingdom; from Poland, nearly equal to the Austrian empire; from Turkey in Europe, greater than Prussia (exclusive of the Rhenish provinces); from Turkey in Asia, as large as the whole dominion of Germany proper; from Persia, equal to England; from Tartary, to an extent as large as European Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Spain, taken together. The total acquisitions of Russia Geography and Culture 13 during the last sixty years are equal in extent and importance to the whole Empire she had in Europe before that time.

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