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“Every nation gets the government it deserves,” observed Joseph de Maistre, the Sardinian kingdom’s diplomatic envoy to the Russian empire, some 200 years ago. He was commenting on Russians’ deep-seated political apathy — a trait that persists to this day.

Of course, Russia is no longer an absolute monarchy as it was in Maistre’s time. Nor is it a communist dictatorship, with the likes of Joseph Stalin using the threat of the Gulag to discourage political expression. But President Vladimir Putin has learned much from the autocratic tactics of his predecessors, whereas the Russian people seem to have learned nothing.

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