The matryoshka doll is emblematic of Russia. Actually a set of identical dolls, each of them holds a smaller one within itself. The doll is a metaphor of historical Russia, where every layer of reality contained something else in descending order, till only the last doll could reveal the meaning of the first. The just-ended World Cup that Russia organised and hosted offered a look into the workings of a great matryoshka power.
From Czarist times through the immense interregnum of the Soviet Union, to today's Russia, the country has been seen from abroad more often as ideological, brutish, calculative and determined to push back against the West. Russia has been condemned for its annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea; it has denied any involvement in downing a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine; it intervened to turn the tide in the Syrian war; rejected accusations of interference in the 2016 US presidential election; and dismissed allegations that it was behind the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain this year.