T HE DRIVE BACK from Sagra to Ekaterinburg is quiet. I am in the backseat, behind Andrei,
watching the rural landscape become more urban again. At each corner men and women,
bundled up against the cold, wait for mud-covered buses to pull over—their tires splashing
dirty snow in the direction of the bus stop—to pick them up. The crowd rushes onto a bus,
the last passenger barely on board as the uncaring driver swiftly shuts the door and whisks
his big vehicle back into traffic. There can be a rhythm to life on Russian streets that feels
so devoid of emotion—people move as quickly as they can in the cold from one spot to the
next, not smiling, not noticing other people, lost in their own thoughts.
Now the full-throated debate about the future of Russia back in Sagra is feeling almost
intrusive, as if I was forcing these questions on people who don't want or need to think about
them, and just go on each day getting by. But Andrei Gorodilov engaged. He asked chal-
lenging questions of me. And he defended Russia against this notion that it is only a matter
of time before a Western-style system is imposed here. I have just never seen such a patient
The good things will come on their own.
. . .
I N THE 2013 debate over possible military action in Syria, President Obama made the case
that the United States sometimes needs to engage, to help people elsewhere in the
world—“That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional.” Putin
then wrote an op-ed in the New York Times , saying he closely read Obama's comments and
that he “would rather disagree.” In Putin's view “It is extremely dangerous to encourage
people to see themselves as exceptional.” He added, “There are big countries and small
countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their
way to democracy.” Putin finished by writing, “We must not forget that God created us