There’s another little nugget of information to wonder at with Russia: despite, or perhaps because of, possessing one of the lowest population densities in the world, it has wreaked easily the most environmental havoc and misery of any country on earth. From Kamchatka to the Gulf of Finland, Russia is still a land of acid rain, heavy metals and plutonium. Stick a pin in a map of Russia and you are likely to alight upon a poisoned river or the rusting hulk of a nuclear submarine, an irradiated steppe, some chemically defoliated birch trees or a gently glowing peasant with a life expectancy of 34 years. Karl Marx would have been impressed, I suppose, that in the great battle between man and nature, the Soviet Union succeeded in wiping from the map almost an entire sea – the Aral, now largely a toxic desert – and turning the world’s deepest freshwater lake, Baikal, into a borscht of cadmium and mercury deposits. Shorn of its dumb and vindictive state socialism it was blithely assumed that Russia would improve, but there was nothing in Russia’s history to suggest this would be the case.