But as the eminent Russia historian Edward L. Keenan has argued, it didn’t take long for Muscovites to realize that real power lay not in the East but the West. Failing to impress the crowned heads of Europe, they abandoned the Turkic terms and styles. Instead, Czar Ivan III began copying European princes, sending to Italy for architects to rebuild the wooden Kremlin. The brick walls that stand today date from that period, and the main entrance, the Spassky Gate, still bears a Latin inscription praising the Italian Renaissance architect Petrus Antonius Solarius for its design.

Russians have been importing Western forms and ideas ever since. Typically forced on the people by powerful leaders in great spurts, however, the adoption of those new influences mostly resulted in hybrid forms that turned out to be more Russian than Western — from the laws of Catherine the Great, which omitted many elements of Enlightenment thought that she claimed they reflected, to Soviet communism, whose tenets and practices would surely have dumbfounded Marx.

“Westernization” has long played a role in Russia’s political culture. New institutions and discourse obscured and ultimately helped maintain Russia’s centuries-old way of doing things: important decisions made by a handful of the powerful behind closed Kremlin doors.

Such a political culture requires a facility for bluffing. It remains central under Putin, who routinely misleads his own people, and the West, about his intentions. The best example of his misdirection was the sham four-year presidency of his protege and puppet, now-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the supposedly reforming liberal.