In Czar Peter’s Footsteps

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THREE hundred years ago, after becoming king of the creaky behemoth that was Russia, Peter Romanov went west. Traveling under a pseudonym, the czar turned himself into an apprentice — studying European advances in shipbuilding, firefighting, dentistry, locksmithing and parliamentary procedure, among other cutting-edge technologies.

He returned to remake Russia. The poor rebelled at switching to the European calendar (as far as they knew, it was 7208) and aristocrats stood in livid silence as he hacked off their beards. But Peter insisted that it was in Russia’s interest to integrate westward, writing later that other nations “are working diligently to exclude us from the enlightened world.”

That line of argument is surfacing again in Moscow. Next month, in California, President Dmitri A. Medvedev will spend a day acquainting himself with Silicon Valley, the template for a new scientific city that the government is building outside Moscow. And increasingly — as sketched out in a Foreign Ministry working paper leaked to Russian Newsweek this month — policymakers are airing a new principle: Russia needs alliances with the West if it hopes to modernize....

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