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Geographically, Europe is a bit of a mess.

The Europe that most people think of – the sophisticated, rich civilizations of France, the Netherlands and Germany – indeed are important, but they are only a very small piece of a very large puzzle. They are located on the Northern European Plain (NEP), one of the world’s great temperate, fluminous latlands. Ease of transport on the continental fringe allows for rapid wealth generation, but the lack of barriers in the same area makes war an unfortunately common occurrence.

Much of the rest of Europe is dominated by a series of peninsulas, islands and mountains. In all cases, transport is more difficult, insulating these places from the richer lands of the NEP. This relative isolation turns pockets of people into strong identities: English, Swiss, Hungarian, Spanish, Swedish, etc. The wealth of identities slows European integration – whether peaceful or militant.

Move east of Europe, however, and the barriers melt away into the greatest expanse of flatlands in the world. These wide-open lands are home to the Russians, and the clash of cultures and interests between Europe and Russia is but one of the challenges that will erupt in the next decade.

For more on Europe and Russia’s futures, see Chapters 10 and 11 of The Accidental Superpower.