Difference between country and state
There's one particular misconception that I very often encounter when talking with foreigners about Russia and its history. Even those who have studied our history extensively and probably know it better than most russian high school graduates (who are supposed to know our national history at least semi-well). They tend to think of Russia as just another European country with its own unique features and bits just like any other country, but overall following the European (or "Western" in modern parlance) Judeo-Christian tradition, culture and values. And in most cases they are absolutely right. Russia is and has always been as a country - a part of the European cultural landscape. But that notion does not stand when you approach the topic of its political organisation and the way of governing - the state.
The Russian state has been pretty much in line with the European tradition and European development, but only relatively briefly - from around VIII to the beginning of XIII century. Hell, Novgorod was pretty much a Republic, even though its elected ruler was still called a "knyaz" (which is roughly equal to a Duke in Europe). And had that alignment remained the same, history would've been very different and Russia might have actually become one of the first modern constitutional monarchies or democracies, much like Britain. But it was cut off from that development path in 1230s by the Mongol invasion. And since that moment everything began to change. The russian rulers encountered a very different level of power - complete and total submission to the central authority, no checks, no balances, no competing authority - just one man whos word is law even if it contradicts what he said a moment ago. That kind of despotic power structure is quite common in Eastern cultures (from the Middle East all the way to Japan and China). And Russian rulers were subject to it for 2.5 centuries and they reshaped their own political structure in its image. Thus by the time the occupation was over the Russian state was completely transformed. And it never really went back into the European track. Yes, the Russian "khans" might have called themselves emperors, worn European clothing, married German princesses (and had quite a lot of European ancestry) and spoken French better than Russian, but their way of governing was much closer to that of the Chinese Emperor than to the English King. And that never really changed neither with the dismemberment of the Empire nor with the fall of the USSR.
Russia is a Western country ruled by an Asian despotic state. And it baffles me that so many very well informed people can't understand that.