"The physical and mental attributes of the Russian soldier are such as to make them the best people of all for war. They are long-enduring, tough, and insensitive and they find it easy to withstand the hardships of campaigning. They devour great quanities of raw and uncooked food, and their physical constitution is so hard that they bathe in rivers in the coldest weather."
Quoted from a contemporary source in The Military Experience in the Age of Reason by Christopher Duffy
Most Russian characters in media, at least since the Cold War started, are depicted as hard fightin', heavy-drinkin', manly, boorish creatures. Even their females border on being The Baroness or the Femme Fatale. So what's a troper to do? Even those times when you do see a soft, sophisticated Russian, they're evil. So much, in fact, that a non-evil, cultured Russian character is a rarity. And before the Cold War it was a Wild Communist, and even before, in XIX century, it was a hard-fighting, heavy drinkin', boorish guy in furs, with a wild beard and a pet bear. So this trope predates the television by some 150 years (it goes all the way back to 1813, in fact). And it would be probably even older if people outside the country itself before 1813 had registered Russia's existence.
One wonders for the reason for this trope: is it the cold winters of Russia, or their being raised on unsophisticated food, or something completely different? But that's rarely answered.
Sub-Trope of Had To Be Sharp. Often overlaps with, if not providing an outright Justification for, Husky Russkie. Somewhat related, also, with Russian Guy Suffers Most.
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One commercial for Halls decongestants features a man popping one of the candies into his mouth and suddenly imagining that he's sitting in a sauna between two huge hairy Russian men, who are slapping him on the back and urging him to "Breathe, my pasty friend! Hahahah!"
In Fairy Tail, though not Russian per se, the name "Makarov Dreyar" itself really sounds it, and is an in-universe Memetic Badass.
His old comrade Polyushka has a name that is most likely Russian or at least Eastern Slavic, and she is perhaps the only Badass Normal in the series. Bonus points for obviously being based on Slavic witches.
Girls und Panzer introduces Pravda High School, a Hokkaido-based school whose students (all Japanese) emulate Russian stereotypes, including a logo featuring a pair of scissors and a set of rulers suspiciously arranged like the Soviet emblem. Pravda is also the defending champion from last year's National High School Tankery Tournament (ending a nine-year streak by the German-themed Kuromorimine Women's College from Kumamoto) and the semifinals opponent of Ooarai (whose leader, Miho Nishizumi, was, coincidentally, the flag tank operator of Kuromorimine from last year).
Silver Spoon: Alexandra, Hachiken's Russian sister-in-law. A head taller than everyone else, part-Cossack, great horsewoman, thinks -20 is "a bit warm", immediately assumes the titular spoon is a warning against poisoning, can stomach Shingo's cooking.
Assassin's Creed: The Fall reveals the Russian tsars run on Authority Equals Asskicking, as shown when Alexander III takes down an Assassin unarmed, after walking off his train crashing, and giving his piece of Eden to said Assassin just so the fight would be fair.
This is true to an extent in Nikolai Dante, even though most of the characters are Russian. Dante himself was introduced as an aggressive, drunken lout, though he has since matured into a heroic, badassfreedom fighter. Katarina's pirates have a reasonable chance of beating the navy in a sea battle and then celebrating with several bottles of cognac, Vladimir Makarov is closely based on Ivan the Terrible, and most of the Romanov men fit the trope to some extent. And then there's Lulu.
Colossus of the X-Men and Omega Red play it straight.
A one-shot parody of the Superman comics called The Man of Rust has the Lex Luthor expy summon all the Man of Rusts from all the alternate Earths. One of these is from Soviet Earth. When all the Men of Rust start fighting each other, and one of them uses his Freeze Breath on the Soviet Man of Rust, he just shrugs it off and says, "Bah! Your freeze breath is nothing compared to Siberian winters!"
The colossal blonde hitman known simply as "The Russian" from The Punisher (who is almost impervious to pain).
Rocky IV has an Inversion: The American, Rocky, does low-tech training in the harsh Russian countryside, while his Russian opponent Drago trains in a comfortable gym using the most high-tech equipment available.
The MMA fighter Koba from Warrior is based on the real MMA fighter Fedor Emelianenko, who was also a stoic, undefeated and greatly feared Russian. He borrows his nom de guerre from Stalin, who in turn borrowed it from a notorious Georgian outlaw.
In Iron Man 2 Ivan Vanko seems to be Made of Iron thanks to having survived a lot of adversity in a Siberian prison. Technically, Natasha Romanoff also—she claims in Avengers that she "used to be" Russian.
Barrayarans in the Vorkosigan Saga are in many ways Russia Recycled IN SPACE!. They are presented as warlike, ferocious, and superstitious, hard-bitten folk who live on a planet just entering into civilization.
In Neal Stephenson's REAMDE, the Russian mercenary Sokolov tangles with some Islamic terrorists. His stoic, seen-it-all personality stands in contrast to the arrogant and talkative terrorist ringleader.
Live Action TV
Mikhail on LOST: stoic, evil, gives Sayid a run for his money in combat, and nigh unkillable. He also has Dharma vodka at the Flame (a sentence that allegedly means something).
Susan Ivanova in Babylon 5; a stoic, no-nonsense soldier who even goes down in legend as Ivanova the Strong.
The Hogan's Heroes episode "A Russian Is Coming" featured Igor Piotkin, a downed Russian pilot who was strong but not very intelligent.
Invoked in The Sopranos: A one-legged very strong-minded Svetlana remarks that Americans don't know what a real problem is: they live an easy existence compared to the average miserable life in Russia/USSR and yet they are wimpy complainers. And then there is Valery, a Russian ex-Spetnaz who seemingly gets his throat crushed and his head shot, yet still manages to escape into the pine barrens, never to be seen again.
'Boris' from The Wire points out that American prisons are not real prisons as he has being a "guest" to the actually harsh Ukrainian/Soviet ones.
Asserted by prisoner Nikolai Stanislofsky in Oz. After seven years in a Russian gulag, he expects no trouble from Oz. He didn't expect Ryan O'Reily.
Danger 5. Spoofed with Action Girl Ilsa, who shrugs off being whipped by Nazi torturers. "This is nothing compared to Siberia."
Worf, while already strong as a Klingon, likely got the strength to survive the alien of the week from his adopted Russian parents. He even mentioned that his father took him camping in the Urals during his childhood.
A running gag in some MMA studios is that any technique can be made to sound more badass by prepending a nationality, usually Russian (but sometimes Brazilian) to it. So a boring old armbar and triangle choke become an awesomeRussian armbar and Brazilian triangle choke.
Subverted because Zangief isn't a bad guy in the games, just in the movie. Even then, he's more stupid than threatening.
Before him, Zangief of WCW.
The Heavy from Team Fortress 2. His fists do the same amount of damage as a sword in game.
He also carries a gun about as large as himself.
Well to be more exact, "Sandvich make me stronk!"
The Heavy has twice the health of the other tiny baby classes, without wearing any armor.
He can kill you by pointing at you and yelling "Pow!"
If Fridge Logic comes into play, this is averted in the Command & Conquer Red Alert series, in that Soviet Conscripts are twice portrayed as inferior to Allied soldiers (GI's and Peacekeepers). The Apocalypse Tanks, however...
This was only true from the second game on. In the first, the Soviet infantry was vastly superior to the Allied forces in terms of sheer strength, with only the Allies' ability to field more units at a cheaper rate allowing them to keep up. They also had much stronger tanks, could defend their bases with Tesla Coils, and had a number of advantages in the air as well. Their only weak spot was in the navy, as their only ship (Submarines) is useful only against ships and sinks after only a few hits.
"Iron Joe" (read, Stalin) from a Histeria!! sketch with the WWII allies as superheroes. He was modeled after The Hulk and his favourite tactic was "Wipe out my opposition with famine and secret police!"
Even robots are not immune. In Transformers Animated The Russian-accented Decepticon Strika is built like a titanium outhouse and turns into a futuristic tank, making her one of the largest fighters in her faction. On Soviet Charr, tank drives you.
In an episode of American Dad!, Steve befriends an ex-Soviet spy who helps him build a rocket for a competition. To toughen him up, he teaches him to eat Russian turnips, which are so tough Steve's mouth begins to bleed upon biting into one.
Siberians aka "Tough/Rough Siberian guys." They are frequent characters of jokes, in which they receive a new and sophisticated device, submit it to an improbable stress test (like testing a Japanese chainsaw in succession on tough Siberian pine, tough Siberian cedar and tough Siberian rail from a nearby railroad), say their characteristic "Ah-ha!" and revert to using something much simpler, but robust. Of course, this trope relates to real Siberians as much as the topic trope relates to Russians in general.
Nekrasovian women. Named so after a passage describing such a type of women in poem "Grandfather Frost-the Red Nose" by Nikolai Nekrasov. The two-liner that codified a trope goes approximately as follows: "... will stop a charging horse/ And enter a burning house".
Tsar Ivan IV Vasilyevich, Grand Prince of Moscow (1530-1584). He's known as Ivan the Terrible in the English-speaking world, but the title is meant to convey ferocity.
This video depicts a group of Russian guys casually driving through a forest fire. What's even more mind-bendingly insane is that they encounter other vehicles during their death-defying commute. Yes, that's right, only in Russia can you get stuck in traffic in the middle of a damned forest fire. What's even better is that not only do they not seem at all scared, they seem bored or even mildly annoyed. In fact, they are really scared, but Russians apparently emote less.
Soviet cosmonauts have a collapsible shotgun included in their equipment. Instead of landing in the ocean they come down in Siberia and one of the early crews was trapped inside their capsule overnight due to being surrounded by hungry wolves.
Rather creepily, Adolf Hitler became a firm believer in this by the end of the war. Because the Soviets had defeated the Germans in the Great Patriotic War, his racist and Social Darwinian attitudes led him to conclude that the "eastern races" were obviously more deserving of survival and thought they would ultimately complete world conquest after destroying the "decadent democracies of the west." It's one of the reasons he came to denounce the entire German nation and deemed them unfit to even survive as a people, trying to effect this by ordering the destruction of all German infrastructure and even the bare means of survival.
It's not exactly the same kind of badassery, but the literature on what Russians imprisoned in The Gulag suffered through suggests strongly that at least some Russians would survive twelve hours of logging at -60 degrees Fahrenheit, naked, fed entirely on dishwater salted with plutonium chloride.
The book Fighting in Hell compiled by the US Army after World War II from interviews of German Generals who had served on the Eastern Front repeats this theme.
Fedor Emelianenko, long-reigning PRIDE FC heavyweight champion and frequent Sambo tournament champion. Having gone undefeated for nearly ten years, he has widely been called the best fighter of all time and was certainly the most dominant fighter of his era. His personality was notably stoic, and his Dissonant Serenity in the ring was often called chilling. The Japanese fight scene made a lot out of his Russian heritage. He was given the nickname "the Last Emperor" and walked out to "The Cossack's Parable," often accompanied by graphics of falling snowflakes.
In an interview in the February 2012 issue of Esquire UK, Russian supermodel Irina Shayk, who was born in Yemanzhelinsk, Russia, USSR, said, "You can't break Russian people. We're made in cold snow. We're very resistant."
Aleksandr Karelin, known as "The Experiment", grew up in Siberia and began his life skiing and hunting. He started wrestling at age 13 and became the dominant force in Greco-Roman wrestling, winning three Olympic gold medals, nine World Championship gold medals and twelve European Championship gold medals. He won all his matches in the 1990 Olympics in less than three minutes, the shortest in 26 seconds. He also carried a refrigerator up eight flights of stairs and invented a new suplex variation. He also never failed any test for performance enhancers of any kind. It was all Mother Russia.