Anton Yelchin, who portrays Ensign Pavel Chekov in the rebooted Star Trek films, is baffled by Russian history. He says:
It is one of the most complicated histories. It produced Dostoevski and Rachmaninoff. And then it produced Stalin and Lenin. It is such a strange combination. I could go on about this forever ...
Well, firstly, I think it bears mentioning that neither Stalin nor Lenin are, strictly speaking, Russians. Stalin (Dzhugashvili) was born and raised in Georgia. He attended Georgian Orthodox seminary in Tbilisi in his early days. Lenin (Ulyanov) was the son of Kalmyk (Mongol) and Tatar parents, although he was born and raised in Russia. So it could be argued that they're not products of Russia although they are a part of Russian history.
Russia's "complicated history" isn't really all that unique when one looks at the history of other nations. To follow Anton's lead and look at musical beauty versus tyrannical ugliness, one need look for further than Austria for Mozart and Hitler or Germany for Beethoven, Bach, and Himmler.
If anything, Russia's is actually less complicated or contradictory than others -- the characters Mr. Yelchin speaks of are from completely different spheres of life; Dostoevsky and Rachmaninoff being artists and Lenin and Stalin being rulers. And Lenin and Stalin are pretty much in the mould of many a Russian ruler from Ivan the Terrible, to Peter the Great, to Catherine the Great, (even to Putin, to a lesser degree) butchers and tyrants are pretty par for the course. Whereas their artists have generally been very good any they have not devolved to the Western extremes of Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga. So from a certain perspective, Russia seems pretty straight-forward.
France, on the contrary, has much more contrast among its rulers. Russia never had a Charlemagne or St. Louis IX like France, which also had blood-soaked monsters like Robespierre. England had St. Edward the Confessor, and on the other hand Henry VIII. Yet even so, while history in never completely cut-and-dry, one may note that all of the worst tyrants listed were revolutionaries against the old order of their respective countries. So it's not all as complicated as young Mr. Yelchin thinks, in my view!