From my latest reading, Benson Bobrick’s East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia, this striking anecdote about early Russian contacts with China:
In pursuit of the commercial bounty that might flow from relations with such a highly developed state, Ivan Petlin, Russia’s first envoy to China in 1618, had returned with a letter of invitation to trade. But unfortunately the Russians were unable to find anyone to translate it until 1675! That lapse in linguistic competence within the Russian foreign service had such drastic consequences for their later relations that seldom has the lack of a little academic knowledge meant so much. For even as hostilities arose, the negotiation of a bilateral trade agreement — the Kremlin’s original objective — remained the principal motive behind Russia’s bellicose acts.