One of the themes in my writings is that dictatorships are weaker than they appear on the surface (the reverse - that democracies are stronger than they appear – is also true).
For instance, some people – some even conservatives! – view Russian dictator Vladimir Putin as some kind of a Nietzschean superman who is so competent and capable that it is futile to resist his will. A related view - often held by these same people - is that the Western democracies are too decadent, weak, and corrupt to defend themselves - as evinced by weak, stupid and/or incompetent leaders like, Cameron, Merkel, Hollande, and Obama. Both opinions are of course wrong, even when they are not bleeding into cowardice. The simple fact is that Western democracies seem weaker than they really are, and despotisms seem stronger than they really are, because we air our dirty laundry out in public and the dictators hide it. Even if the above appraisal of world leaders is completely accurate, I will bet on the strong institutions over the strong individuals any day.
In line with this, it should be remembered that the Russian economy is a one-note song and took a terrific hit with the collapse in oil prices. Since the Crimean takeover, Russia suffered a net migration of million people out of the country! With this backdrop, and in addition to his ongoing adventures in the Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has been conducting ongoing military exercises at an aggressive pace. For instance, upon returning from his mysterious 10-day absence, he abruptly announced a full-scale military exercise.
In light of this, I wonder how much is all of this costing him. Most people do not realize that a significant part of the cost of running an army is operating those expensive modern weapon systems. They may be expensive to buy, but so is running them. Those Tupolev Bear bombers that Russia has been flying alongside everybody’s borders (propeller-driven aircraft designed by German POW’s after the war, I might add), don’t fly themselves. This is why most of the Russian Air Force and Navy was idle throughout most of the 90’s and early 2000’s. They couldn’t afford to operate the ships and planes. With the price of oil coming back down to earth, all of this activity must be imposing a terrific strain on the Russian state – a strain that the Kremlin is able to, for now, hide behind a wall of slick propaganda.
If the West had a real leader, he’d understand that this show of force is really an indication of weakness not a sign of strength. And he’d push back hard.