Rightsizing Russia

It has been described as a “gas station masquerading as a country,” as a nation that has “nuclear weapons…oil wells and nothing else,” and as a mere “regional power.” 

Despite the fact that Vladimir Putin’s regime has pulled off the first territorial annexation in Europe since World War II, successfully intervened in Syria to save the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, and is rapidly militarizing Belarus on NATO’s Eastern flank,  the stubborn perception of Russia as a paper tiger persists.

And with the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden focused on China — and hoping to park the Russia problem — it is a perception that has serious policy implications.

The thing about Russia is that it is never as strong as it appears — and it is never as weak as it appears. So how strong is Russia really? And how much policy attention should it be receiving?

On this week’s Power Vertical Podcast, host Brian Whitmore speaks with Michael Kofman and Andrea Kendall-Taylor, co-authors of an important article in Foreign Affairs titled “The Myth of Russian Decline” to get some answers.

Listen here:

Rightsizing Russia


  • In this episode, the magisterial Brian Whitmore and his learned colleagues debunk the myth that Russia is a spent force. Remember all those comments from well-meaning politicians and journos that the sanctions were working? “Russia has an economy only the size of Italy”, the regime would soon collapse, Russian people would tire of the tiny dictator etc etc.
    None of this was true. The sanctions were and are about 1% of what they need to be in order to force a 180° turn in policy. Russia’s economy is actually in robust condition; no debts and $trillions stashed away offshore, in crypto currencies, huge shareholdings in foreign companies, a global property empire etc.
    The state, the mafia, the oligarchs, the spooks, the bankers and the ruling elite function as one single entity. Very few understand this except a few Russia wonks like Brian.
    Russians are not tired of the tiny poisoner. They will be happy for him to rule until his death and another murderous neo-nazi will take over.
    Brian quotes Peter Pomerantsev when he correctly states that putler is the “Che Guevara of the populist right”. He chose Guevara well, as he was a hate-spewing psychopath who derived extreme pleasure from murdering his opponents.

    Liked by 2 people

  • In spite of the Foreign Affairs nonsense, Russia has declined. A lot. It has a demographic crisis. It’s economy is declining because of Putin’s military demands and foreign adventures. I doubt it will collapse anytime soon, but it will commit suicide in the not too distant future.


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