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But, if the notion of “strategy” means anything, it refers to plans that unfold in connected stages towards a desirable eventual aim, which may be a long way ahead. Is it not obvious that Putin has no strategy in this sense whatsoever? Roughly speaking, the countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have a combined national output that is at least 15 times (and perhaps 30 times) Russia’s. If Russia were to spend a quarter of its GDP on weapons, the Nato members would match that if they set aside 1.5 per cent of GDP for the same purpose. A fair generalisation is that, because of its economic inferiority, Russia can never outspend the West in weaponry. Since the numbers in this article are well-known in intelligence and diplomatic circles, what is Putin’s game? Similarly, the interventions in south-east Ukraine and Syria are barmy from any rational long-run standpoint. Russia has been marginalised and impoverished since 2013, and the marginalisation and impoverishment can only worsen if Putin and his gang continue to behave as they have done since February 2014.

Let it be admitted, as I said at the start, that there is one metric on which Russia is a great power. Because of history it is entitled to have nuclear weapons. Moreover, newspaper reports of Putin’s speeches tell us that it has a large and growing arsenal of the horrid things. In the 1980s President Reagan countered the danger in his proposals for “star wars”, the Strategic Defence Initiative, by which anti-missile missiles would destroy incoming nuclear ballistic weapons. The widespread verdict was that the then Soviet Union could not copy the US, because it lacked American technology and economic might. But what does that imply about Russia’s capability to threaten the West today? The Soviet Union no longer exists and Russia itself has fewer people and less resources. Are we seriously to believe that Russia, with a GDP around that of Mexico’s, can develop advanced missile defence systems comparable to Nato’s?

The question remains, “What is Putin’s game?”. One thesis is that he faces serious challenges from inside Russia, as opposition within the elite interacts with dwindling popularity in the nation at large. Putin’s true popularity is widely thought to be exaggerated in elections, which are rigged to some degree. In the past his circle tended to refer to the opinion surveys conducted by the allegedly independent Levada Centre to confirm Putin’s popularity. But a few weeks ago the Levada Centre was listed by the government as a “foreign agent”, after it had reported a fall in support for Putin’s party. Indeed, there have been reports that it has closed.

The surmise must be that the military adventurism since February 2014 has been for domestic consumption, to justify the enforcement of loyalty to an increasingly unpopular regime. Putin and his cronies may dream of the restoration of great power status, and the useful idiots in the Western media may be conned by Russia’s latest indulgence in Potemkin display and charade. But the key facts about Russia’s economic, diplomatic and military position are blatant. It is less strong than its rulers want it to be and much weaker than is commonly thought. 
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Tom Burroughes
March 28th, 2017
2:03 PM
The article is fine as far as it goes but misses an important point: a country doesn't have to be rich to be a nuisance, or be aggressive. Indeed, countries that are running out of money and have domestic problems can use foreign adventures/wars to try and distract a discontented home population. Consider Argentina in 1982 (Falklands), as an example. It might also be worth reflecting that when Putin goes, or is overthrown, whoever takes over is probably going to be worse.

Lawrence James
March 16th, 2017
4:03 PM
What was Russia's economic position in 1853 when it invaded Turkish Romania, in 1876 when it attacked Turkey and in 1905 when it fought Japan.

March 6th, 2017
5:03 PM
Peter from Oz: then imagine how proud the Russians can be: they have a tenth of Chinese population, and their GDP is just 6- or 5-fold less than Chinese one... Indeed, Russian GDP per capita make Chinese look like beggars...

March 6th, 2017
4:03 PM
Are we seriously to believe that Russia, with a GDP around that of Mexico’s, can develop advanced missile defence systems comparable to Nato’s? - But it's NOT doing it. Russia is developing missiles and warheads with an increased capability of "dribbling" the possible US ABM defense, Faster and more "maneuverable" warhead, etc. It's logical, after all. Since to produce new missiles is more or less mandatory (and so, it's an expens eyou can't avoid, if you want to keep being credible as a nuclear power), better off invest on better missiles (and warheads), with a small increase on the price you have to pay anyway, than on an huge and madly costly "star shield". It's "asymmetric" answer, again...

March 6th, 2017
4:03 PM
Jonty Corfield, if Argentinian generals would have had the weapons and the men displayed by Russians in Syria (Kalibr, Raduga, Su35, Buratino thermobaric rocket throwers, speznaz, etc.), it would have been a very harder work for the soldiers from the Queen to retake the islands... Besides that, you keep dreaming Putin can be fool enough to attack baltic states and trigger art. 5. But why should he do it? He does not need it. If and when he would like to get Balts cry uncle, he has economic leverages strong enough to set aside brute force at all: embargo on baltic goods on the Russian markets (right now, Balts are one of the most damaged countries for Russian countersanctions), custom tariffs, change of destination of Russian freight ships (no more Balic ports)... Less choreographic than an armored brigde marching on Vilnius or Tallin or Riga, but, on the long run, it hurts where it takes... And no art. 5 at all...

Shoigu's Cat
March 6th, 2017
9:03 AM
FYI, nobody in Russia cares a fig about Britain. You are just not that interesting.

Peter from Oz
March 3rd, 2017
4:03 AM
It's great to see that Australia with 24 million people is fighting it out with Russia (population 144 million) for 12 place in world's biggest economies.

February 17th, 2017
3:02 PM
"But, when its stooge in Kiev was removed by democratic elections" LOOOOOOOOOOL British guys . Author do not respect you . He lies in so basic things .

January 14th, 2017
6:01 PM
If Trump and Putin can normalise relations then the people can prosper and islamist terrorism will be eliminated. Stalin was necessary in the alliance that eliminated Nazism. Brexit inspired the USA, France and Holland in the 21st century. It was like the Civil War without muskets , magnificent and a glorious victory. A red,white and blue Brexit is what we will get. And a pro-Israel one.

December 25th, 2016
5:12 PM
The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! Mangled diction and all. I have to say I found no comfort in knowing that Russians have a lousy standard of living. Or that Putin has no "strategy." Russia's advanced (and advancing, we are told) nuclear arsenal trumps (sorry!) the economic story. Putin may be less popular, but since when has that mattered to a tyrant who makes a habit of liquidating his opposition?

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