A great article about Putin’s generally incompetent administration, and the hole he keeps digging for himself:
The Europeans may seem divided, but behind the bland statements calling on both sides to stop the recent fighting something significant has happened. Six European leaders, five of them from the former Soviet bloc, chose to stand side by side with Mr Saakashvili yesterday as he struggled to remain in power. The events in the Caucasus will only serve to harden opinion against Russia at Nato and in the EU.
The mini-war in Georgia may have surprised some Europeans, but it was expected weeks ago by British Intelligence. Thanks to the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the ex-KGB officer who was poisoned in London by suspected Russian agents nearly two years ago, Britain has completely reassessed its relationship with Moscow. MI5, which reports that Russian agents in Britain are now back at Cold War levels, regards Russia as the third most serious threat to British security after terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Attempts to rehabilitate relations have faltered and the recent treatment of BP by its partners and the Russian authorities has only reinforced the view that Russia cannot be trusted.
Flush with billions from the sale of oil and gas, the Kremlin may calculate that it does not need allies in the West and would rather be respected and feared than befriended.
That too would be a serious mistake. For all its big-power bluster, Russia is weak and vulnerable. Russian tanks and aircraft may have smashed the fledgeling Georgian Army with ease, but most of the weaponry was Cold War-era and many of the troops conscripts. Anyone who has seen the Russian Army operating in the Caucasus knows that the military will need a generation to modernise. Meanwhile America, and its main Nato allies, are decades ahead in military technology and combat experience.
Russia is also facing a severe demographic crisis. Its population is shrinking by 700,000 people a year. The UN estimates the population will fall below 100 million by 2050, down from around 146 million today.
As for the economy, it is booming thanks to natural resources that account for 70 per cent of the country’s wealth. But the oil price is in a state of flux. Russia has failed to diversify. Should energy prices fall sharply, the economy could collapse, as it did a decade ago.