However, this achievement was founded almost entirely on oil and gas prices, which have climbed fivefold since 1999. Dependence on energy exports is greater even than under the Soviet Union: they now account for 75% of the total, against 67% in 1980. In 2012 Russia’s total bilateral trade with America was worth only $28 billion, and its trade with China, despite a long, shared border and copious amounts of commodities to sell, amounted to just $87 billion. By contrast America’s trade with China was worth $555 billion.
At home, high labour costs and low productivity make much of Russian industry uncompetitive, so most goods in the country’s shops are imported. Investment is too low; capital continues to leave the country, along with talented young Russians. A bloated and inefficient state, plus the firms it controls, account for half of GDP. And, as the Sochi costs indicate, corruption is endemic. Graft and inefficiency cost Gazprom $40 billion in 2011, according to the Peterson Institute, an American think-tank. An even larger sum is siphoned off by well-connected oligarchs—and squirrelled away in countries like Switzerland and Britain that are prepared to tolerate the crooks whom America wisely rejects.
Ten years ago the Russian budget balanced if oil was around $20 a barrel; today it needs to be around $103. The “Urals blend” price has fallen to $108. Meanwhile, new shale gas, which Mr Putin loves to ridicule but in fact typifies the American entrepreneurialism that could never thrive in his kleptocracy, promises to push oil and gas prices down.