Who cares? Russia isn’t quite “Upper Volta with missiles”—West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s immortal phrase. But it’s certainly a shadow of its former Cold War self. The U.S. economy is 10 times larger than Russia’s. Per capita gross domestic product is not much higher than in Turkey. Male life expectancy is significantly lower: 63, compared with 71 on the other side of the Black Sea. And the population is shrinking. There are nearly 7 million fewer Russians today than there were in 1992. By 2055, the United Nations estimates that the population of Egypt will be larger.
Remind me: why did Goldman Sachs group Russia with Brazil, India, and China as the “BRICs,” supposedly the four key economies of the 21st century? Give me Turkey or Indonesia any day.
Putin used to think Russia’s vast reserves of natural gas and oil–24 and 6 percent of the global total, respectively–entitled him to act like a global Don Corleone, making offers that trembling energy importers couldn’t refuse. News just in: there is so much untapped oil and refining capacity in North America that the U.S. is about to become a net exporter of petroleum products for the first time in 62 years. And by 2017 Kurdish and Caucasian natural gas should be flowing to Europe via Turkey’s Nabucco pipeline, ending the stranglehold of Russia’s Gazprom on the EU market.