No, Obama critics don't admire Vladimir Putin

His military adventurism in places like Georgia and Ukraine has led to sanctions and to the isolation of the Russian economy from its biggest trading partners, leading Russian nationalists to attempt to make a virtue of privation. That’s what aggressive dictatorships always do, by the way. They start unnecessary conflicts that drag their countries down, then they try to make up for it by portraying the resulting economic collapse as virtuous self-denial in the service of the Motherland. In Russia, the old adage really is true that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.

Russia had so much to gain from integration with the global economy because its great strength is its relatively educated workforce, the thousands of scientists and engineers and educated professionals, not to mention enterprising entrepreneurs, who helped the Russian economy grow and modernize rapidly after the fall of the Soviet Union. But instead of nurturing this enormous national resource, Putin has been stamping it out. He denounced independent businessmen like Mikhail Khodorkovsky as “oligarchs”—talk about projection!—and targeted them for imprisonment on trumped-up corruption charges. This has chased a huge portion of his country’s business talent overseas in search of jurisdictions where they enjoy the rule of law. What remains in Russia is a corrupt and inefficient system of cronyism.

Instead of relying on a diverse economic base of engineers and entrepreneurs, Putin has encouraged Russia to become massively dependent on the extraction of raw materials, particularly oil and gas. This “oil curse” is no accident. Oil is a favorite source of economic power for dictators because it has a lot of value in the global economy, and it is relatively easy for the state to control, monopolize, and exploit as a steady source of cash. But this has also made the Russian economy vulnerable to the shock of a collapse in oil and gas prices, driven in part by increased competition from America as a major producer. The result is the declining value of the ruble—worth about a third as much as it was in 2008—and the stalling out of Russia’s economic growth.

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