Putin’s Russia is a poor, drunk soccer hooligan

Russia is not the country you think it is. Its economy is smaller than South Korea’s. Its people are poorer than Kazakhstan’s. It trails Finland in technology. And it has a smaller military budget than Saudi Arabia.

For most of the 20th century, what Moscow thought and did mattered from Havana to Hanoi. Then the collapse of the Soviet Union left behind a battered, broken shell of a country. When the Berlin Wall fell, so did Russia’s status in the world.

A boozy Boris Yeltsin was a fitting representative for a country whose average life expentency tumbled a staggering five years in the wake of the fall. There were the coups, industrial collapse, spreading corruption, and shrinking borders. After generations of fearing the Soviet Bear, the West patted it on the head, sent it some aid, and turned its eyes with expectation towards the emerging powers of Brazil, India, and China.

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