In fact, even as Putin is held out as public enemy number one, he is also described as pathologically weak. In a 2016 article, Robert Kaplan wrote of Putin’s “profound sense of insecurity” in the face of foreign foes. And in the Washington Post, Joss Meakins describes Russian power as “brittle” because of the country’s troubled economy, demographic problems, social problems, and more.

Yet therein lies the answer to our question. Putin is dangerous precisely because he has been extremely good at playing a very weak hand. To see how, consider the case of the Russian economy. Headlines about its imminent collapse aside, “today, Russia’s economy has stabilized, inflation is at historic lows, the budget is nearly balanced,” writes Fletcher School of Law’s Chris Miller in Foreign Affairs, “and Putin is coasting toward reelection on March 18, positioning him for a fourth term as president.”