The Russian president is playing a weak hand, but international collaboration is vital to push back against his threats
The extent of the challenge posed by Russia to Britain and its allies should not be exaggerated. Although it is boastful of its armed strength, Russia’s military spending fell by 20% last year, to a level below that of Saudi Arabia and one-tenth the equivalent US figure. In GDP terms, it lags well behind the US, Germany, the UK and France. Russia’s contracting economy, damaged by western sanctions, is unhealthily dependent on fluctuating oil and gas sales, which represent about 70% of exports. It suffers massive wealth inequality, low life expectancy, rising poverty and a gaping democratic deficit.
While the eras of tsarist and communist dominance are over, Russia remains effectively a one-party state ruled by a strongman leader with largely unchecked powers. Vladimir Putin, who has held that position since 2000, has been likened to a mafia don running his homeland like a protection racket. Friends, family, and business and political allies are rewarded for loyalty. Enemies and rivals are ruthlessly extirpated. By one estimate, corruption, much of it officially facilitated and approved, sucks up 48% of GDP.