How dangerous is Vladimir Putin? Russia's biggest threat comes from the East
The bad news is that, as shown by Russia’s invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, President Putin is the most revisionist leader in Moscow since his Soviet predecessors launched the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The good news is that, in Russia’s conflict with the West, the United States and Europe hold most of the cards. If they play them well by maintaining sanctions and allied unity, Russian revisionism can be contained, political pressure on Putin at home will grow, and Russian power ultimately will diminish.
The collapse in global oil and gas prices is putting significant pressure on the Russian government budget, of which oil and gas revenues comprise some 50 percent. Russia’s economy is forecast to shrink by 5 percent in 2015 and the ruble has been in a state of free-fall since the West tightened economic sanctions last autumn. The state oil giant Rosneft has had to go hat-in-hand to Moscow for a $40 billion bailout.
The Putin economic model of state-controlled or -allied companies reliant on lavish energy revenues is coming under significant strain, leading in turn to a splintering of Putin’s power base of the oligarchic elite. Russia’s democratic opposition remains weak in the face of the continuing persecution of its leaders and government control of the media. But this should not obscure the fact that Putin is now grappling with rising unrest among oligarchs who have been made very rich, and are now becoming poorer, as a result of his foreign adventurism.