Putin is sending shivers through the world with his attempts to strong-arm the Ukraine back into the Kremlin’s zone of influence and no doubt more and more column inches are going to be directed at this emerging crisis.
Yet it seems to me pretty obvious that that Russia, circa 2006, is almost hilariously weak to be throwing its weight around. The Russian economy is pathetic for a would-be imperial seat of power, running about half the size of India based on purchasing power. Its GDP per capita is about the same as such mighty global players as South Africa, Mexico and Trinidad. The antics of its kleptocratic and economically illiterate former KGB leadership makes the place less attractive to investors by the day. Frankly you would have to be crazy to put your money in Moscow. Even its military has repeatedly demonstrated that it is inept and corrupt in equal measure. All this talk of Russia’s importance is vastly over-stated. In short, Russia needs to be treated with respect, but only the sort of respect you give a drunk with a knife as he staggers down the street.
The price of gas sold to the Ukraine is currently below market levels but the cackhanded way Russia has handled this makes it pretty obvious that markets are the last thing on Putin’s mind. But perhaps he is to be applauded for massively strengthening the hand of pro-nuclear power advocates with his preposterous posturing. Even the turgid political class of western and eastern Europe can now have few illusions that it makes sense to rely on an unstable place with delusions of grandeur for their energy supplies. Methinks it might be time for those with some spare dosh to invest some of it in nuclear energy stocks.