A few years back, in one of his finest moments, Senator John McCain said on a Sunday talk show that "Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country." It was right when he said it, and it's even more right today.
Vladimir Putin's circle of corrupt oligarchs gouge whatever money they can from the impoverished Russian economy and move it to bank accounts overseas. And they do this after giving Putin his cut, after which he apparently also sends the money overseas.
Many say Putin is the richest man in Russia, worth billions and billions. So the old Soviet model of the nomenklatura communist bureaucrats getting rich while the rest of the country declines is still in place.
But with energy prices falling, Vladimir Putin's Russia has essentially been in a recession over the past four years. With oil at $50 a barrel or less, Russian budgets plunge deeper into debt. It's even doubtful the Russians have enough money to upgrade their military-energy industrial complex.
Through crafty media relations and his own bravado, a deluded Putin struggles to maintain the illusion that Russia is a strong economic power. But it ain't so. Not even close.
Now, Russia still has a lot of oil and gas reserves. And it uses this to bully Eastern and Western Europe. It threatens to cut off these resources if Europe dares to complain about Putin power grabs in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, the Baltics, and elsewhere.
But enter President Donald Trump. In his brilliant speech in Warsaw, Poland, earlier this week, he called Putin's energy bluff.
It may well have been the best speech of his young presidency. Trump delivered a stirring leadership message, emphasizing the importance of God, freedom, strong families, and democratic values.
And while unambiguously pledging to uphold NATO's Article 5—committing the members to protect one another—Trump went even deeper: "The fundamental question of our time," he said, "is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost?"