The bear is back. That’s what all too many Russia-watchers have been saying since Russian troops steamrolled Georgia in August, warning that the country’s strongman, Vladimir Putin, was clawing his way back toward superpower status. Many now believe that the powerful Russian bear of the Cold War years is coming out of hibernation.
Not so fast. Predictions that Russia will again become powerful, rich and influential ignore some simply devastating problems at home that block any march to power. A declining population is robbing the military of a new generation of soldiers. Russia’s economy is almost totally dependent on the price of oil. And, worst of all, it’s facing a public health crisis that verges on the catastrophic.