Before Putin invaded Ukraine, I might have described the Russian Federation as a medium-size power punching above its weight in part by exploiting Western divisions and corruption, in part by maintaining a powerful military. Since then, however, two things have become clear. First, Putin has delusions of grandeur. Second, Russia is even weaker than most people, myself included, seem to have realized.
But Russia is looking less and less like an advanced nation.
The truth is that I was being generous in describing Russia as even a medium-size power. Britain and France are medium-size powers; Russia’s gross domestic product is only a bit more than half as large as either’s. It seemed remarkable that such an economically underweight state could support a world-class, highly sophisticated military — and maybe it couldn’t.
That’s not to deny that the force ravaging Ukraine has immense firepower, and it may well take Kyiv. But I wouldn’t be surprised if post-mortems on the Ukraine war eventually show that there was a lot more rot at the heart of Putin’s military than anyone realized."