The Bear (Rug)

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Poor Russia. All those dreams of greatness, renewed world position, and (dare we say it) power. For awhile there they looked realistic. Putin was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet UnionPresident of the Russian Federation Prime Minister for life. Russia had adroitly dominated energy reserves and carved itself into a capitalist (sort of) power. Bear reconnaissance bombers began to harass U.S. naval vessels again, as well as testing the air defenses of the Northeast, to the surprise (and alarm) of the United States. One mission was such a surprise that the craft hit Pennsylvania before being intercepted. The pilots got medals. Someone at NEADS got reassigned to Alaska.
But it was not to be.
Now, with oil $30 a barrel below the budget-balancing level for Russia, and their inability to even blackmail the Ukraine and Europe with natural gas effectively, (no one believes they can leave the spigot off for very long) their dreams of power have slowly slipped away, and Putin, if you can imagine this, is politically vulnerable. The daunting health crisis they have been ignoring is making itself known in ugly ways (really their population is frightfully sickly) and their currency is heading back to 1998 levels as the central bank devalues it (again) this week.
It doesn't help, of course, that concern over their little camping trip in Georgia sucked over $120-$200 billion of foreign investment out of the country. Inflation was over 13% in December.
Of course, the problem is, with circumstances like this, military conquest looks like a nice distraction.
We're not long bomb shelters yet here, but that's only because a certain Goldman partner (who shall remain nameless) promised us spots in his basement in the Hamptons.
Russian Ruble Slides to Pre-1998 Crisis Low; Forint, Zloty Sink [Bloomberg]

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