I know it's a crude way of putting it, but perhaps it sums up the international perspective best. Every news article I read about Russia tells me that its 'resurgent'.
Four examples, from today:
Time Magazine: "an economically resurgent Russia views the Iran standoff as another opportunity to reclaim some of the strategic ground it lost after the Soviet collapse."
Newsday: "She said the next president must juggle challenges posed by a resurgent Russia, an ascendant China, global terrorism and an unpredictable Middle East that threatens Israel and the world's oil-based economy."
Boston Globe: "He was insinuating that the US scheme for installing a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, far from responding to an eventual threat from Iran, was really a disguised element of a plan to encircle and humiliate a resurgent Russia."
BBC: "Scotland's tourism authorities have seized on the increasing wealth of a resurgent Russia as a source of affluent visitors in recent years."
Whoever chose that word out of Dr. Roget's Thesaurus at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow should be promoted. Talk about stellar marketing. But beyond that there is something in the Western media that wants to build a Tsar out of Vladimir Vladimirovich. They like taking pictures of him walking strongly into meetings. Guys like us on the Internet think he's a clown. Russian teenagers parade to celebrate his birthday.
It's not just him though. Nearly every European leader, save Romano Prodi and Gordon Brown, has taken office in recent years amidst a PR blitz of sycophancy. Angela Merkel was similarly going to put Germany back to work and solve all of its problems. Nicolas Sarkozy is going to put France back into an Atlantic orbit. If Sauli Niinistö wins up north in the next presidential election, I am sure he'll revolutionize Nordic identity and look good while doing it.
But are these cults of personalities all they are made out to be? Am I glad Sarkozy was elected? You bet I am, considering Chirac had been in politics since before I was conceived, nay, before my parents even knew each other. Do I like Merkel? She seems pleasant enough, but having been in Germany during the 2001 campaign season, I don't even want to get immersed in German politics.
So what lip service should we give resurgent Putin and his Judo chop? Should we really believe that Russia is resurgent because it deported Georgians last year to "teach them a lesson" as a snarky commenter put it on Ed Lucas' blog. Why, didn't Russia back bloody separatist movements in Georgia in the early '90s when it was not "resurgent"?
Should we really believe that Russia is resurgent because it is complaining about Estonian citizenship policies or NATO membership, or trying to make Estonia look bad in the court of European public opinion? Hasn't it always been trying to do that, since the day after it signed the Treaty of Tartu in 1920? In the 1920s and 30s too the wealthy nations of Finland and Estonia were brutalized as 'fascists' in the Russian press. What's changed?
And that's sort of the ultimate point. What has changed? Russia has a leader who refuses to voluntarily surrender power to a democratically elected successor. Instead he'll find away to keep it himself.
Same as it ever was.