Here is the beginning of the latest excellent column by Philip Stephens in the Financial Times:
The conventional story about Russia has been one of power reclaimed after the fall to chaos during the 1990s. Oil, gas and autocracy have restored it to the ranks of world powers. Some of the more hyperbolic commentary has gone so far to say that, along with China, Moscow has created an entirely new model to challenge western liberalism.
Yet what most strikes me about Russia is its isolation. For all its resurgent hydrocarbon revenues and its considerable, albeit residual, military power, Moscow is essentially friendless. As for a superior system of capitalism, when was the last time you heard an international politician of any consequence hold up Russia as their chosen paradigm?
Moscow can claim the odd loyal acolyte, sure. Many of the former Soviet republics among its neighbours judge it wise to stay on side with the present regime. Last year’s Russian invasion of Georgia served, in Voltaire’s famous phrase, “pour encourager les autres”. Beyond the post-Soviet space, mavericks such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez see some advantage in travelling in Moscow’s slipstream.