At least the ignorance of others is strength. The ignorance of the West, or its disinterest in other peoples' lives, is the strength of...oops, I almost typed "the Soviet Union." No, it is old imperial Russia, quite vulnerable actually, like the Czar's Russia. But sullen and determined, with some advantages, including a cowed people at home, nostalgic for glory, yet weak at its essence.

Philip Stephens has published a surgical op-ed this morning in the Financial Times about "The vulnerabilities that lie behind Putin's belligerence." But one of the mainstays of Russian belligerence is the cowardice of the West, including--as Stephens points out--that of Berlusconi. And, as you must have noticed elsewhere, the shakiness of Merkel, nervous about her Socialist partners who weren't nervous about the U.S.S.R. when it really was a great power.

Dmitry Medvedev is a front, willing or not. Anointed by Putin he is kept by Putin. All the hopes vested in the young pretty boy were just hopes, vain hopes.

The most shocking words in this terrible affair were in the cease-fire arranged by Nicolas Sarkozy. Right there in article five you will read, "Russian peacekeeping forces."  Is war not really peace or peace not really war?

I wonder how countries so intrinsically weak maintain their armed strength. North Korea is prime instance of this madness. With their nuclear power they blackmail us into feeding them

Russia is a little different.

This may be old hat for some of you. But here is Stephen's little refresher:

"Low fertility and high mortality rates hold the prospect of fast-shrinking population in a country where vast tracts of territory are already empty.  Demographers estimate that the present Russian population of about 140 million will fall by about 10 million within a decade or so.  By 2020 Moscow will struggle to find sufficient recruits to maintain its conscript army.

"Demographic decline is mirrored by crumbing health and education systems and by decaying civil infrastructure.  Corruption is rife. The present political leadership is better described as a kleptocracy than an autocracy.  Vast amounts of Russia's wealth are being siphoned off in bank accounts abroad rather than reinvested at home..."

By the way, Bush signed off on the phrase, "Russian peacekeeping forces."  And he and Ms. Rice (who designed the "peacekeeping forces" in Lebanon) are full of bluster towards Moscow.  Yes, and bluster is surrender.