Way, way back in time–you know, late 2013 through most of 2014–it was very common for conservatives to express a strange admiration for Vladimir Putin, partly for generic strongman reasons, but mostly as another data point to use against the weakling/tyrant Barack Obama. Here’s an example from Politico in September 2013:

Sen. Rand Paul said Wednesday that at this point in the game, Russian President Vladimir Putin is beating President Barack Obama.

“If this were a tennis match, it would be the umpire shouting, ‘Advantage Putin!’ He seems to be running circles around this administration,” Paul said on Glenn Beck’s radio show on TheBlaze.

Here’s another from Regent University’s Eric Patterson:

Vladimir Putin has outplayed the famously competitive Barack Obama once again.

In Ukraine, Syria, and even 2014 Olympic medal count, Putin is the winner. Moscow is triumphant, Washington looks ridiculous. The Ukrainians are realizing that Obama is talk and Putin is action; the Estonians and Latvians are wondering if the U.S. will really come to their aid in honor of the NATO treaty.

This is becoming a pattern watched by audiences everywhere: the clever Russians beating America on the field of international security and democratic ideals [sic!].

It should not surprise the U.S. that Putin sees international affairs as an adversarial contest. This is not because Putin is a Cold War throw-back. Rather, it is because Putin is a predator. Like a wolf or a shark, he can sense weakness.

Blah blah blah bark bark woof woof. Take off your shirt, Vlad, and flex those geopolitical muscles.

It all sounds a bit ridiculous now, per this report from the New York Times‘ MacFarquhar and Kramer:

President Vladimir V. Putin grew wildly popular by making Russians richer every year and by vowing to restore their country’s great power status. But now, with the government predicting Tuesday that the battered economy will fall into recession next year, that formula is in jeopardy.

Every day brings a barrage of woeful economic news. World oil prices just hit a five-year low. The Russian ruble is down 40 percent against the dollar so far in 2014. Inflation is due to rise 9 percent this year and to continue climbing. Capital flight is expected to reach $128 billion.

The Kremlin suffered the collapse of the Soviet state and a government default during previous extended declines in oil prices, so the changing fortunes potentially pose extreme challenges.

Putin’s American conservative fans might argue that Putin’s being undone by oil prices, not by anything Obama or other weak Western socialists did. But that’s not so clear:

Financial experts say Russia’s most pressing problem is not the sinking ruble, despite its potential to prompt a run on the banks, nor the falling price of oil, though the annual budget was based on a price of $96 per barrel, which is now hovering around $70.

“This is all peanuts compared to the financing crisis,” said Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister turned opposition politician.

Nearly $700 billion is owed to Western banks, economists said, much of it by the giant state-run companies that constitute the heart of the Russian economy. But sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and adventurism in southeastern Ukraine have blocked access to Western financing.

Despite Moscow’s plans to turn East as an alternative, China’s banks just do not have the capacity. Instead, the debt threatens to drain the Kremlin of its $400 billion in foreign currency reserves.

Yeah, but think of the trouble Putin would be in if he was dealing with President Romney!

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.