Putin’s Russia defies simple interpretation

Russian President Vladimir Putin has become the focus of global attention again Thursday by holding his annual live call-in session. Just one day before, the Pentagon released a video of Russian warplanes flying close to a US guided missile destroyer, an act described as a “simulated attack” by the US.

According to the Pentagon, Russian aircraft buzzed the USS Donald Cook as the guided missile destroyer was conducting flight operations with a Polish helicopter in the Baltic Sea Monday and Tuesday. At one point the jets were as close as nine meters. The US has accused the Russian military of being unprofessional.

The Russian pilots have demonstrated high professional skills to conduct such extremely dangerous maneuvers. The US military, which intends to provoke Russia in the Baltic Sea, was humiliated by its Russian counterpart instead. The US must feel furious.

To some extent, the fighter jets that flew over the US destroyer are an embodiment of Putin, who for many years has repeatedly posed challenges to Washington adeptly. His response to the arrogant US pressure has helped reach an asymmetric strategic balance between Russia and the US.

But toughness is not enough for Putin to fulfill his presidential role. Russians submitted more than 3 million questions to his call-in, which ranged from consumer prices, housing, corruption to transportation. The Russian economy and public livelihood are more daunting tests for Putin. They have cast a shadow notwithstanding the Kremlin scoring diplomatic point