Ruling Russia, as President Vladimir Putin must do, involves a different level of skill than does governing the United States. From the end of World War II until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia was considered on a par with the United States in global strength.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and its transmogrification into the Russian Federation -- trimmed of much territory, democratized (in principle), and cautiously pursuing a partly opened economy -- have been painful for Kremlin leaders. Mr. Putin could be described as a control freak, or a frustrated dictator.
A telling comparison between Russia and the United States appears in a new report on 2011 global arms sales. The United States had 78 percent of the market. Russia was second with 6 percent.
On the positive side, after decades of negotiation Russia was admitted last week to the World Trade Organization. That will open up new possibilities for foreign companies to invest in and trade with Russia, providing it with new, important capital and technology. Membership should also improve the living standard of Russia's 142 million people.
But problems still abound. In some of the federation's 21 republics, several of which are Muslim, violence verging on rebellion frequently breaks out. These disturbances require the attention of Mr. Putin and other Russian leaders to try to keep the lid on; they involve sending Russian forces to try to calm the situations.
Unfortunately for Mr. Putin's image, his anti-democratic actions -- such as the recent crackdown on the punk-rock band Pussy Riot after its anti-Putin protest in Moscow's largest cathedral -- attract painful domestic and global attention.
Given Russia's full plate of demanding problems, the fact that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called the country America's "number one geopolitical foe" seemed to reflect either bad judgment or the weakness of his foreign-policy team.