But one wonders if Putin isn't also playing to the home front. His reattaching of Crimea to Russia 60 years after Khrushchev gave it to Ukraine was, after all, hugely popular among the Russian people. (And among the Crimean people too, for that matter.) He is overwhelmingly popular and has boosted Russian national pride. According to Pew Research, "Over 80 per cent say they have confidence in President Putin to do the right thing in world affairs, up from 69 per cent in 2012." Half now have a very favorable opinion of their homeland, compared with under a third in 2013. Furthermore, a solid majority agree with Putin that the loss of the Soviet Union was a great misfortune. On the other hand, their opinion of the European Union and the United States has decidedly soured, with only 15 per cent trusting in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs.
There's nothing like a good row abroad to boost the fortunes of a leader messing up at home. And Russia is a mess—a corrupt, gangster-run government with an economy overwhelmingly dependent on oil and gas, and even there the spoils seem to bypass the nation's most important needs.
The Sochi Olympics was supposed to raise the nation's image but it did rather more to illustrate the corruption endemic to Putin's regime. So picking a fight with the West may be the president's little demagogic distraction to take his peoples' attention off his misrule. And it seems to be working.