So Vladimir Putin is at it again, playing his favorite role as a Bond villain.
In a recent interview with Russian state television, the Kremlin leader boasted that back in his KGB days he ran an international network of "illegals" -- spies who work abroad without official diplomatic cover.
Putin then proceeded to troll the West by sending out a message to all those illegals working abroad for Russia right now, saying: "I wish them happiness and prosperity. I am sure they will hear my words."
Part of this, of course, is for domestic consumption.
With elections less than a year away, the Kremlin's spinmeisters are busy trying to make Putin look as badass as possible.
It's basically the functional equivalent of yet another shot of him shirtless on horseback.
But by taunting the West at a time when Russia is being accused of interfering in foreign elections and running influence operations abroad, by making himself look as menacing as possible, Putin is also beefing up his international brand as a global bad guy.
But this posing and this preening actually betrays a fundamental weakness.
Russia has no soft power to speak of.
It has no moral authority. It doesn't have a political model that anybody wants to emulate. It doesn't have an ideology or a set of values that inspire.
So it has to find substitutes. And one of these is brand Putin -- the global rogue and villain.
But after 17 years, Putin's Dr. Evil act is wearing a bit thin.
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