What do Russian warplanes buzzing Western naval vessels, nationalists attacking a high school history event, and an assault on opposition leader Aleksei Navalny all have in common?
Well, they all illustrate something that is at the heart of the Kremlin's foreign and domestic policy: the politics of bullying and intimidation.
Yesterday, Russian nationalists attacked an awards ceremony for high school students organized by the human rights group Memorial -- throwing eggs at participants and spraying them with zelyonka, a green antiseptic liquid that leaves a deep stain.
Also yesterday, two men attacked opposition leader Aleksei Navalny at the entrance of his Anticorruption Foundation, splashing him with a dark blue chemical liquid.
These incidents are the domestic equivalent of Russian warplanes making provocative maneuvers -- as well as of the Kremlin's frequent nuclear threats.
And they are also consistent with yesterday's incident in which Vira Savchenko, the sister of kidnapped Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko, was temporarily prevented from leaving Russia.
As Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan wrote in their book Red Web, "The Putin system is all about intimidation -- more often than actual coercion -- as an instrument of control."
Likewise, Stephen Blank of the American Foreign Policy Council wrote recently that the Kremlin believes this behavior illustrates the regime's "machismo and virility."
But in reality, it illustrates the regime's weakness and its impotence.
At home, it is the weapon of a kleptocratic regime that fears its days are numbered.
And abroad, it is the weapon of a declining power that is desperate to prove its relevance.
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