It may not be 1956, but the Cold War never ended just because Joe Biden can now take a guided tour of the Kremlin and doesn't feel, as my parents' generation did, that a Russian nuke might detonate at any moment about 10 inches from his face. The Soviet Union has dismantled, but only to rebuild its sphere of influence through more "acceptable" means, such as those related to economic trade and multinational organizations. In a time of global economic crisis, Russia has an interest in everything and straddles all spheres and worlds. Therein lies its newfound power, and its competitive threat - particularly at a time when Obama's America is becoming, in effect, increasingly isolationist even vis-a-vis its own allies, with the obstruction of Canada's Keystone XL pipeline a good example.
Meanwhile, Russia has managed to integrate into both First World power institutions like the United Nations Security Council, and developing world organizations. During last week's BRICS Summit of emerging nations, official representatives from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa discussed various ways to increase their prominence from the current estimated 56 percent of world growth, for which they'll be collectively responsible in 2012, by milking various first world bleeding-heart "green initiatives" that funnel them cash. Other goals include setting up development funds to support each other while cutting out the American dollar altogether.
And in terms of First World influence, it's not like Russia is becoming in any way insular. Quite the contrary. For example, according to the Kommersant Daily, Russia's state-owned nuclear energy company, Rosatom, is considering picking up a $24 million investment in the construction of two new British nuclear plants. Some "foe," right?
With the U.K. having foisted upon itself the harebrained idea of significantly reducing clean-energy nuclear output by 2020 in an effort to cut greenhouse gas along with its own throat, Russia seems poised to take advantage of both the first world initiatives and the assuagement thereof through the inevitable carbon credit transfers to BRIC nations.
The reality in this case is obviously much more complex than a sound bite dumbed down and served up as red meat for the purposes of a political campaign.