"Luck," wrote the U.S. gonzo-journalist Hunter S. Thompson, "is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it." Russian President Vladimir Putin, who last week gave the most pitiful state-of-the-nation speech of his extraordinarily lucky career, is falling off the wire. The speech was a stark contrast to Putin's regal performance on March 18, when he called on the Russian parliament to approve the annexation of Crimea. That day, Putin basked in the glory of the moment.

Last week he came to the rostrum red-eyed and tired-looking: He had reportedly arrived at the Kremlin in the early hours of the morning, because of a bloody raid by Islamist militants in Chechnya.

As Putin spoke, he stumbled over his words more than I've ever heard him do. It was the text he delivered, however, that testified to weakness in the normally macho Russian leader. The speech appeared to have been written before the price of oil, on which Russia's economic edifice has been built, started its downward spiral in the markets.