A mere two weeks after delivering a weak, stumbling state-of-the-nation address, Russian President Vladimir Putin is back on form as a consummate populist demagogue. His confident performance, and his combative answers to questions that obviously were not pre-approved, seemed designed to demonstrate that he was in control of Russia's economic situation and not about to back down from his aggressive stance on foreign policy. Putin projected confidence that Russians will stick with him even if they grow poorer.

On Wednesday, Alexander Tkachev, governor of Russia's southern Krasnodar region, told Russians they'd better tighten their belts to pay for the annexation of Crimea in March: "Didn't we all applaud, didn't we all say it was great, we'd done great, Crimea was ours?

"That means we must share not just the responsibility, but also this burden, these losses."