Between the recent hosting of the Olympics in Sochi and Russian troops lining up on the Crimean border, Russia has been making the news. Even so, there is still the question of how much of a role Russia plays in the international sphere. Granted, Russia is not the power that was competing with the United States for world hegemony after World War II. Russia has at least enough resilience and power to not be sucked into the European Union (EU) and to not have foreign influences sway domestic policy, but is that enough? This is not a question of whether Russia has any sway in the international community, but rather determining just how much.
One of the largest factors that makes Russia a world player is its nuclear arsenal. Russia has the capability of taking out the United States within the blink of an eye. If there is any hope of making sure there is no nuclear war or if to proliferate nuclear disarmament (e.g., START), Russia is going to be a key player.
In addition to the Chechen Wars and the Russo-Georgian War, Russia recently decided to militarily intervene in Ukraine because of the civil strife going on there. The European Union (EU) is not thrilled with Russia's actions, which is why they imposed sanctions on Russia. It's nice to see the EU take some action, but I have skepticism as to the impact that economic sanctions will have. Russia also has permanent veto power on the United Nations Security Council, which it threatened to use for sanctions on Syria. Russia is even trying to strengthen its rapport with Latin America to expand its military influence, as well as buddy up with China. Nevertheless, there have generally been less international conflicts since the end of the Cold War, so it should not be a surprise that Russia is not exerting as excessive of military might as one would expect.
These days, it's more about soft power than flexing one's muscles by starting proxy wars throughout the world. Russia is the world's largest producer of petroleum and the second largest producer of natural gas. Russia likes to use the carrot-and-stick method on former Soviet bloc members to get them to behave properly (Congressional Research Service, p. 41). The United States could export natural gas in retaliation to loosen Russia's grip, but that will depend on how much Obama wants to play hardball with Putin.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) points out in its recently published Article IV Consultation that Russia's economic growth is stagnating (p. 4-5), the cost of doing business there is high (p. 6), and Russia's financial sector is inefficient (p. 14). In spite of these problems, Russia is experiencing declining inflation, more flexible exchange rates, and an expansion of retail lending. Let's also not forget that Russia is a member of both the G-20 and G-8, as well as its recent ascension to the World Trade Organization. Russia might be dealing with economic issues, but it's still an economic powerhouse.
Although this is very condensed and by no means a complete analysis, what does this mean in the context of international affairs? Although Putin is attempting to revive the vestigial prestige of Mother Russia during the Cold War, odds are that he won't succeed. That ship has sailed, and the probability of Russia becoming a world superpower on par with America is next to nil. I think China would have a better chance of doing so. Nevertheless, Russia has enough militaristic and economic clout that Russia cannot be ignored. The fact that Russia can roll into Ukraine without any significant, adverse consequences should say something right there. Russia is a regional hegemony that exerts supraregional influence. Russia might not be the powerful nation it once was, but Russia's role as a sizable international player is here to stay for the foreseeable future.