After many years as a superpower, Russia has risen again. While not superpower that previously threatened the US and the Free World, but Russia is definitely in a stronger position with its special form of centralized democracy and capitalism. 2 areas define its power - oil + military weapons.
As oil and natural prices have risen, Russia has used its position to take control of Russian energy companies (e.g. Yukos) and surrounding states like Georgia and the Ukraine. This new energy wealth has strengthened a country that was once seen as a step-child at G-8 meetings.
An overlooked area is military weaponry. While traditional Western powers like the US, Britain and France supply much of the world weapons, Russia has not necessarily reduced its capability or sales. In fact, take a look at the bottom of this page to see the list of high tech arms sales to China, India, Indonesia and Nepal. There's everything from a new destroyer which China could use to threaten Taiwan (and by proxy the US), helicopter sales to India, warplanes to Mexico and Brazil, and anti-aircraft missiles to Nepal.
Military weaponry not only provides jobs and hard currency, it also funds the development of high technology and of course...new weaponry. Moreover, the client country is bound to the weapons supplier for spare parts. As we've seen in Iran with its airplanes - no parts, lots of problems.
Combined with the ability to withold energy, you now can influence countries in ways that may not make sense to a rational outsider. Would Mexico or India side with the US on proliferation is Russia is against it? If the West wants to isolate a country for belligerent activity, Russia can prevent action if that country is a client.
It's all an intertwined set of interests that grow more complex every day...
When Putin came to power, Bush said he could read into his soul. He felt that Putin was trustworthy. Interesting...a former head of the KGB running the country. With no democratic tradition in the country, did anyone believe he would tolerate free speech. Today (10/17) I heard on NPR that many NGO's in Russia are now illegal because they were late in applying for permits. Permits. If you don't register, you are now illegal (check out the NYTimes article on it). With many of the media outlets now state controlled, it is hard to see how democracy can exist or grow.
Again, more complex...
For example (on 10/17) I heard on NPR that many NGOs in Russia are now illegal because they were late in getting permits