After the 2016 U.S. election, Barack Obama provided some perspective on the U.S.'s growing fear of Russia; fear that has only grown in the year since.
“Russia can't change us,” Obama said. “They are a smaller country, they are a weaker country, their economy doesn't produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil, and gas and arms.”
Obama was appealing to an analysis students are taught in first-year undergraduate international relations class: the idea, espoused in Yale history professor Paul Kennedy's textbook The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, that military power is determined ultimately by industrial power. Kennedy's work is full of tables showing the relative industrial power of countries in armed conflict. The winner in each case is the one with more industrial power.
Table 33, Tank Production in 1944, shows Germany producing 17,800 tanks, Russia producing 29,000 tanks, Britain producing 5,000, and the US producing 17,500. Germany produced less than Russia alone, in other words, and far less than the Allies combined.
Table 34, Aircraft Production of the Powers, shows how year after year, the allies out-produced the Axis, by the end, by more than four times or five times. Table 35 shows combined military production: The Allies produced $62.5 billion in arms in 1943, compared to $18.3 billion from the Axis.
Based on the tables, the allied victory was inevitable. The tables don't lie. Look at hundreds of years of war and in each conflict, the side that brings the most economic power to bear almost always wins.
Trying to estimate Russia's relative power has been a Western preoccupation for centuries. One quote, “Russia is neither as strong nor as weak as it appears,” has been attributed to Western statesmen from Metternich to Talleyrand to Churchill.