I'm not dead; I'm just busy with Saturns Children and suffering from a summer cold. The combination of trying to batter a novel-length plot into submission (I'm about halfway through
nailing a stake through its heart writing it, and it's still fighting back) and trying not to die of a runny nose tends to be profoundly demotivational vis-a-vis blog writing.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, Yegor Gaidar, Prime Minister of Russia under Boris Yeltsin, has an interesting paper out, in which he gives a Kremlin's eye view of the real reason the Warsaw Pact, and then the USSR, collapsed. Surprise — the Reagan era arms build-up, while a contributory factor (it deterred the Politburo from trying to balance their books by reducing military spending), was less important than the Saudi royal family, and Deutsche Bank. Gaidar's theory may not be the whole truth, but it gets us usefully away from the "man on a white horse" theory advanced by western conservatives, and gives us an economic explanation; it also raises the spectre of what's going to happen next, now that the Russian economy has begun to substantially restructure and recover, and the price of oil has risen sharply.
(A secondary, somewhat ironic, possibility is that we may owe the collapse of the USSR to Saddam Hussein. If he hadn't invaded Iran in 1981, leading to the Iran-Iraq war of attrition, it's possible that both Iraq and Iran would have held their oil production to 1970s levels for much longer, in turn maintaining prices at a high enough level that the Soviet oil exports would have covered their deficit. But that's another matter ...)
The USSR isn't the only superpower to have problems squaring the circle of high military spending, a mushrooming deficit due to imports exceeding exports, and — oh, what's the use? Unlike the USSR, the USA runs one of the two most solid currencies on the planet, and that buys a lot of credit that wouldn't be available if, for example, raw materials were priced in Euros instead of dollars. And I suspect it may be thinking along these lines that explains why Vladimir Putin is trying to channel the ghost of Leonid Brezhnev these days. He's not looking for a new cold war so much as he's betting that the US is close to the limits of imperial — and fiscal — overstretch, and if he just pushes a little bit harder, sooner or later something's going to break.
Personally, I find this whole topic depressing ... not to mention difficult to reach any definite conclusions on. That's the trouble with abandoning the Great Man theory of history: the underlying economic forces aren't necessarily obvious at the time. So as a footnote, I'd just like to leave you with VivOleum, the real future of the oil energy.