First, a few facts: Russia’s economy is the size of Spain’s, for the last 3 years, it has showed negative growth, a 3.7% decline in 2015. Its largest source of state revenue is Gazprom, the state-owned energy company which supplies Europe with natural gas for energy and winter heat.
Europe’s dependence on Russia natural gas (for consumers/businesses/GDP growth) is key to understanding the region’s soft resistance to Russia’s aggression. Russia focuses little elsewhere; its threat is its nuclear weapons; its military technology is outdated.
That said, Russia holds a psychological edge, esp. over Trump. Russia seeks not friends, but Pavlovian figures who respond to its bell ringing with teethless bites and empty threats–Putin (he does not want to be liked!) uses these threats to bolster his presence/power on the world stage, creating fear he uses to extract geopolitical concessions. Putin’s power depends on the US making him the bad boy. He revels in hardscrabble edge.
Putin has no “pals,” only lapdogs! He demands submission. He alternates between olive branches and sticks. He measures carefully the fear he instills. By failing to raise Russia’s cyber interference in the election, by forewarning Russia of the Syrian base attack, by not cancelling the Moscow meeting, Putin revealed Trump as a President with an lack of skills in statecraft who puts vanity before policy, ego above substance. Skilled in psychological profiling and its leverage, Putin has turned Trump into a tart, one who values appearances over achievements. What Putin sees in Trump is hesitation and weakness, uncertainty, no long or short game. Putin cares nothing about trust, only power. The timing in Syria tested Trump: he failed. Unwittingly, he followed Putin’s bell.