By Jill Dougherty
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been in the headlines a lot recently, allegedly pocketing a Super Bowl ring, valued at $25,000, that belonged to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft - then jokingly offering to make him an even more expensive replacement.
Then there was that offhand announcement that he and his wife of almost 30 years were calling it quits and hadn't lived together for quite a while, anyway.
And don't forget the icy face-to-face with President Barack Obama at the G-8 meeting in Northern Ireland when Putin dissed Obama's joke about sports and getting older. "The president wants to relax me with his statement of age," Putin said, with not a hint of a smile.
If Putin seems to be losing his sense of humor, there may be a good reason: Russia's economic growth rate is down, Putin is tapping into a reserve fund to pay for an economic stimulus program and the shale oil "revolution" means Europe could need less Russian energy.
But don't tell that to Vladimir Putin.
"Putin's emphasis on the critical, and his almost sneering at the West, that really has gotten worse," said Georgetown University's Angela Stent. "I think the Russian perception at the top is that the United States is in decline, Europe is in decline too, and they really don't need anything from us."
"They would like more investment but they figure they're going to get the investment anyway because they've calculated, correctly, that the U.S. energy business and others are interested in Russia, said Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown.
Stent - whose latest book, "The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century," examines the difficult relationship with Putin's Russia - said that a few years ago there was a leaked Russian foreign policy document that said, "We have to be nice to the West if we want them to be involved in the modernization of our economy and we want those economic benefits."
But, she said, "they don't believe that anymore. They think they can get the investment irrespective of what they do."
And yet there seems to be a "lack of realism" among Russia's leadership, Stent said, about exactly what their economic situation really is.
"If they want to move beyond a raw material-based economy - and it's not clear that they do - then at some level," she said, "they do need Western know-how and technology. But I think at the moment the people who understand that are people whom we would identify with (former President Dmitry) Medvedev and that camp, at the moment, seems to be on the outs."
Taking digs at the United States and the West plays well at home, too. "Putin has a certain domestic constituency that responds positively to this 'We're Russia and we're great and stop pushing us around,'" she said.
Russia expert Andrew Weiss, who served on President Bill Clinton's National Security Council staff and now is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, "There's no doubt the Putin view of the world is much more transactional, much more about cynical deals, the idea that strength is what people respect and Russia should never be forced to do anything - ultimate sovereignty. "
"But," he added, "the idea that Russia can go it alone - I don't totally see that."
Putin's Russia, he said, is an "inward-focused power, which has this hugely unsettled and very destabilized domestic political situation at the moment and that's where Putin's priority lies."
Putin, Weiss believes, is a pretty isolated figure. "Russia doesn't have a lot of international partners," he said, "and Putin doesn't have close personal friendships and rapport."
"But it doesn't diminish his view ... that the West is in decline, that America is retreating. He still feels those things as strongly he did."
Putin, Weiss said, is going to be "disengaged" because he's focused on rejuvenating Russia's economy.
"That's what he's worried about. He's not really worried about the next turn of the wheel on global arms control or nonproliferation. He's worried about dollars and cents at home, the hugely unsettled domestic political situation, worried about the (2014 Winter) Sochi Olympics, the transformation of global energy markets, and Russia restoring influence in its neighborhood."
So if Vladimir Putin looks a little stern when he meets Barack Obama, maybe he's got other things on his mind.