Whenever the Russian economy tumbles, predictions of American doom gain new currency. Igor Panarin, a Russian professor, is being trotted out to Putin's state media to make predictions of a U.S. collapse in 2010.

The Panarin scenario: When times get tough, richer states like California and New York will withhold funds from the federal government, leading to collapse and civl war, with the union dissolving into six parts. Alaska will fall under Russian control — a scenario which will no doubt simultaneously please and discomfit Sarah Palin.

The only problem with this idea: It's actually Russia which has a collapsing economy and a nation riven by ethnic divisions. (Chechnya, anyone?) Once buoyed by oil revenues, the country's industrial production had its biggest slump in a decade in November.

And it was a decade ago that Panarin's theories first became popular, amidst another Russian financial crisis. Which tells you something about why he's once again in demand: A Russian public, hungry for schadenfreude, would rather think about Russia's Cold War foe dissolving than contemplate what's happening to their own country.

(Illustration via WSJ)