Re: Two steps forward...
What has changed to make the outcome different?
No more tit-for-tat competition. Old USSR bankrupted itself trying to do what USA did - Shuttle program (Buran), gas turbine driven main battle tank (T82), etc - all these projects were a disaster financially and technically.
Putin's Russia has no such intention. It has concentrated on what Russians do best - simple engineering and evolutionary changes instead of gigantic technological step changes.
Examples: T-92 (and the new tank prototype shown 9th of May last year), a full range of new fighting infantry vehicles designed mostly for warfare against militants and based on observing the NATO clusterf*** in Afganistan and Iraq, AA missiles, sub-orbital trajectory ballistic missiles (Bulava), upgrades to the avionics and weapons of anything and everything - Su-24, Su-25, evolutionary (instead of a Raptor/F35 like big bang) step changes from Su-27 to PAKFA, etc.
All of these programs are relatively cheap. They are pocket change compared to some of the money floating around Russia nowdays (even with all the embargos and downturn).
They also have reduced the size of their active "combat deployable in a few hours" army and nuclear deterrent. It is much smaller than it was, but it is now really deployable and it got fangs and claws (that is not my personal opinion by the way - it is Jane's Defense analysis of Syria's "holiday"). It is also still more than sufficient to wipe out half of the planet so why really bother for more?.