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Source: http://www.vox.com/2014/12/1/7313443/vladimir-putin-merkel

Putin first took power in 2000, but the nature of his rule changed in 2012, when he won reelection amid public protests and accusations of fraud. Those protests, along with the collapse of Russia's economy from growth-powerhouse to the edge of recession, have left Putin feeling obviously and correctly insecure about his hold on power. At the same time, in the wake of the cold war Russian leaders and regular citizens have felt increasingly insecure in the America-dominated world. They have a sense that Russia is under siege from without and has been robbed of its rightful status as a world power.

What does this word mean? And why is there no article in front of it?

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    Powerhouse is used informally to mean some institution, place or entity that is very strong, usually in some sense wherein they can be compared to other similar entities. You may want to specify the realm in which they are strong: The USA is a basketball powerhouse. Oregon State is a filbert growing powerhouse. The small town of Bigmouth is a competitive eating powerhouse. – Adam Dec 1 '14 at 21:02
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As Adam has indicated in his comment, powerhouse is often used metaphorically to indicate something which is known to be strong or powerful in some respect. As Merriam-Webster defines it,

2: one having great power: as
a : one having great drive, energy, or ability
b : an athletic team characterized by strong aggressive play

  • The country is an economic powerhouse.
  • Their company became a powerhouse in the video game industry.
  • She's a powerhouse on the tennis court.

Here, Russia is described as a former growth-powerhouse, that is, a powerhouse of growth or a powerhouse when it comes to growth. In this context, growth refers to the phenomenon of economic growth, which EconomicsOnline defines as

an increase in the output that an economy produces over a period of time

In other words, Russia was known in the recent past for being reliably capable of strong economic growth. Their economy has slowed down lately, however; they are no longer known for strong economic growth, but indeed are on the "edge of recession" (a contraction in economic output). Thus, the author argues, Putin feels more vulnerable as a leader, since his resources (and thus power) are reduced and there is greater risk of discontent in the populace.

The inclusion of the hyphen is a stylistic choice which helps reduce ambiguity by solidifying the link between growth and powerhouse; it is one of the standard uses for the hyphen but in my opinion, not strictly necessary here.

  • Why is an article not used in front of that phrase? – Michael Rybkin Dec 4 '14 at 9:02

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