Is Putin Winning?

ONCE again, Vladimir Putin is on the move in ways the Obama White House did not anticipate. Once again, American foreign policy analysts can’t agree on whether he’s acting out of brilliance or desperation.

Is Putin’s bombing campaign in Syria a geopolitical masterstroke? Is he filling a regional vacuum, creating a new Baghdad-Tehran-Damascus-Moscow axis, demonstrating the impotence of American foreign policy? Is his strategy of provocation putting NATO on the ropes?

Or is Putin actually acting out of weakness, trying to save a deteriorating position? Is his Middle Eastern gambit, like his Ukrainian intervention, a flailing, foredoomed to regain ground that Russia has lost of late? Should we ignore his bluster and macho photo ops, take note of his slumping economy and sanctions-bitten inner circle, and assume that his Syria intervention will lead to quagmire and blowback?

The curious reality is that these interpretations are not mutually exclusive, because whether Putin is “winning” depends on how you define success.

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