I remember the first time I saw Putin on TV – Yeltsin ushered him in as his anointed successor, and I thought, what a bland little man… We know better now. Forbes has crowned Putin the most powerful person on earth – no other major power has a leader with anywhere near the personal freedom to operate that he enjoys. Obama will be gone in a few months, and a US President is more constrained by Capitol Hill, constitution and electorate. China’s government is more corporate and collective. And so on to Germany, Japan and the rest. Forbes is right.
If, when Russian airstrikes began, you had listened carefully, you might have heard the sound of hundreds of Washington jaws hitting the floor. He has made the US look lumpen-footed in its foreign affairs. The dude is smart.
Obviously, he wants to shore up the Assad regime, and Russian strikes have rapidly borne fruit – Syrian government forces are on the march and reportedly close to ensnaring Aleppo. Don’t be surprised if a year from now Assad has retaken most of Syria.
And then what? Putin is still smarting from Russia’s loss of two spheres of empire – the outer sphere of eastern Europe was cast off in 1989, and the inner sphere of the Baltic states, Kazakhstan and so on in 1991. Putin wants a muscular expansion of the Russian hegemony – eastern Ukraine was an excellent start, requisitioning the old Soviet naval bases of the Crimea and allowing Russian naval power to project into the Mediterranean and the Mid East. As long as Turkey allows those ships through the Bosphorus…