In the great strategic casino, no high-roller bet bigger this year than Russia’s poker-faced czar, Vladimir Putin. He won at Middle East poker and broke even at European roulette, but crapped out in the United States and Ukraine.
He goes big, though. And he cheats. Let’s count the chips.
The Middle East: Putin doubled down on military engagement in Syria, betting that no US president would call his bluff. And he was right.
The result? Though Syria proved costlier than expected, Putin’s viewed as a dependable ally, while we’re drained of cash and mocked. And Putin’s wooing the Kurds we’ve disappointed.
Putin gains bases in Syria, a solid front of America-hating allies from Teheran to Beirut, a military toehold in Turkey and a role as the regional power broker. We won’t even get a going-away party.
DC “experts” insist the looming Russia-Iran-Turkey axis can’t last, that the parties are historical enemies with conflicting goals. But we live in a confounding age. Inward-looking for millennia, China has gone global. Comatose for centuries, Islam blazes with jihad. Lawless migration shatters sovereignty. And under both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump the United States has fled its leadership role.
Permanence isn’t the point: a Russia-Turkey-Iran alliance wouldn’t have to last forever to do great harm. Putin may well find the Middle East as thankless as we have. But, for now, he’s the sheik of Araby.
Europe: Putin spread his chips across the felt, betting on both right-wing nationalists and left-wing activists, funding upstart politicians and buying greedy former heads of state, from former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, now a Russian energy executive, to Bill Clinton, who leapt at extravagant Russian paychecks for showing up in Moscow.
Yet despite all the money, fake news and cyber-tricks, he has yet to turn around one major European country. Economic sanctions remain in place. All the big prizes — particularly France — eluded him. And the Europeans are newly on their guard,
You have to admire Putin’s chutzpah, though. He disrupted a continent for pocket change.
Ukraine: Putin got this one wrong.