David Goldman writes,
I've been planning to write something longer about Putin, but the Jewish holidays have intervened. So, a quick answer to the question: What does Putin want? Russia has grand ambitions and a failed economy, but it always has had grand ambitions and a failed economy (World War I came about in part because Russia required taxes from its Western provinces to finance its Eastern adventures). Through most of its history Russia was behind the West in technology, especially cutting-edge military technology, and this inspired caution–with two exceptions. The first exception was 1957 through the early 1960s, after Sputnik put Russia ahead in the space race; Russia's achievement contributed to the euphoria that produced the Berlin and Cuba crises. The second exception is the present, when Russia's air defense effectively shuts us out of Syria. As some wag wrote, there is a no-fly zone, except it's operated by the Russians. Putin's interest lies in humiliating the US and proving his importance to his Chinese partners, who still need Russian technology in air defense, jet engines, and other military applications.
In addition, Putin as before wants to preempt the creation of a Sunni Islamist government in Syria which would support jihadis inside Russia. Where Turkey is concerned, Putin keeps his friends close and his enemies closer. His deal with Turkey in Syria is a masterstroke, and a gauge of American impotence and incompetence. As for the Europeans: the Italians (!) vetoed a resolution warning of sanctions against Russia at last night's European summit, and the Germans and French bit their tongues. As Il Foglio observes, the Italian public thinks that the mess in the Eastern Mediterranean is the fault of US (and French and UK) policy–which in large part it is.
Up til a few months ago there still was a change to stabilize the situation in the Levant and Mesopotamia. No more: Putin is now playing Richelieu, keeping the war going with the object of exterminating enough of the population to remove the long-term threat. It is just what I would do in his position, if I could get away with it — and he can.
I do not think Russia can be contained until the US re-establishes a technological edge in air defense, and that would take years under the best possible assumptions (meanwhile the Russians are learning how to shoot down our stealth aircraft). The result inevitably will be disgusting.
To those who say we should get tough with Putin, I ask, “How?” The mainstream of both parties got us into this mess and gave Putin room to cause havoc.