Putin continues to dominate world events despite his weak hand. Read the whole thing for a long analysis, but here's the nut. Don't forget: all this began under Hillary Clinton's watch as Secretary of State.
Already, Vladimir Putin looks to be one of the conflict's winners. When it comes to the war in Syria, he is now in control. Without his bombers, military advisors and special forces, the weakened Syrian army wouldn't be able to make any advances at all. Indeed, it was the looming defeat of Assad that pushed Putin to intervene at the end of September in the first place. At the time, Putin was still claiming that his goal was that of defeating IS -- and many Western governments hoped naively that perhaps Russia could finally impose order in Syria.
Since then, though, it has become clear that the opposite is true: In four-and-a-half months, Putin has reversed the momentum in the Syrian civil war in favor of dictator Assad and has increased the chaos -- all while largely ignoring Islamic State. What's more, Moscow has targeted exactly those rebels that the West had hoped would fight IS. Putin has embarrassed the US superpower, discredited the UN and transformed Russia into an influential power in the Middle East.
In addition, his brutal operation has driven tens of thousands of people to take flight, thus intensifying the conflict between the EU and Turkey, dividing Europe even further and propelling the Continent's right-wing populist parties to unprecedented heights. Those are all desired side-effects that conform to Moscow's calculus: Everything that hurts Europe makes Russia stronger.
Berlin, too, has become convinced that Putin's involvement in Syria is about more than merely providing support for his ally Assad -- and about more than just the Middle East. For Putin, it's about Europe, about ending the sanctions and about recognition of Russia's zone of influence. "Putin is intentionally aggravating the refugee crisis in order to destabilize the EU. That is part of Russia's hybrid war," says German parliamentarian Niels Annen, foreign policy spokesman for the Social Democrats (SPD).
It has become increasingly clear that Russia is not a partner in the fight against Islamic State, as some in Europe had hoped. Rather, Russia is an adversary that is willing to achieve its goals by way of violence if necessary.