Mr Putin has used his Syrian success for advantage elsewhere. These days it is America that complains of Russia meddling in its sphere of influence, not the other way round. This contest is less the product of ideological conviction than of self-interest. But if America until recently championed democracy, Russia is becoming, in effect, the foremost defender of autocracy—at least in the view of Arab rulers.
Another reason was to break out of the diplomatic isolation he faced over Ukraine. How did Russia succeed where others failed? In part, it absorbed the lessons of America in Iraq, relying mostly on its air power and on local proxies on the ground: the Syrian army, Iranian troops, Hizbullah fighters from Lebanon and others. It also drew on the experience of its Arabists.
Israel remembers that the Soviet Union had been the first country to recognise the infant Jewish state de jure, and provided it with vital weapons via what was then Czechoslovakia. He does not ask about democracy and human rights. Even if Donald Trump is more partial to strongmen than Mr Obama was, they find him mercurial.
Perhaps the main reason that Russia can talk to all players in the region is that it is not America. For most of them America remains the all-important protector, so their dismay is all the greater when it appears to be losing interest in them.
They care much less that Russia is selling Iran civilian nuclear technology, or has set up barter deals to help Iran circumvent sanctions. Amid the swelling pride in Moscow, there is also much nervousness.
Where Russian and Syrian Army forces are located in northern Syria
Real disposable incomes have fallen five years running. Most think the operation ought to be wound up. Opinion could turn more hostile if things go wrong in Syria, which Russian officials know is all too possible. Few outsiders want to pay to repair the damage it has wreaked. And Russia is ensnared by its local ally.
Mr Assad is strong enough to resist Russian entreaties to make political concessions, but too weak to be threatened without risking his collapse. Then there are more catastrophic risks: a confrontation with Turkey over Idlib, say, or a Turkish invasion to push back Syrian Kurds, or even a war between Israel and Iran. In short, the power that Mr Putin tries to project abroad, in the hope that it will enhance his standing at home, is brittle.
Opinion: Donald Trump's tricky Syria 'gift' to Vladimir Putin
The multipolar world he has sought to bring about may yet leave Russia on the sidelines; it boasts neither the military power of America nor the economic strength of China. Join them. Subscribe to The Economist today. Media Audio edition Economist Films Podcasts.
Live updates: Syria Kurds begin withdrawing from Turkish border - Syria - pahip.tk
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The exact details of the agreement between Damascus and the Kurds remains unclear. Kurdish authorities insisted that they would maintain their political autonomy and that the deal was focused solely on military issues. The immediate focus of the newly-aligned SDF and Assad regime is to repel Turkish-backed rebels from seizing control of Manbij, a border city west of the Euphrates River which is currently in Kurdish hands.
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T he battle for Manbij will pose a test for Turkey, which must decide whether to back its Syrian rebel allies with airstrikes at the risk of sparking a confrontation with the Syrian regime. R ussia is believed to be relaying messages between the two sides to try to avert conflict. US forces have been ordered to evacuate northern Syria but many troops remained caught up in the chaos as different armed groups maneuvered and the roads remained clogged with refugees.
T he situation in northeast Syria collapsed into disorder so quickly that US special forces did not have time to carry out a plan to seize around 60 of the top Isil fighters in Kurdish custody, according to the New York Times. US commandos had planned to take the prisoners from the Kurds and move them to Iraq but were unable to reach a key road in time. It is not known if any British fighters were among the 60 men on the US list.
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The Turkish military released a video which it claimed showed its commandos entering a Kurdish prison only to find that the guards had released all the inmates. But Kurdish officials suggested the video was staged at an empty facility never used as a prison.