And there's of course the coda; if the Syrian Arab Army/Russian military push against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh works, guess who'll take the credit.
So Putin wins on both scenarios. Forget about the relentless demonization, the new Hitler-Stalin memes. "Putin The Great" will be no less than a Slavic Perseus -- the slayer of the jihadi Medusa.The great power is back
But there's more, much more. Whatever the scenario -- 1 or 2 -- Putin is simultaneously masterminding a Ukraine endgame, which involves the end of sanctions, probably by 2017. The nations that really count in the EU want to scrap them. And scrap them they will if Putin does what they can't possibly do; smash the "Caliphate" that is sending wave after wave of refugees towards Fortress Europe.
Some signs of intelligent life in the EU can see it coming. Enter Helene Carrere d'Encausse, Russia-expert historian and member of the venerable Academie Francaise since 1990, of which she's the perpetual secretary. Madame d'Encausse clearly understands how Putin sees himself as the heir of Peter The Great; a great modernizer.
And even as he recognizes Europe is not the center of the world anymore, Putin is not an adversary of Europe. Nevertheless, he firmly believes that for the Americans and Europeans, Russia is a country that can be treated with disdain. That must be imperatively reversed.
"Putin The Great's" project is to make Russia regain its status of a great power. When he was elected to the presidency in 2000 -- I remember it well, I was in Moscow covering it -- Russia was in total chaos, perpetrated by unbridled neoliberalism. Putin got Russia back on track.
What he wants most of all -- contrary to superficial drivel reigning in US "Think Tankland" -- is not to remake the Russian or Soviet empire; but to get rid for good the humiliation of the 1990s -- the decade of plundering -- and make the nation proud again. Just check his popularity level; 85 percent of Russians -- and counting -- agree.
Madame d'Encausse refers back historically to Count Sergey Uvarov, the imperial statesman behind Tsar Nicholas I, who defined the doxa in Russia in the mid 19th century as "orthodoxy, autocracy and national genius." She emphasizes this is the heart of Putin's ideology.
National genius, in this context, refers to a sense of social justice and a very Russian spirit of solidarity. Putin always emphasizes this spirit, which is an essential component of what it means to be Russian. And it is all tied up with nationalism. We just need to re-read Dostoevsky, for whom "the Russian nation is an extraordinary phenomenon in the history of human genius."
And then, of course, there's Islam -- an immensely complicating factor.
There are over 20 million Muslims in Russia. Putin recognizes that Russia is also a Muslim state; it's in fact multi-confessional, and most Russian Muslims are Sunnis. Putin clearly identifies ISIS/ISIL/Daesh as a Sunni crusade against Shi'ites. At the same time he maintains very good relations with Shi'ite Iran and the Allawites in Syria. And he realizes that Sunni republics, former Russian and Soviet possessions, are at the gates of Russia.