Maybe Putin will be a reformer this time around

But what will Putin do next? Will he really fulfill his promise to let new parties emerge or just wait out his opposition, which is divided and still lacks a real national leader? Putin’s Russia is at a crossroads. It has become a “sort-of-but-not-really-country.” Russia today is sort of a democracy, but not really. It’s sort of a free market, but not really. It’s sort of got the rule of law to protect businesses, but not really. It’s sort of a European country, but not really. It has sort of a free press, but not really. Its cold war with America is sort of over, but not really. It’s sort of trying to become something more than a petro-state, but not really…

This is either delusional or really cynical. And then there’s foreign policy. Putin was very helpful at the United Nations in not blocking the no-fly zone over Libya, but he feels burned by it — that we went from protecting civilians to toppling his ally and arms customer, Muammar el-Qaddafi. It’s true. But what an ally! What a thing to regret! And, now, the more Putin throws his support behind the murderous dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the more he looks like a person buying a round-trip ticket on the Titanic — after it has already hit the iceberg. Assad is a dead man walking. Even if all you care about are arms sales, wouldn’t Russia want to align itself with the emerging forces in Syria?

“There is a strong domestic dimension to Russian policy toward Syria,” said Vladimir Frolov, a Russian foreign policy expert. “If we allow the U.N. and the U.S. to put pressure on a regime — that is somewhat like ours — to cede power to the opposition, what kind of precedent could that create?”