Putin is very good at playing a weak poker hand, but sooner or later someone must call his bluff — and Russia’s weak economy is key.
Take Syria. This week, Russian fighters backed Bashar al-Assad’s renewed butchery in Idlib and other Sunni strongholds. For a half decade, Putin has secured Assad’s hold on power, gaining in return a warm water base for the Russian navy on the Mediterranean.
Now Assad wants to retake the whole country, and he desperately needs foreign funds. Yet money is something his allies, Russia and Iran, don’t have. America’s Sunni allies in the Persian Gulf do, and they’d love to gain access to Syria by helping their Sunni brethren, even if that entails dealing with Assad.
Putin can project military power but has no economic influence — and that can be used by Trump, whose foreign-policy doctrine relies on the mighty dollar, rather than US arms, to project America’s global power. Syria is one opportunity to project dollar-power.