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?”