The Wall Street Journal posed a question to seven foreign policy experts regarding the international complications surrounding the events in Syria. The following is AEI scholar Leon Aron's response to the question: How is President Obama's turnaround on Syria playing abroad?
From the outset, the Kremlin's aim in the Syrian conflict has been to strengthen its domestic legitimacy and to bolster its international repute by "standing up to the United States." This comes at a time when the regime's popularity is sagging under the weight of corruption, the economy is bordering on recession, trust in Vladimir Putin is plummeting, and there is suddenly a major political challenge from the charismatic (and vehemently anti-Putin) lawyer Alexei Navalny, who garnered close to a third of the votes in Moscow's mayoral elections last Sunday.
The overarching imperative of Mr. Putin's foreign policy has been to preclude regime change—in Russia or anywhere else. This goal acquires particular urgency when a threat to an authoritarian regime occurs on former Soviet territory, which Russia considers its sphere of influence, or among Soviet or Russian client states.
In this context, President Obama's speech and the U.S. policy that seems to be emerging from it can only be interpreted by Mr. Putin as exceeding his most optimistic hopes.
Russia's efforts to resolve the Syria chemical-weapons crisis put the White House in an awkward spot, says WSJ's Carol E. Lee. The diplomacy delays any military strikes and places Vladimir Putin in the driver's seat, but also allows Obama to say he is pursuing all options.
Domestically, this turn of events has bolstered Mr. Putin's image as someone who not only has unflinchingly confronted the U.S.—still the nation most feared and respected by Russians—but forced it to change its course. Internationally, it has established Mr. Putin as a kind of go-to broker who has scuttled a seemingly imminent military strike by the U.S.
Most importantly, from Moscow's perspective, Mr. Obama's move has delayed or perhaps eliminated what Russia sees as the worst possible outcome: regime change in a faithful major client in a geostrategically crucial region. Whether with vodka or Champagne, they ought to be celebrating in the Kremlin.
—Mr. Aron is the director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute.