This long piece by Catherine Belton and Charles Clover in the FT echoes several SWP themes. Most notably, it focuses on the role of Putin as balancer between rival clans who distributes power and resources to maintain an uneasy political equilibrium. It also opines that the political developments since the December Duma elections have undermined Putin’s ability to perform this balancing act.
One interesting tidbit: the story reports claims that Gunvor’s Gennady Timchenko plays hockey with Putin. Recall that (a) rumors are rife that Putin owns a big chunk of Gunvor, but (b) Putin denies any personal relationship with Timchenko. If Timchenko is really a participant in the private sports bonding where real deals get done, that would undermine Putin’s denials, and lend credence to the rumor.
This article by Lee Smith from the Weekly Standard blog goes into gruesome detail about Obama’s deference to Putin on Syria. The last paragraph gets it mostly right.
Moscow is simply playing the spoiler and thereby enjoying the sort of international prestige that it has not been afforded since the end of the Cold War. The Russians are not going to engineer a coup against Assad, or in any way work to resolve the issue, because it is precisely the conflict that has given them influence in Syria—the conflict, that is, and Obama, who for no good reason has handed Moscow the reins.
I say mostly right, because Putin has other reasons not to resolve the situation in Syria, including his inveterate anti-American attitude and zero sum mindset, and the economic benefits that accrue to Russia from continuing turmoil in the Middle East.