Here’s what I think.
Vladimir Putin’s spy service has discovered that Hillary Clinton has secret (and crooked, but I digress) sweetheart deals with foreign powers around the world — including with his oil rivals in the Middle East. When she first became Barack Obama’s secretary of state, Putin may have believed Hillary had only forged such a relationship with him and his, but now he knows otherwise.
Russia’s intervention in Syria is not about fighting terrorists, nor even protecting Syria’s national sovereignty and right to be ruled by whatever insane dictatorial regime its people may be willing to tolerate as a lesser evil. It’s about extending Russian influence into an oil-rich region of the world as OPEC’s cohesion breaks down. Putin fears that if America regains its rudder behind a president who isn’t beholden to him, his maneuverings will be for naught.
Putin’s recent efforts to influence the presidential election have betrayed a growing panic on his part; Russia’s oil has been its prime economic mover in this century and for various reasons it isn’t performing as well as conventional thinking would have suggested. The breakdown in OPEC solidarity — caused by increased production by non-OPEC states like the U.S. and, ironically, Russia — has made oil cheaper on the world market.
Putin wants either for OPEC to regain control, or for Russia to be in a position to herd its members from the outside to do what they no longer have the will to do on their own account.
Forty years ago being OPEC’s sheepdog would have been a key to vast global power, due to oil’s unchallenged supremacy as an energy source. Since then, OPEC’s past hijinks have taught the world that dependency on a single fuel from a single bloc is a bad idea.
And if world power were Putin’s objective in his recent maneuverings, he wouldn’t be so obsessed with getting Donald Trump into the White House. No, this isn’t about geopolitics, but about Russian domestic politics, as determined by the flow of hard currency to Moscow.
This is why Putin talks of nuclear war if Trump loses. It’s a typical Russian threat display that, as we learned after the fall of the Soviet Union, has nothing behind it.
He is in a precarious position at home. If future U.S. foreign policy is not firmly pro-Russia, Vladimir Putin risks being humiliated before the world as Mikhail Gorbachev was when George Bush ignored him about Iraq in 1991.
No bully can survive such humiliation.