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When Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 28, he knew he would grab the world's attention and upstage U.S. President Barack Obama with his call for a united front in the battle against ISIS. But Putin was addressing Russians, too, knowing full well the need to distract them from their country's increasingly obvious economic woes. Putin's critics rightly see his Syrian adventure as yet another appeal to Russian nostalgia for the Soviet past: the USSR was mighty – and Putin claims that Russia can and does have the same power.Wrong-footing the United States and the West may be good tactics in the short term, but there seems to be no long-term vision of the purposes that Russian power is supposed to serve, other than to preserve the power of Russia's elites.Putin's embattled opponents can safely predict a long period of political, economic and intellectual stagnation – certainly until the parliamentary election next year and the presidential election two years later.The question is whether Putin, now deepening Russia's involvement in yet another foreign military adventure, understands this.
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