Spinning his intrigues, Putin plays on painful global problems for which Western leaders have no solutions but are urgently seeking to alleviate.
In assuming Western leaders are weaklings and losers, Putin is seriously fooling himself. Indeed, by routinely making them sit down with him and repeatedly offering no long-lasting results, he is only reminding them that he cannot be treated as a responsible stakeholder in any international crisis. All his counterparts want to see a stable Russia that follows a predictable course, but Putin is presiding over fast-eroding stability—and has to turn unpredictability into a major foreign policy asset. He may feel satisfied with his meetings in Hangzhou, but the widespread and deepening frustration with his intrigues denies his country the necessary support for checking Russia’s decline.