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Putin Scores on Syria

How He Got the Upper Hand -- And How He Will Use It

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama are pictured on a video screen installed in the press center of the G-20 Summit in Strelna near St. Petersburg, September 5, 2013. Grigory Dukor / Courtesy Reuters

On Monday, September 9, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a diplomatic move that seemed to catch the entire international community, not just U.S. President Barack Obama and his team, by surprise. He seized the most dramatic moment possible -- the eve of what was to be a fateful vote in the U.S. Congress on Obama’s decision to launch a targeted strike against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad -- to propose that Syria surrender its chemical weapons to an international commission headed by the United Nations. Assad quickly agreed to the proposal, at least in principle.

By the evening of September 10, after a day full of calls from every imaginable corner to pursue Putin’s plan, Obama seemed to back away from threats of imminent military action. In a live address to the nation, he requested a delay in the congressional vote, announced that Secretary of State John Kerry would

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