Boys walk past a damaged bus in the rebel-held Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, March 14, 2016.
Bassam Khabieh / Reuters

Putin’s “mission accomplished” announcement has attracted the attention it was intended to get. The dramatic declaration, coupled with the loading of cargo planes in Syria, unleashed echoes of Metternich’s response when told of Talleyrand’s death in 1838: “I wonder what he meant by that.”

The answer is not so esoteric. Russian objectives were limited at the outset. They were to militarily stabilize the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, ensure elite cohesion within the regime by boosting its self-confidence, strike the congeries of jihadist groups lurking near regime-held territory, and, if possible, enable the regime to expand its security perimeter.

The regime needed some strategic depth, and Russia gave it to them. And for Russia, the opportunity to show that it is a force to be reckoned with no doubt leavened the proposition. The Russians did not go into Syria to restore an Edenic past and police the

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  • STEVEN SIMON is a Visiting Lecturer at Dartmouth College and served as Senior Director for Middle Eastern and North African Affairs at the White House from 2011 through 2012.
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