Sometimes a “police action” is a war in disguise such as America in Vietnam and Russia in the Ukraine to make the odium of war more palatable and other times “war” is a police action such as the war in Grenada or the Falkand islands but are called war to bolster nationalism. Russia has split the difference between the two versions with its military projection in Syria. If war is merely “the continuation of diplomacy by other means” as Carl von Clausewitz described war, Russia has gained far less than the bombast or bomb blast of Russia projecting force into the Middle East would appear to give.
Russia is looking for a Russian Grenada moment, a “we’re back” moment that the Reagan administration was able to leverage to bolster nationalism after the Iran hostage crisis. For a good 72 hours, Russia enjoyed this internationally but Russia has probably failed to save the Assad regime, failed to find a way to fight ISIS well, failed to demonstrate the Russian War machine is a machine anyone but Russia needs except for the occasional bargain and Russia seems incapable of implementing a long term strategy that would either lead to stability or a higher profile for the Russian federation. Russia has been further exposed as being in an alliance with Iran and Hezbollah which will harm both nations over the long term as they will be increasing seen as an adversary worth marginalizing. The only bigger loser in Syria is the Obama administration that seems to forget when Washington does nothing, someone will do something terrible.
Russia’s message to the world was supposed to be, “if you don’t negotiate with us diplomatically then you’ll have to negotiate with our military” but the real message has become don’t worry if Russia fights some mass murdering Sunni terrorists but supports Shia terrorism because Russia handles both poorly. Russia believes it has brought the din of war to Syria, Russia is printing “Support Assad” t-shirts like a third world country facing inflation prints currency but Syria involvement could be the “dim” of war leads to and ultimately ends Putin’s Russia as thoroughly as Word War I ended Czarist Russia.