Vladimir Putin is proposing to give himself the option of another 15 years in office. He could spend this time continuing to shake his fist at the West. Alternatively, he could brush away the cobwebs of the cold war and begin to recognise the challenge to Russian power from its friend and ally China.

So far Putin’s foreign policy has been tactical rather than strategic. Its goal has been to keep up appearances. Russia’s president heads a nation in decline, but one unwilling to cede its place at the top table of global affairs. There is nothing unusual about this. British prime ministers clung on to the idea they were one of the “Big Three” even as the empire dissolved around them. At some point, though, the pretence becomes unsustainable...

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