Occasionally, writers express the opinion that Putin is superior in foreign policy to Western governments. The list of reasons differs, and covers a wide range.
Let's look at this in some detail for once, instead of with half a line as at other times:
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Is he superior in foreign policy? Well, it depends - on whether he has achieved much. Honestly, I cannot see a single big success story of his in foreign policy. He has left some treaties and conquered Crimea (which is now going to be a leech on the Russian state and economy). He kept most CIS states kind of in line with Russia and prevented that all of Ukraine turned westward.
These very few and rather small successes are opposed to the costs; the economic costs of sanctions, the costs of the war in the Ukraine (and Chechnya, if you count this as foreign policy), the (little) expenses of the war in Syria.
The balance leaves mostly symbolic successes and pathos as successes in my opinion; the illusion that Russia returned to something like the USSR's power and respect.
|(more like "exploited" than "created")|
Putin is fairly good (reckless) at starting or joining conflicts. He's not too shy to start a fire or to throw some more gasoline into fires.
Chechnya; this was essentially a fire in a closed room that he killed by flooding the room with gasoline. At some point there were more Russian security personnel (military and paramilitary) in Chechnya than civilians. Putin never solved this conflict; it rather went its course and eventually drowned. Chechen fighters keep causing trouble in many places, being displaced from Chechnya proper.
South Ossetia; Putin didn't solve any conflict there either. His short war over South Ossetia rather preserved the status quo ante of an unresolved secession conflict.
Abkhazia: Same here, Russia merely succeeded in keeping this open wound of Georgia open (another secession conflict).
Crimea: Yet another unresolved conflict, since the annexation hasn't been recognized by more than a few countries so far. Putin failed to at least give a real referendum a try. Instead, he held the likely rigged referendum that lacked international observers and thus carries no weight with non-allied foreign governments.
Donezk: It's fairly obvious that this is just another conflict that Putin wasn't able to end quickly, or with profit. In fact, it's still lingering and the economic sanctions and renewed political hostility of NATO and EU including neighbours of Russia were a hefty price for so far no gain whatsoever.
Syria: Putin seems to have succeeded in preserving the Assad regime and thus Russia's military base in Syria (which is of no value for its national defence). He didn't defeat daesh yet, nor even only the so-called FSA. Putin appears to lack a clear route to an end of the conflict just as do all other powers that meddle in it.
"It’s easy to start a war, but it’s always difficult to end with it"
"Every war is easy to start, but it is extremely difficult to finish"
Putin has no particular quality that enables Russia to profit of conflict more than Western politicians can do. He's just as unable to conclude a conflict in a desirable fashion.
There are differences in comparison to most Western politicians, though (not U.S., UK or French ones); ons is his willingness to start fires and to pour gasoline into them. Many Western politicians have learned about the benefits of cooperation (not CIS-style hegemony) and are rather seeking win-win deals. Exceptions are usually led by the relatively hawkish and more great power gaming-inclined politicians from the U.S.. France has its particular brand of interventionism, in which it somehow thinks of itself as the policeman of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Another difference is that unlike the cooperation-minded Western politicians Putin doesn't shy away from using force in an attempt to get what he wants. It's just that he -as almost everyone else - usually still fails at achieving desired end-states (which is why this method has become to unpopular).
Some time ago I mentioned that the West could have countered the Russian "force concentration" (a petty ~80,000 troops actually) on the Ukrainian border by deploying forces into Georgia. These forces could have threatened to destroy the Russian position in the Caucasus region (South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Berg-Karabagh conflicts) in absence of the Russian army forces. Putin would have been forced to react to this diversion by recalling about half of the troops from the Ukrainian border in order to stabilize the situation in the Caucasus region.
This would have been a fairly ordinary strategic move in the 19th or 18th century, but it was beyond the horizon of most Western politicians, obviously. Such a counter-escalation doesn't suit well to "War as last resort" attitudes and a general emphasis on avoiding war by being peaceful yourself. Such an extended tool set in which counter-escalation may actually save the peace and end up bringing de-escalation was simply not within their repertoire.
This points out the predictability of Western strategy; the Americans are obsessed with their pet region Near/Mid East and their phony war on errorism in general, and demonstrably largely incapable of quick reaction to anything Putin does. Some European governments are disrespectful enough to small powers to bomb or occupy them, but respectful enough of Russia to never be more escalating than non-violent sanctions and parades.
This leaves Putin much freedom of action. He can predict the primitive reactions (tripwire forces, show of force exercises, sanctions, angry statements to the press) to his actions and for some reason or another he often comes to the conclusion that starting or joining a conflict is still worth it. Except s far it really wasn't, for he is no von Bismarck at all. He's good at maintaining power in a stagnating, commodity-prices-depending kleptocracy, and reckless enough to play great power games - which he really isn't all that good at, since he doesn't know how to end the game with profit.