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Vladimir Putin’s Syrian soap opera has filled Russian television screens for weeks. The sight of sophisticated missiles smashing into terrorist hide-outs has sent the Russian leader’s popularity soaring to previously unseen heights.

Now, reality is intruding. The crash of Flight 7K9268 — with an onboard bomb planted by supporters of the so-called Islamic State as the most likely cause — highlights the potential cost of Russia’s interference in the Middle Eastern powder-keg.

Until recently, the Kremlin sought not to take sides in the world’s most unstable region. It kept good relations with both Israel and the Palestinians.

Vladimir Putin’s Syrian soap opera has filled Russian television screens for weeks. The sight of sophisticated missiles smashing into terrorist hide-outs has sent the Russian leader’s popularity soaring to previously unseen heights

Vladimir Putin’s Syrian soap opera has filled Russian television screens for weeks. The sight of sophisticated missiles smashing into terrorist hide-outs has sent the Russian leader’s popularity soaring to previously unseen heights

It was friendly with Sunni Muslim regimes such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq, with secular dictators such as Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, and with the Shia mullahs in Iran.

But by intervening in Syria to support his ally President Assad, Mr Putin has placed his chips firmly on one side of the table. He and the Iranians are propping up the Assad regime, and infuriating most of the Arab world in the process.

In the short term, Mr Putin’s lightning campaign of air strikes on Syrian rebels looked like a stroke of genius. It humiliated the West which, thanks to the weak leadership of the Obama administration, has drawn ‘red lines’ on the Syrian issue but then failed to act on them when they were crossed.

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