Despite its "failing economy", "isolation", "ancient weapons", "instability" and all the other tired (and ageless: Russia was "failing" in 2005 and in 2000) tropes, time and time again, Moscow confounds, surprises and outmaneuvers Washington. How does it do it?
Moscow has a competent team; Washington has ??? Putin, Medvedev, Ivanov, Shoigu, Lavrov. On the other side... well, you fill in the names. The proof is that Russia has risen from a negligible position in 2000 to one that sets a lot of the agenda.
Moscow stays at home; Washington goes abroad. John Quincy Adams advised the young American republic not to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. But today.... US special forces deployed to 150 countries in the past three years; hundreds and hundreds of foreign military bases. Not even the most dedicated anti-Russia conspiricist could name 15 countries he thought Russian special forces had been deployed in nor more than a handful of foreign bases. And so, while Moscow sticks to its own interests, Washington sticks its interests into everything and everywhere.
Moscow is grounded in reality; Washington grounded in illusion. I don't think we could have a better illustration than the two leaders' speeches at the UNGA. In which, together with all the hypocritical piffle about "we see some major powers assert themselves in ways that contravene international law", "fidelity to international order", "basic principles of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce", "helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant" is the meat: "I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary." As this writer put it, the schoolyard bully condemns bullying. Putin stuck to his themes of multilateralism (and so did Xi Jinping; something to be noticed: that's two nuclear powers, two UNSC permanent seats and the first and fifth economies (World Bank, PPP) agreeing that "The future of the world must be shaped by all countries. All countries are equals."). Putin asked "do you at least realize now what you’ve done?" and answered his question realistically "But I’m afraid that this question will remain unanswered, because they have never abandoned their policy, which is based on arrogance, exceptionalism and impunity." And finally: "Gentlemen, the people you are dealing with are cruel but they are not dumb. They are as smart as you are. So, it’s a big question: who’s playing whom here?" Who, indeed? (One of the top ISIS commanders was trained by the US back when it was thought useful to have jihadists it "controlled" fighting Russia. Who was playing whom then?) But Obama's still rearranging the li-los in cloud cuckoo land: Putin went into Syria out of weakness and he's only got Syria and Iran while the USA has the rest of the world.
Moscow plans; Washington assumes. It seems that Israel got more than the brusque one-hour announcement the US received of the coming strikes. A coordination center is operating in Baghdad. There are constant stories that China is on board (I don't believe Debka's reports that Chinese military assets are already there but China may well appear in some way). Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and the Kurds are all on board. Obviously this was carefully planned over some time. In short, Putin & Co got their ducks in a row and moved very quickly. Compare the light-hearted way in which the Ukraine disaster began: cookies and cell phone chats, the premature US Navy bid for Sevastopol, the silly confidence that it would be all wrapped up soon. To say nothing of the "surprising" fallout from the Libya and Iraq wars. Of course if the aim of Washington is to create chaos, as some wonder, the it has been all carefully thought out. And chaos it has.
Moscow has consistency; Washington has confusion. Take Syria for example. The Russian policy is to fight ISIS and its attachments; it supports Assad because it saw in Libya and Iraq that overthrowing the incumbent leads to worse. The only way to do this is by supporting the forces that are actually fighting ISIS on the ground. As well there is the principle that Assad is the recognized government of the country. And so Russia has forged agreements with the forces actually fighting ISIS. The US policy is to attack ISIS (but not very effectively) but also to attack Assad using its "four or five" moderate rebels. Oh, wait, you tell us there's a CIA-trained group we haven't heard about before somewhere? Or should Washington ally itself with Al-Qaeda? ISIS has a lot of US weapons: accident? Intention? some secret operation? who knows? No consistency or coherence there.
Moscow has a united team; what does the USA have? As I have written earlier, I suspect that the US intelligence community has been shut out of Washington's decisions and now wants to clear itself of blame for the ever unrolling disaster. We won't hear anything from Moscow like that; and it's not because Putin's a "dictator".
So it's not that complicated: competency, attention to first principles, reality, planning, consistency of purpose and unity of execution beats incompetency, interfering in everything everywhere, illusion, sloppy assumptions, confusion and disunity.