The devastating impact of bombing and renewed fighting upon Aleppo in Syria is being brought home to us via news reports and tales of ever increasing numbers of refugees. It also places a spotlight once again upon the imperturbable Russian president, Vladimir Putin's, Middle East strategy. Briefly hailed as a joint step forward with western interests, it is in fact clear that Putin - unsurprisingly - has no interest in western aims and is methodically, and successfully, pursuing a Russia First policy in his dealings in Syria.
The BBC's diplomatic correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, gives a cogent and clear assessment here of just how Mr. Putin is winning his own war in Syria. And, as Marcus points out, it includes an abject lesson to western governments mired in confusion as to how to carry out middle-eastern policy. Marcus notes that Russia chose a credible side to back in the civil war, one that had sufficient forces on the ground; set herself achievable goals (in this instance to back the Syrian government and bolster its control of a clear area); and committed sufficient forces herself to achieve her limited aims. She is succeeding admirably. The West by contrast, as Mr. Marcus notes, is struggling even to work out what its aims are.
Nothing will come out of the present round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva and it is unlikely that Syria will ever revert to its original borders in a single, unified state. With Libya heading the same way - see another BBC correspondent, Frank Gardner's report here -there is an urgent need for the key western governments to work out a viable response, especially since Libya's mess, unlike Syria's, emerged directly out of a proudly trumpeted interventionist policy from Mr. Cameron and the then French president Nikolas Sarkozy. Getting rid of dictators seems easy. Filling the vacuum is, as ever, a nightmare.