The moment the first Russian jet landed in Syria at the invitation of the Assad government in 2015, Putin placed himself in the driver's seat concerning the international proxy war in the Levant. From a strategic standpoint the armed opposition stood no chance of ever tipping the scales against Damascus from that moment onward. And though US relations with Russia became more belligerent and tense partly as a result of that intervention, it meant that Russia would set the terms of how the war would ultimately wind down.
Russia's diplomatic and strategic victory in the Middle East was made clear this week as news broke of "secret" and unprecedented US-Russia face to face talks on Syria. The Russians reportedly issued a stern warning to the US military, saying that it will respond in force should the Syrian Army or Russian assets come under fire by US proxies.