Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images
April 20, 2016 8:46 PM EDT

How does Putin think he’s doing? The portrait of him I want to read is his own. Nothing we know about him suggests a strong introspective bent, but let’s imagine him opening up to his workout buddy, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev.

“Listen,” he might say, “I’ve been in power longer than any other world leader, but no one seems to want me at their meetings. Our economy isn’t in free fall anymore, but I have no idea how to end the recession. I’m trying out some anticorruption rhetoric, but honestly it’s only talk. I laughed off the Panama Papers, but they made me nervous as hell. I picked a human-rights activist to head the Central Election Commission, but just for show. I brag about having restored order in Russia, but Chechen gangsters enjoy free rein in Moscow. I’m no longer set on breaking up Ukraine, but I can’t find a way out either. I showed Obama military power could produce results in Syria, but now I seem to own the damned place. And that withdrawal I announced? Didn’t mean it.

“Between us, Dmitri—I’m out of answers.”

Sestanovich was the U.S. ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet states

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