With a few days' worth of surprise diplomacy, Vladimir Putin has revived memories of an era many thought was long gone, when Washington and Moscow jostled for influence while others looked on.
Whatever happens with its proposal to relieve Syria of chemical weapons, Russia, at least for now, has re-emerged as a central player in the Middle East. And for good measure, it is seen as a player that does not easily dump allies.
That's meaningful in a region where America's sudden abandonment of ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak two years ago has emerged as a seminal moment, focusing the minds of many an authoritarian on the sometimes ephemeral nature of U.S. support.
By contrast, Putin braved outrage by standing by his Syrian ally, claiming publicly there was insufficient evidence that Damascus used chemical weapons on Aug. 21 -- and even hinting he would somehow assist Bashar Assad in case of a military strike.
The way events ultimately play out -- in impressions as well as with facts on the ground -- will also resonate with Iran, whose leaders surely are watching as the clock ticks toward another possible showdown, this one over their nuclear program.
"The message delivered in Syria will be carefully received in Iran," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been pressing the world to force Iran to abandon its programs before it achieves weaponization -- a goal Tehran denies.
Complications may well bedevil a disarming of Syria's chemical weapons. With trust in short supply, verification will be an issue that could drag on, and some will doubt Syria has ever completely come clean. Security for inspectors may also become an issue, since the stockpile is believed to be scattered all around a country that is an unpredictable and ferocious war zone.
But an impressive thing has happened already: the arresting, at least for the moment, of what had looked like a march toward a U.S. military operation that domestic and world opinion did not want and might have skirted the edges of international law.
Even the administration of President Barack Obama seemed uncomfortable with the puzzling scenario in which officials argued an attack is essential but also explained it must not alter the course of Syria's civil war -- betraying little desire to choose between a discredited dictator and a rebel movement increasingly dominated by jihadi elements who hate the West.
That a face-saving climbdown might have been engineered by the Kremlin adds irony to what is at the very least a tactical victory in global strategic diplomacy. A Kremlin leader seen as a hard-hearted utilitarian, self-serving and occasionally brutal, may find new associations with peaceful resolutions and deft realpolitik.
"Putin appeared to save Obama from a potential embarrassment domestically," said Leon Aron, the top Russia policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington. "It's a huge international geostrategic win for Putin. ... Russia is on equal footing now as a power in the Middle East."
Putin hosted a Group of 20 summit last week that tested U.S. ties with Russia and saw tensions rising over foreign policy issues. Heading into the meeting, however, he offered an upbeat assessment of his relationship with Obama.
"We work, we argue about some issues. We are human. Sometimes one of us gets vexed. But I would like to repeat once again that global mutual interests form a good basis for finding a joint solution to our problems," Putin said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Russia's proposal on Syria would be a comeback for a country that was gradually eclipsed in the region by the U.S. after the 1973 Middle East war, with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat expelling Soviet advisers, making peace with Israel, and embarking upon a strategic alliance with Washington.
Russia's current interests in the region are both political and strategic. Moscow has long tried to position itself as a force for resolution of the Israel-Palestine dispute, repeatedly and unsuccessfully calling for a Middle East peace conference.
It also has strong interest in resolving the conflict over Iran's nuclear program, which is complex: While Russia apparently believes Iran's possessing nuclear weapons would be destabilizing for the region, it is also interested in doing more business in the nuclear sphere with Iran, and generally in the region.
Georgy Mirsky, the top Middle East expert with the Institute for World Economy and International Relations, a government-funded think tank in Moscow, said in a blog posting that the chemical weapons initiative "can be called almost the only really smart and useful step of Russian diplomacy" on the Syria war.