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The strong pushback against Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s bid to take Tripoli endangers one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s risky bets. But even if Haftar loses, Putin will keep seeking similar adventurers in Libya and around the world to back. Russia’s version of great power foreign policy these days is an exercise in the art of the possible: Take a gamble on those who are themselves willing to take a gamble on Moscow’s aggressiveness and the murky economic benefits it can offer.

In the 1990s, an impoverished Russia turned inward and lost friends and clients throughout the developing world. Syria, ruled by the Assad family, and Algeria under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika were two of a few holdovers from the Soviet days, and Putin has gone out his way not to lose them.

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