To prepare for Putin's next surprise, it's worth keeping his core strategic tenets in mind: Russia must be taken seriously abroad, his leadership cannot be questioned at home, and no opportunity to give America a black eye can be passed over. What ticks all of those boxes? A glance at the map points to North Korea.

Dealing with Kim Jong-un ordinarily falls to a combination of American diplomacy and discreet Chinese pressure. There is a gap in the market here. Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of North Korea's ruling party, recently responded to a tweet from President Trump by saying the American leader had "malignantly hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership," thereby committing a "crime for which he can never be pardoned." The upshot is a death sentence from the Korean people.

The bottom line: Not given to tweeting, and capable of exerting more influence over Pyongyang than is widely recognized, Putin would be able to articulate a package deal that, while not acceptable to Washington, would still be embraced by most of the key regional players.

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