George Friedman maps the tight spot Russia is in. All her productive assets, her good farms and industries are in south and east end of their seemingly endless empire. The rest of the country has little value.
The only way to trade with the world is through three narrow bottlenecks that her enemies can stopper. There is no great barrier of mountains or sea to hold off armed Europeans. She is always going to be poorer than her competitors who are rich in ports and she is always going to feel vulnerable without a buffer of client states. See Friedman's story here.
Syria is a sideline. The Ukraine and the trio of Baltic states will always be the main prize.