Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking advantage of a milquetoast U.S. president to seize an advantage in the Middle East that Moscow has not wielded since Soviet times, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said Thursday.

Bolton spoke on “The Laura Ingraham Show” as Russia continued a new bombing campaign in Syria — military action that Putin claims is aimed at Islamic State terrorists but that Syrian rebels claim is targeting them. The Russian aggression has been carefully timed, following an assertive U.N. speech by Putin and tepid rhetoric by President Barack Obama.

“I think Putin is following a very clear strategy,” said Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “I think he’s bidding for dominance across North Africa and the Middle East. … And why now? Because the Iran nuclear deal is done. Because he knows he’s got a weak president in the White House. He doesn’t know who will win in 2016. But he’s going to advance the Russian agenda in a climate that for him couldn’t be better.”

Bolton said Putin is putting together a coalition to prop up Russia’s one reliable ally in the region — embattled Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

“These have been very historic days and very bad ones for the United States,” he said. “The big picture is the United States has suffered a huge strategic setback. We’ve been trying to keep Soviet and Russian military forces out of the Middle East for over half a century.”

“These have been very historic days and very bad ones for the United States,” he said. “The big picture is the United States has suffered a huge strategic setback.”

Bolton said he would not be surprised if Russia bombs ISIS for a time, but ultimately reaches a truce with those terrorist forces and then teams up with Iran, Hezbollah and Assad.

“That may sound cynical, but this is Russia and the Middle East we’re talking about,” he said.

It is not just Russia that senses opportunity, Bolton said.

“I think China sees the situation the same way that Putin’s Russia does,” he said. “They see a weak and declining, withdrawing America. China needs that oil and natural gas from the Middle East desperately for its own industrial development. I think they could be partners in this, too — all to our detriment.”

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To a war-weary American public facing mountains of debt, Bolton acknowledged that military intervention would be a difficult sell. But he added that with a “little bit of political courage and political leadership,” the American people will come along, particularly if they see a connection to U.S. security and gas prices.

“The people understand. They’re not going to get involved in the intricacies of foreign policy,” he said. “But they expect these bright people they send to Washington to protect the country, which is, after all, the first duty of the president.”