From a distance, the relationship between patron and client states seems simple. The patron, usually a super-power like the US or at least a major power like Russia or China, holds all the cards. They have the money, the military and the diplomatic clout, therefore when they say jump, the client state, usually a regional power, asks, “how high”? In reality these relationships are more complex. Patron states need their client states and their client states know it. The result is often a subtle battle of wills as both sides try to leverage the other to do what they want. This seems to be happening between Russia and Syria.
“even as Mr. Assad flew secretly to Moscow on Tuesday night for a meeting to assess the fighting in Syria, the chilly personal relationship between the two men has not changed, according to officials, diplomats and analysts.”