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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russias New Very Foreign Foreign Policy

The Kremlin has left us with puzzles before. But the latest mystery Moscows abstention from the Middle East emergency summit at Sharm el-Sheikh may signify quite an interesting change in Russias own understanding of its place and role in the world.

Russia is officially a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process along with the United States. And in Yeltsins Russia, the foreign minister whether Westernizer Andrei Kozyrev, Arabist Yevgeny Primakov or the faceless Igor Ivanov would have done his best to be present, even if only as a reminder of the past glory of a onetime superpower that still has some nuclear muscles to flex.

However, this time Moscow chose to play the injured party. "There has been no invitation and I dont even know whether they were sending any invitations at all or what the format of the meeting was, said Ivanov, who nevertheless spent most of last week in the Middle East talking to Israelis and Palestinians in a failed attempt to revive Russias clout.

For a career diplomat like Ivanov, a public acknowledgment that Russia was ignored to the point that it was not even informed about "the format of the meeting" is no idle statement. It is not a coincidence that the same day that statement was made, President Vladimir Putin sent a warmly worded message to his Iranian counterpart and assigned his Security Council chief career intelligence officer Sergei Ivanov to pay a friendly visit to Iran.

One could object to courting Iran, particularly now, and one could argue that we are witnessing a struggle between the two Ivanovs and the institutions they represent. But most importantly, the Kremlin is taking a more pragmatic, rational and therefore predictable stance in its foreign affairs.

By looking to Tehran and not Sharm-el-Sheikh, Moscow acknowledges it is no longer a super power, but a regional one. And Putins meetings with Ukrainian or Belarussian presidents suit the nations pragmatic interests better than his sitting impotently alongside the U.S. president.

Moscow no longer has the resources to supply free weapons or credits to its former allies in the Middle East. The Kremlins loudly proclaimed fight against worldwide Islamic fundamentalism, with which it justifies the war in Chechnya, puts it at odds with many Arab nations. And Israel does not need Russia at these talks either.

Putins letter to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami suggests that the Kremlin has a selective perception of what constitutes Islamic fundamentalism. The timing of such a move was inappropriate and comes across as, frankly, puerile. Yet it does have a certain logic behind it. Russia and Iran share the oil-rich Caspian Sea; Iran owes Russia about $4 billion and there is reasonable hope it will eventually pay up.

Russia is searching for a clear and definite conception of its national interests, something it has not had since the fall of the Soviet Union. Both the world and the nation will benefit if the Kremlin finally gives up its imperial aspirations. Whether some of us disapprove of Moscows concrete policies is less important: The emergence of a coherent and consistent foreign policy is already better than the absence of one altogether.

Yevgenia Albats is a Moscow-based independent journalist.