Long before Trump, Putin discovered the “Me First, Only” formula, when struggling with the Muslim Chechen rebellions of early 2000. Yes, it seems that radical Islam has had the unfortunate effect of bringing the worst out of so many peoples and civilizations!

Currently, the Iranians are confused as to the intentions and positions of the Putin Russia in the Middle East, mostly because the Shiite regime in Tehran is still guided by ideological dogmas rather than realistic considerations. They need to understand the following principles of Russia’s 21st century global foreign policy.

  1. Always act in your own national self-interest! Sounds simple enough, but this straightforward recipe has eluded the Iranian rulers since time immemorial. Neither Mosaddegh, nor Shah and certainly not Khomeini acted in Iran’s self-interest, but in the interest of their own giant egos.
  2. Don’t try to reform other countries or impose your government model on culturally different nations. Russia learnt this lesson in Afghanistan, as the United States learnt in Iraq. Soviet Union spent much political and financial capital plus the lives of its 50 thousand soldiers, to learn that a backward agrarian Muslim country cannot be forcefully turned into a Socialist state.  
  3. Russia is currently a lonely power, so cannot afford to befriend or alienate anyone forever. International relations are highly fluid and today’s foe can be tomorrow’s ally, and vice versa. Hence the seemingly contradictory cozying of Putin to Khamenei, Bin Salmon and Netanyahu simultaneously is actually a coherent policy, to maintain functioning contacts with all relevant parties within the region, including with those who may regard each other as mortal enemies, but can use a powerful and realistic moderator.
  4. Always demonstrate resolve and strength, as raw power is highly valued across the Middle East, and sweet talk is abhorred. Forget the soft power and soft politics … Middle East has always been a tough neighborhood, where even the manly men can’t sleep without a huge missile under their belt. Khomeini hated Carter (a liberal and peaceful president) but yielded to Reagan.
  5. Forget about the liberal democratic moral values preached in Europe and the United States, as the Middle East is a region bent on religiously guarded dogmas and biases, since the beginning of history. One-man one-vote after the so called Arab-Spring actually killed almost all the nascent democracies, in favor of sprouting Islamic States, as it did 40 years ago in Iran!
  6. Manage your resources very carefully, as a weakened Russia can only compete if it is more focused, purposeful and resourceful than its rich competitors and powerful rivals. Here is a lesson for the lightweight champions everywhere, of how “the tail can wag the dog”. With great skill, Putin has thrown UK into the Brexit purgatory, US into the Trump hell, and Iran under his firm grasp.

Reference: The broad principles guiding Russian policy in the Middle East.