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Analysis: Russia's heavy political action of late a bid to garner greater influence
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

MOSCOW - Russia thrust itself to the center of two global entanglements this week - the faceoff over Iran's nuclear program and the stalled peace efforts in the Middle East - as it confidently strives to take up the mantle of an international power broker.

First, the Kremlin hosted Iranian diplomats in a so-far failed effort to persuade Tehran to curb work increasingly suspected of being intended to produce nuclear weapons.

Then Moscow welcomed a high-level delegation from the Palestinian group Hamas, breaking ranks with Western allies that want to keep the militant Islamic group isolated.

The new activism rests on old connections dating to Soviet times, Russia's emerging status as an energy colossus, and a renewed sense of destiny as a world power. With Russia preparing to host the annual Group of Eight summit, such ambitions seem increasingly realistic but also risky.

President Vladimir Putin set the tone early in his first term, when he traveled to North Korea in 2000 to try to negotiate a breakthrough in the international dispute over the North's nuclear-arms program.

The attempt failed, but it signaled the Russian leader's ambition to be a mediator between the West and its adversaries.

Today, Putin is presiding over a much more powerful Russia, one that is swimming in energy revenue from providing a quarter of Europe's natural gas and more than 10 percent of the world's crude oil.

Russia also is chairman of the G-8 group of major industrial nations for the first time.

Some question whether it belongs in a club of rich democracies, noting the Kremlin's shaky commitment to democratic values and the poverty of many of its people. Yet there is no disputing Russia's growing economic importance - and the clout it retains from its former days as a military superpower.

Thus Moscow's diplomatic forays this week. It made a last-ditch effort to get Iran to accept international demands that it end uranium enrichment by offering to create a joint enrichment facility in Russia.

Putin invited Hamas to Moscow to coax it away from violent ways that have gotten it listed as a terrorist group by the United States, European Union and Israel.

The Kremlin's strong influence in the Middle East during Soviet times and its historical willingness to deal with states and leaders that the West considers pariahs might give it access other powers don't possess.

That is an alarming prospect for many observers who distrust Moscow's intentions. They see Russia even undermining the West in a bid to regain its former international luster.

Regarding both Hamas and Iran ''we have been receiving in the last few weeks quiet messages from various quarters in the West and East saying, 'Everybody looks at Russia now. We hope that you can help,' '' Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Western journalists Friday.

But Lavrov also hinted there was an element of payback in Russia's diplomatic overtures. He complained that in the past, ''Russia was just either invited to join the preconceived position or invited to discuss but not listened [to] as much as we would prefer.''

By keeping channels open with Iran and Hamas, Russia is also making the point that its increasing commercial interests in the Middle East entitle it to more than a peripheral role.

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