Vladimir Putin’s rhetorically rich invocation of faith, language and history may endear him to the vast majority of his countrymen, but it won’t buy him the international support he needs to defend Russia’s broader interests, including those in the Middle East.

Martha Brill Olcott
Olcott is professor emerita at Colgate University, having taught political science there from 1974 to 2002. Prior to her work at the endowment, Olcott served as a special consultant to former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger.
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Putin has had limited international support for his policy in Ukraine. China abstained in the United Nations Security council, where 13 countries voted to endorse the territorial integrity of Ukraine, among them Jordan.

Jordan’s own domestic stability has been put at risk by the presence of some half million refugees from Syria, where Assad’s continued survival must be counted as another of Putin’s policy triumphs.

Not surprisingly, Assad has been the most vocal supporter of Russia’s policies in Ukraine. The Syrian president's political survival is critical if Putin wishes to retain any foothold in the Middle East, a region where Moscow’s influence -- so critical during the “hot years” of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 1960s and 1970s -- was diminished by the Middle East peace process.

Russia’s future influence in Syria, may depend on Iran, Assad’s other major ally. Lakdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy on Syria, visited Tehran to discuss the crisis on March 17. The meeting came just a day after Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, together with Vladimir Makei, Belarus's foreign minister, called for dialogue and international law to prevail in Ukraine.

Iran could benefit from a boycott against Russia; it has the gas and oil to meet the energy needs of Moscow’s current customers, if only they could get the international sanctions against them removed. It remains to be seen if Tehran’s new rulers are pragmatic enough to figure out how to use the situation in Syria to help them do this, and if the U.S. will allow them this role.

This article was originally published in the New York Times.