I'm no fan of Vladimir Putin's but it seems indisputable to me that he has restored Russia's status as a serious regional power - and as a counter-weight to US influence in the world. The biggest story of this week may well turn out to be the following:

Iran on Wednesday touted this week's delivery by Russia of fuel for its first nuclear reactor Putin_2 as a step in strengthening ties between the two countries and a sign of Moscow's confidence that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful.

The shipment of the nuclear fuel, which arrived at Iran's Bushehr power plant on Monday paved the way for the long-delayed startup of the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor in 2008.

Iran is hoping the shipment signals Russian willingness to prevent the United Nations from imposing new sanctions against it over Tehran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment, as sought by Washington. Russia is one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

This is not necessarily Russia's alliance with the most powerful member of the Axis of Evil. It could be spun as helping to remove the need for Iran's uranium enrichment. But it seems equally clear to me that Putin is telling the West that Russia has the technology and the oil-money to rescue Iran if the US were to decide to take military action against its nuclear facilities. We live in a multi-polar world again. The next president will need to understand that, and adjust accordingly. Headline Junky notes:

The difference between Time's gimmicky pick last year and their selection this year is sobering: viral videos on the one hand, ruthless realpolitik on the other. It's almost as if the shock of 9/11 is beginning to wear off and, in looking around, America's suddenly realizing that while we've been squandering our political capital, there are other countries out there who have been slowly but steadily building their's up.

(Illustration: Noma Bar.)

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