Russia’s vast majority lives in western regions, near the borders of Europe and the Black Sea. Moscow has been able to gain influence and regain its superpower status by establishing cultural and economic ties with the Mediterranean countries. Russia’s slow economic growth is a major obstacle to its ambitions.
Moscow has mastered the few advantages and resources it does have to keep its position with many influential countries.
Since Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, Russia has been isolated by the West. This has resulted in economic and diplomatic sanctions. Despite deteriorating relations with the West and Russia’s invasion of Crimea, Moscow managed to reverse some geopolitical “losses” by expanding its influence in the Mediterranean. While Russia’s support for Assad’s Syria provided a permanent base for its army in the region and economic and diplomatic relations are being pursued with other littoral countries, it also helped to create a stable foothold for the Russian military.
Moscow has two industries at its disposal that still have an advantage: defense and energy. These resources were successfully applied to three important Mediterranean States: Turkey, Egypt, and Algeria. These countries, except for their Sunni Muslim majority societies, are quite different from one another from a political perspective. Moscow has managed to build ties that are in its best interests and expand its influence in the region.
Russia’s energy sector plays a key role in maintaining economic relations. Moscow is a key player in the global economy, with significant oil exporters and the largest natural gas reserves. As potential customers are always looking for something, Moscow has significant technical and scientific strengths in the energy and defence sectors.
Due to Russia’s low domestic production, the Russian energy exports are significant to Turkey. Gazprom, which is a state-owned company, has been aggressive in building new pipelines to Turkey. Gazprom’s large capacity is what makes it unique despite the fact that it imports natural gas from Iran and Azerbaijan.
Russian companies have been able to gain an advantage in Egypt with their natural gas reserves. The state-controlled Rosneft has a 35 percent stake in the huge Zohr gas field. Cairo’s nuclear ambitions have provided another opportunity. The first Arab nuclear power plant is being built by Rosatom, a state-controlled company. This $30 billion facility will produce 4,800 MW of electricity and is being built using a $25 billion loan from Russia. It will be completed by 2030. Rosatom in Turkey is involved in a similar project. The country’s first nuclear power station is being built at Akuyyu.
Russia has also become an alternative arms supplier for these countries. Modernization efforts and substantial investments in Russia’s defence industry have produced high-quality products capable of competing with western counterparts. Moscow had a significant market share in Algeria during Soviet times. Russia also supplied advanced weapons to Turkey and Egypt, both NATO allies and major recipients of Western arms under Mubarak. Some cases, like Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 air defence system, had the added benefit of Ankara renouncing Western partners.
While Moscow has achieved some success in the Mediterranean, it is not able to exert much influence over the long term. Russian state-controlled energy companies and defence companies have in most cases been able to exploit weaknesses like Western concerns about Egypt’s human rights record, and Turkey’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy.
In other instances, Russia has been outflanked in many cases by the U.S. and EU. Moscow cannot offer the same quality and range of other elements of statecraft, such as diplomacy and development aid.
First, trade between Russia and most countries in the Mediterranean is very low. Second, Russian investments in many littoral countries are minimal. Third, Moscow doesn’t provide the same level of assistance in development as the West and China.
Russia is often the third or second choice in most cases because it has more to offer than the West and Asia. Russia’s economic future is at risk due to the energy transition. This means that there is a possibility that oil and gas sales may decline in the near future. In the long term, Moscow’s role in the Mediterranean is uncertain.
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