Moscow’s Mediterranean Might

The growth of Russian power in the Mediterranean has grown too pronounced to be ignored. On land and sea, Moscow has established a dramatic military and diplomatic presence that threatens peace and stability throughout the region.

The comfortable illusion that the U.S. Navy’s 6th fleet reigns supreme in that crucial portion of the globe has been dispelled, as Putin not only adds his own vessels to the area, but works with China to form a dramatic increase in influence.

Both the sharp reduction in size of the U.S. Navy since 1990, and the as of yet unexplained tilt by the former Obama Administration towards Iran served to worsen the increasing threat.

Retired Italian Admiral Luigi Binelle Mantelli, quoted in the Euoberver believes that Moscow has gained a clear advantage on land and sea. “Russia is the pre-eminent naval power in the Mediterranean … [and] it has earned this role in the field…. In recent years, Russia has displayed a level of assertiveness that recalls the US during the golden days…[NATO is] no longer the deterring organization able and eager to show its muscles in the Mediterranean arena, as it did in the good old times.”

Moscow’s goal of gaining the upper hand in the Mediterranean Sea has motivated much of its actions in the region. A prime reason for Russia’s support of Syria’s dictator, for example, has been the protection of its key naval base in the Syrian port at Tartus.

As December and 2020 drew to a close, the U.S. State Department summarized Putin’s growing strength in the area. It noted that “Russia continues to threaten Mediterranean stability In Syria, Russia supports the Assad regime whose war against its own people has added to regional instability, led to a protracted humanitarian crisis, and displaced half the population.  In Greece, we saw Russian diplomats expelled from the country in 2018 for undermining the Prespes agreement and meddling in Greek Orthodox religious affairs.  Wealthy Russians – many with connections to the Kremlin – have laundered billions of dollars through the Republic of Cyprus and Malta, distorting their domestic markets and spreading corruption. In Libya, Russia supported an assault on the Libyan capital, Tripoli, killing civilians and undermining the UN’s efforts to bring peace to the country.  It also continues to violate the UN arms embargo; blocked sanctions at the UN Security Council on Mohamed al-Kani, along with the Kaniyat militia, whose egregious violations of human rights are well documented; printed counterfeit Libyan dinars that have destabilized the Libyan economy; and via its proxy, Wagner, fuels the conflict.  The Libyan government’s release of two Wagner operatives caught undermining Libyan politics is just another example of how Russia uses mercenaries and political shenanigans rather than open democratic means to advance its interests.  The list goes on. Russia… only acts to advance its own interests to the detriment of the entire region.”

The Mediterranean Advisory Group of the Konrad Adenauer Stifung organization warns of the lack of coherent Western response to Moscow’s actions.

“As the West still debates whether Putin has a strategy for the region, it has yet to come up with its own strategic response to counter Russia’s influence in the region. Meanwhile, Moscow’s goals in the region appear to span beyond Syria, with Moscow’s growing alliance with Iran and its expanding influence in North Africa. Moscow is reinforcing its position in North Africa by consolidating and strengthening its traditional alliance with Algeria, and developing stronger relationships with Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia.

As Moscow continues its advance across the Middle East and North Africa, the US and different European countries disagree on what approach to take towards Russia and the region.”

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government

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