Russia turns to the Mediterranean


  1. “The Kremlin may try to form a protective zone in the Mediterranean. For short and long term interest.”

Benjamin WIRTZ

In Boulevard Voltaire, March 19, 2016
Translated from French by Tom Winter

The announcement of the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria is in a context of increasing symbolic and diplomatic intervention of the Kremlin. In January, a ballistic missile submarine was spotted off the French coast. A “show of force” in the Mediterranean, according to Francois-Bernard Huyghe (IRIS).

On March 14, Sergey Lavrov (Сергей Лавров) did not fail to assure his Tunisian counterpart of Russian support, even as Tunisia, facing the rise of the Islamic movement Ennahda, is threatened by the Libyan chaos and the rise of jihadism in its African near abroad, as in the Ivory Coast (i.e. the terrorist attack in Grand Bassam). 

Similarly, Vladimir Putin’s support of Morocco** in the case of Western Sahara — against the Algerian claims — is a strong signal: the Sharifian Kingdom can boast a long history and a potential for stability unknown among its neighboring countries, dependent on their oil and subject to strong internal contradictions.

Thus a new Russian Mediterranean policy is taking shape, being able from now on to rely on the Syrian example (realism, with visible respect for sovereignty) to reassure its partners in the Maghreb and Mashreq, beyond a simple projection of intent. 

The Russian action seems to follow the logic of a triple containment. First with regard to Turkey’s neo-Ottoman project explained by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (Josseran, 2010), to rebuild its sphere of influence from Sarajevo to Cairo, and from Morocco to Indonesia. Then to exhibit a strong presence against Arab oil monarchies and local Islamic movements.

A strategy that takes note of our [the world’s –tr] entry into a real multipolarity, hence confrontation, that carries the fear of a growing fragmentation of societies. By turning to the Mediterranean, Russia is not content just to cast its gaze outside its borders. Unable to aspire to zero hegemony, with neither ideological levers nor levers of the social base to try regime changes, the Kremlin may however try to form a protective zone in the Mediterranean. For short and long term interest.

Given its significant muslim presence (15% of the population, within a mosaic of ethnicities), and naturally faced with Turkish influences ,and destabilized in its peripheries by jihadist movements (Caucasus, Central Asia), the Federation has a real interest to develop an alternative policy towards the Muslim world. The “multipolar” policies of the Kremlin therefore meet a structural imperative – its own identity, which being multiple, may be more fragile in the long term it is customary to admit. All the same, domestic politics and geopolitics tend from here on out to nest one inside the other, if not to merge in a fascinating change in our conceptions.


**For the reference, see this report from Morocco World News.

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