Familiar, but not a new cold war

Beyond Ukraine, the world should pay attention to Russia’s new worrying footholds on the Mediterranean.

Russia’s new footholds in the Eastern Mediterranean is concerning. Photo: Egyptian Presidency / AFP
Powered by automated translation

Countries operate with their own interests in mind. This is no great secret. With the end of the Cold War and its myriad regional and international alliances, the principle of self-interest in statecraft has taken on new heft. Russia’s current advances in the eastern Mediterranean are a good example.

Given Russia’s dependence on hydrocarbons for export revenue and their declining price, president Vladimir Putin is in search of new alliances that will produce desperately needed capital for the country’s antiquated state energy sector. Turkey, and now Egypt, have lined up to receive Russian-built nuclear power plants. With the US pivoting away from the region, the Russians are vying to fill America’s place, at least in part, and this is where the eastern Mediterranean comes in. A slew of new alliances from Israel to Cyprus will establish a crucial Russian arc of influence.

This should ring alarm bells, not because of the standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine but because of Russia’s involvement in Syria. Along with Iran, Russia is helping to keep the Assad regime in power. Given the continuing horror of Syria’s civil war and the need to remove Mr Al Assad from power to make way for an equitable solution to the conflict, Russia’s relationship with Syria must be viewed as destabilising. Mr Putin already has a large military presence on Syria’s northern coast near Latakia. For Moscow, Mr Al Assad’s Syria may look increasingly like a base for Russian expansion in the region.

But let’s keep this in context. We are not returning to the days of the Cold War but it is safe to say that there is an arms race of sorts unfolding right on our doorstep. Add to that the rush to win new friends and build rival blocs of influence. At a time of regional upheaval, the Russian leadership sees an opportunity to extend influence and buffer itself from the consequences of Nato expansion. The sad reality is that Moscow’s view of the future has Mr Al Assad at its core. This should be worrying for us all.