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Russia in the Eastern Mediterranean: The Art of Balancing

Strictly speaking, Russia is not an Eastern Mediterranean country. It does not have direct access to the Mediterranean Sea; its most important strategic and economic interests belong to other parts of the world, such as the North Atlantic or East Asia. However, for a long time Russia has been trying to make its presence in the region visible; this continuous interest goes back to at least the 18th century and it results from a variety of geopolitical, economic, strategic, religious and cultural reasons. Today Moscow arguably enjoys more visibility here than even the Soviet Union did at the peak of its global outreach. Moreover, Vladimir Putin can present the Kremlin’s presence in the Eastern Mediterranean as one of the most spectacular and unquestionable personal foreign policy accomplishments.

Still, can one argue that Russia has a consistent and comprehensive strategic approach to the region? To forge and to sustain such an approach would be a challenging task for a number of reasons. First, the Eastern Mediterranean is simply too large and too diverse to have a ‘one size fits all’ pattern to multiple crises and conflicts here. Second, Russia’s capabilities in the region—especially in the economic domain and in soft power tools—are quite limited and do not allow Moscow to pursue a long-term strategy guided by a compelling comprehensive vision of the region’s future. Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia has no social and economic model that it…

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