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From Tartous to Tobruk: The Return of Russian Sea Power in the Eastern Mediterranean

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[Technical Report, Special Report]

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FOI-Swedish Defense Research Agency

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The 2015 intervention in Syria marked a new era in Russias military engagement in the eastern Mediterranean region. Over the years, the Russian Navy had gradually increased its presence, culminating in the 2013 formation of a permanent Mediterranean Task Force subordinated to the Black Sea Fleet. The striking similarities to the 196792 Soviet equivalent, the 5th Mediterranian Squadron, are likely intentional, since naval power was central to Moscows ability to pursue regional interests. Since then, however, the eastern Mediterranean region has changed considerably. Its role in world trade has increased, and new energy discoveries have drawn international attention. Regional states act more autonomously in an area beset by new and old problems, from Cyprus to the Arab-Israeli, Syrian, and Libyan conflicts. In the 2010s, the region polarized between Turkey and three other key actors Greece, Israel, and Egypt contributing to new alliances and a naval arms race. Through its permanent naval presence, Moscow can influence an important, conflict-prone region subject to rapid change. This is likely Russias main goal, in contrast to the Soviet Navys main ambition of countering the United States and NATO. In a longer perspective, continued Russian expansion toward the Indian Ocean appears likely.

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[A, Approved For Public Release]