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Eastern Mediterranean geopolitics for the next 15 years


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#1
MarcZ

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Welcome to another in depth geopolitics post, this time focusing on the Eastern Mediterranean Sea for the coming 15 years. Along with the East and South China Seas this is probably the region of the oceans which is likely to cause the most trouble from a security point of view. This follows major discoveries of gas deposits in the region, particularly around the island of Cyprus. This has drawn interest from all the countries of the region (Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel) in an attempt to create new economic development. It has also drawn interest from one of the major global powers in particular, Russia, which is looking for ways to continue to control the supply to Europe to continue to reap profits and have a degree of power over European affairs. In my opinion at least, this is perhaps the most important region of the planet for Russia over the next 15 years more so than Ukraine, the Caucasus, or even the Arctic Ocean, with European states trying to diversify away from Russia via new pipeline projects through Turkey or even an underwater pipeline from Israel to Greece, Russia appears to be trying to bring it's companies into the region to buy up or control major sections of this new Levant gas field, which is believed to be one of the largest in the world. Hopefully, this doesn't turn the region into another Middle East where The West, Russia, and to a much lesser degree China constantly use ruthless geopolitics and meddling to direct the region's affairs each for their own gain, though so far neither The West (America in particular), nor China has shown much interest in this area. America in particular has already said it is trying to pivot away from the Middle East and Europe towards the Pacific Ocean and Russia may be seeing an opportunity to become a power broker in this new energy field before America ever has the chance too.

 

Russia must also be seeing lots of ability to grow it's power quite significantly in the region, as many of the countries are unstable and could use outside support. Syria which is currently host as we all know to the world's most violent conflict at this time has depended on Russian assistance to beat back the rebels, Syria in turn has given Russian companies exclusive rights to all energy deposits in it's Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) and Assad may be looking to Russia as investing in his regime, Russia in turn probably sees more reason to support Assad. Syria is also host to Russia's only military base outside the ex-Soviet sphere, and if Russia is going to make a big play in the region this base may be more important to Russia than previously thought, especially since Russia can not move it's fleet easily from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean as Turkey controls the straights that would allow it to do so. Going forward, these interests will probably assure that Russia will continue to support Assad with even more direct support, and regardless of peace talks Russia has no interest in seeing any change from the current government.

 

Greece and Cyprus two other major players in the region have been experiencing major economic crises in their countries and their governments are currently looking for ways to boost economic growth. The draconian measures by the troika in Greece and the ECB in Cyprus have probably not won The West any friends, which has also opened up the opportunity for Russia to step in and try to build influence. Russia has given money to Cyprus to help it after it's banking system all but collapsed last year, and Russian companies have already been major depositors to Cyprus. Russia has a lot of room here to try to build influence and win gas contracts for it's companies around the island, which Cyprus will also welcome to try to create jobs. Turkey however will have none of this, as it contests Northern Cyprus and will claim any drilling can not be done without it sharing the benefits. But more on this later when we talk about Turkey.

 

Greece on the other hand has been trying to make itself out to be a gas producer as well although the jury is still out as to what gas potential there is under its waters. Greece has also suggested to Cyprus and Israel of creating an undersea pipeline to ship energy to Europe. Russia has probably noted this and therefore will want to assure that any pipeline will be supplied by Russian gas producers. Other than that Russia really has not actually spent much time, from what I can see at least, trying to increase influence in Greece especially since the local population is very disenchanted with their current political system, and to a bit lesser degree the West in general. I would think that since both share much in common, such as orthodox faiths Russia could make a big political coup d'├ętat against Western countries here, I even think Russia could potentially take Greece which has a large army out of NATO if it played its cards very well over the next years, and Greece could help it solve a problem it has. (Though no evidence of Russia trying to do this yet, but more on this later.)

 

Israel is perhaps currently the farthest along in starting drilling within its EEZ much to the ire of Turkey, as Israel has had much of it's energy supplies from Egypt cut off since the revolution in 2011, and thus must froth at the idea of energy independence. Israel has been very active in trying to build an alliance with Cyprus and Greece to drill, and in fact Russia and Israel save a few minor spats have actually had fairly good business together and Russia could potentially see it's company win gas contracts in Israel, in fact Russia-Israel relations could grow warmer especially as Israel-America relations chill, this is especially true since Israel probably feels annoyed by the American rapprochement with Iran. Lebanon, however disputes some of Israel's EEZ and protests drilling which could potentially lead to maritime clashes, which Israel will certainly win.

 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly we have Turkey. Turkey poses a major thorn in the side to almost every other country in the region, and in turn Russia. Turkey disputes drilling around Cyprus and has threatened to take military action to make its point heard. Turkey is actively trying to undermine the al-Assad regime in Syria threatening Russian gas contracts and making the possibility of a hostile Islamist state likely which would pose a serious challenge to Israel. Greece and Turkey have never had good relations and the Americans narrowly stopped a conflict between the two in 1996, nationalist tendencies between the two are strong and there is a long history of bad blood even if the two are NATO allies. Russia does not have free access between the Black and Mediterranean seas as Turkey controls the straights, yet it would not risk attacking Turkey (directly anyways) it has a large and capable army, and it would certainly drag in the United States and the rest of NATO in a very ugly confrontation. Turkey in turn sees large swaths of the gas field as its jurisdiction alone much to the ire of Russia and other countries. Perhaps the only good news for Russia at least here is that the current government has become incredibly unpopular and tangled in a corruption probe which could destabilize it allowing Russia much more leeway, though there is no guarantee any new government would be any more receptive to Russia or any of its neighbors. 

 

SO WHERE IS THIS GOING?

 

Looking at this from Moscow, Russia must have major headaches about Turkey when trying to expand its influence in this region and while Russia could be satisfied with getting Cyprus, Israel, and Syria on board with it, it could make a certain monopoly on this region of energy to Europe if it wants to take some big risks, mainly involving Greece and Turkey. 

 

[color=#00ff00;]--Speculation Ahead--[/color]

 

Depending on how much Russia values it's energy hegemony in Europe (probably a lot as we can see with its tactics in Ukraine) Russia could make a play to control the majority of the Eastern Mediterranean energy while giving itself new geographical advantages when it comes to asserting its power southward. The key to most of this would likely be a Russian strategy in Greece to encourage anti-Western parties to replace the current government (in particular Golden Dawn comes to mind and the Russian security services may actually be able to infiltrate this organization, and perhaps more radical elements of the Greek military to try to get influence in the country), if it fails to do so through election interference which it could possibly do, Greece will probably be a volatile tinderbox by the end of this decade and Russia could perhaps cause a coup d'├ętat or civil war in the country which could get it tossed out of NATO. This depends of course on allied countries not intervening in Greece, which would be a big if, yet there is not a lot of sympathy for Greece in many Western countries within Europe at the moment, and it is unclear if America especially in this war weary era would be particularly quick to get involved with Greece - personally I think the Americans probably could justify a Greek intervention by saying it isn't a Muslim country and they won't face some entrenched insurgency - if they don't then Russia could gain a major power with a strong military to help it carry out its agenda with Turkey.

 

Russia most certainly will be wanting to weaken Turkey as it goes forward, with the attempted peace treaty with the PKK the tools Moscow has at its disposal to try to destabilize Turkey are few. Being in control of an anti-Turkish Greece though would be a big way to advance Moscow's agenda in the region. Anything to spread out Turkey's forces would allow Russia to have more say in the Mediterranean although it would need to build up it's naval presence in Syria to be effective at asserting power in the region, and it would also need a permanent and large naval force stationed there as they still will not have access from the Black Sea. 

 

Now Russia probably wouldn't want a newly allied Greece to full on attack Turkey, as this absolutely 100% would draw NATO into a major military confrontation in the region, though if Russia really wanted to start a WWIII scenario it would just have to say it would retaliate to any invasion of Greece, and all bets would be off as I highly doubt even this threat would stop America from invading anyways. Although I'm sure in this situation if Russia could find away to get Greece and Turkey to fight and Greece could capture at least everything up to the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, Russia could then have ready access to the Mediterranean which would increase it's power immensely. Though this is 100% unacceptable to the West and they would certainly intervene here. However, this scenario outline above is perhaps, while not likely, a plausible path in this region of the coming 15 years.

 

-----

 

What do you guys think about this region. Is this extreme speculation unlikely or possible? What do you think Russia's geopolitical position in the region will be in the coming years? Could this be the new Middle East?

 

Further articles:

 

http://www.foreignpo...ck_for_surprise

http://www.ft.com/in...l#axzz2pDKRxZ8q

http://blogs.ft.com/...-mediterranean/

http://www.naharnet....ories/en/109799



#2
IzzyIngleby

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I can't really see Russia having the martial ability to wage war in the Mediterranean, it has a Green Water Navy yes, but it will be pitted against the only three current Blue Water Navies: the US, UK and French.

 

As you state, Russia's naval access relies on passing through the Istanbul Strait, which would be impossible without a land invasion to secure it. If it can't do that, then it must navigate all the way round an openly hostile EU to enter the Mediterranean via the same routes as the Blue Water Navies. Arguably the greatest asset of a modern navy are aircraft carriers, and Syria's agreement to host military planes does something to level the playing field, but I don't think it does enough.

 

Russia has in the last decade fostered diplomatic ties with the Middle East, but many are still wary of its Soviet past. Russia wasn't exactly friendly in the not so distant past. To many in these countries, Russia's expansion would appear to be the first stage of a return to the old mindset. To get their wary allies to declare war on NATO is in my eyes pushing things to the extreme. You say it's plausible that Israeli-Russian ties may warm after the current deal with Iran, let's not forget Russia's position on Israel and Iran. Speaking of Israel, the Middle East has shown itself to be incapable of defeating the nation in "classical" warfare. Yes, more recent Western-Middle East conflicts have shown invasion of the region to be unpalatable to the western world, but critically there was never any clear road to victory. In a war for control of the Mediterranean, victory would simply defined as to push back Russian forces.

 

The only way I could possibly see this happening is if China also made a push for control in the Pacific, such a scenario would divert resources away from Russia.



#3
MarcZ

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The idea isn't necessarily for Russia to be able to wage war in the Mediterranean, although increasing the naval presence at the Syria base may give this appearance. It is in fact to develop a Greek proxy to offset Turkish power, so that it can develop the appearance of being a power broker in Cyprus, and Syria where it can get contracts for its gas companies to try to keep a stranglehold on European supply. The only violence would be the indirect support Russia would give to anti-Western Greek forces in this model. I'm not saying it will happen, it is just a possible strategy. Turkey is critical to the West (even more so than Greece) and there is a vested interest of the United States, Britain and France not to see Turkey be attacked by Russia, or Greece for that matter. In fact I tend to think as a Greek-Turkish war is quite possibly America's worst nightmare scenario right after a China-Japan conflict. 

 

Also I agree with you that Russia has a bad reputation, however considering the circumstances currently in Syria, Cyprus and Greece I think this could be overcome, the current Syrian government is grateful for Russian diplomatic and military assistance and will likely be much more attentive to Russian requests should it prevail (which it most likely will) in the civil war. If Russian development and gas interests promise wealth and jobs to Greece and Cyprus I could see them getting over previous grievances with Russia and become supportive. In the case of Greece though they would certainly need to have some sort of government chance for this to happen. While Russian can continue to build goodwill in Cyprus by giving investment such as Russian depositors did before the banking collapse.

 

As for Israeli-Russian relations, they have not been particularly frosty as of late, and Russia probably does not see anything to gain today by seeing Israel removed. If Russia can help Israel develop it's energy infrastructure than I can't see Israel having that many objections. Russia itself is trying to fill the void of America as it withdraws from the region. 



#4
IzzyIngleby

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Okay I get you, a PR exercise in the eastern Med and buying up of stakes would help Russian interests. Still, there is a lot of ifs.



#5
Futurist

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@MarcZ: I will read everything which you wrote here later. I apologize, but I am too busy and lazy to read everything at once. I've got a question, though--what exactly do you think the odds are of an Israeli-Palestinian final peace treaty being signed within the next five years?



#6
MarcZ

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@Futurist: When pigs fly.

 

Also I don't make a single mention of Palestine in this topic. ;)



#7
MarcZ

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Resurrecting this thread to talk about Syriza. I want to talk about Greece again as now that Syriza has been elected the likelihood that it will be thrown out of the EU and perhaps even the prediction that Russia could pull it out of the Eurozone is growing! I would like to note however that the collapse in energy prices have somewhat confused the energy situation in the region. However, the energy price collapse has more to do with policy in Syria with the Saudis/Qataris wanting Russia to halt its support for Assad so they can send energy supplies in a pipeline through the country and then through Turkey towards Europe. I cannot see Russia liking this idea.



#8
Cosmic Cat

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Top quality thread, but, like many of its kind, it goes unappreciated. Enjoyed the great read, but, sadly, like many of my long threads, not many people are interested in them.

 

Also, in reply to the latest post, Syriza is already somewhat friendly to Russia, much more-so than the old government, in any case, and if Europe pushes them away, they really only have 2 directions they can turn: Russia, or Greek Empire revisionism. Since Greek Empire revisionism would fall flat on its face, Europe kicking Greece out would send it right into the arms of Russia. Also, what do you think would happen if Greece launched a land invasion of Turkey while still being in NATO? What would NATO do about 2 of its members having a war?

 

It'd probably end up a proxy war with NATO dropping Greece, and soft funding towards Turkey. Turkey has the second largest army in NATO and $18.2bn towards military funding (as compared to Greece's $7bn). They also 40 nuclear weapons held up. Turkey's economy is also a lot larger than Greece's.

 

Turkey would likely get the best outcome for a war with Greece, and if greece launched an offensive against Turkey, Turkey could claim self-defense. Russia would fund Greece, but it'd be nothing if Turkey was backed by NATO and the west.



#9
MarcZ

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Been awhile since this thread has been discussed. But I'm going to resurrect it. Seems that some of the predictions have not quite turned out the way foreseen when the post was first composed as there have been several major geopolitical changes in that time.

 

Firstly, the idea that Syriza would be kicked out of the E.U. is no longer a possibility after Tsipras' choice to ignore his citizens in the Greek bailout referendum in 2015. His purging of the more left-leaning elements of the party following this has made Greece far more European than previously especially due to the situation which has unfolded in Turkey since.

 

Secondly, Turkey has had major geopolitical changes of its own due in large part to Syria. Since this post was created it seemed that the Turkish-Russian rivalry was in full swing leading to Turkey shooting down a Russian aircraft in November 2015. However, far from deepening the rivalry other events conspired to lead to a very different outcome. While - initially - Russian and Turkish relations declined precipitously 2015 also saw the beginning of the Islamic State being able to launch terrorist attacks around the world, which changed calculations in Syria for many different powers and these changes have also had impacts on alliances. Firstly, the West which became ever more concerned with the Islamic State allied itself with the Kurds which it saw as the most effective fighting force against the organization following the collapse of the Iraqi army and lack of a suitable ally within Syria. This was total anathema to the Turks who also recently saw the collapse of peace efforts with their own Kurdish population following Turkish attitudes towards the Siege of Kobani. This alliance strained relations massively between the West and Turkey and Turkish commitment towards the West began to erode. What was more surprising still is how quickly the Russians and Turks were able to repair relations following what a very major international incident this further aligned Turkey away from the west and actually may have resulted in a decrease in animosity between the Russians and Turks. Then came the attempted coup in 2016 which saw Erdogan able to consolidate his own power and begin to purge the Turkish system of many individuals that may have had a more Western leaning and promote those with a more nationalist-Turkish vision. This has actually made it that Turkey is becoming far more volatile with its neighbors and has seriously damage its commitments to working together with the West and being far more likely to antagonize Western states like Greece and Cyprus (which it has increasingly been doing in recent months) as it no longer is 100% confident that the West has its back or that Russia poses its most major threat (that may go to the Kurds).

 

Recently, with Erdogan attempting to further consolidate his power and seeing increasing elements in his government there has been some slippage in public support. Erdogan has been trying to offset this with further sabre rattling towards Greece and Cyprus and there has been increasing incidents of military interceptions near each others borders. It is possible there could be a conflict that could erupt out of this as well. Turkey has already been musing on formally annexing Northern Cyprus after stopping an Italian energy project which wanted to drill in disputed waters. Turkey is also further questioning Greece's ownership of the Dodecanese Islands.

 

Turkey may be calculating that this is a good time to sabre rattle with Greece as the Greek economy remains weak and its military investment has suffered as a result. Meanwhile Turkey has had a growing economy and has been investing a great deal in its military and now has a more experienced force due to incursions in Syria. Turkey even has announced aspirations to get an aircraft carrier which is indicative of global power aspirations and such naval units would be of most interest to it attempting to project power onto Cyprus and Greece. While Greece may not be as strong as Turkey at the moment both have major, technologically advanced forces and any conflict between the two has the potential to be unbelievably destructive.



#10
MarcZ

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Necroing my thread from a few years ago. The dynamics are definitely not quite what I predicted. However Turkey has made an agreement with the internationally recognized government in Libya to merge their Maritime exclusive zones in the Med and at the same time has tried to say it is now the possessor of Greek and Cypriot waters. Greece is now saying they will send ships to block any kind of Turkey military exercise towards Libya. Israel, Cyprus, Greece, the Torbuk-based Libyan government and Egypt are all furious with Turkey.

 

Add this to the lost stature of Turkey in NATO and this could be a conflagration waiting to happen this coming decade.

 

https://www.aljazeer...3175146069.html



#11
Futurist

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What do you guys see the ultimate endgame in Libya being? Also, who do you consider the good guys (or at least the least bad guys) in the current Libyan civil war? Personally, I'm inclined to say the Turkish-backed National Unity Government in western Libya. I REALLY don't trust Khalifa Haftar due to me being concerned that he is simply another Gaddafi.



#12
Computron

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A communist Islamist regime takes over and then annexes the maghreb and uses its oil money to become developed. All students are sent abroad to learn and then build a technocratic society. Magreheb union then becomes the dominant superpower on earth and colonizes the stars




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