It seems the Eastern Mediterranean is becoming the area of Russia’s keen interest. In addition to the Syrian Tartus naval base controlled by Russia, on Feb. 3, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev issued an order for the Ministry of Defense to sign military cooperation agreement with Lebanon, entailing, among other things, access of Russian warships and military aircraft to Lebanese ports and military airfields, military exercises, training of Lebanese army staff etc.
The second noticeable move Russia has planned in the Eastern Mediterranean is the establishment of Russian oil and gas industrial zone in Egypt. It is assumed that the zone will be located in Eastern Port Said, at the entrance of Suez Canal. The establishment of the zone, reportedly, will take about $6.9 billion.
Currently, the draft agreement on the establishment of the Suez industrial zone has already been agreed upon. The document can be signed in March in Moscow within the meeting of the joint Russian-Egyptian Commission on trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation.
Why has Russia decided to increase its visibility in this part of the Middle East?
Historically, the Middle East has been one of the most important regions of the world for a number of reasons (the emergence of civilizations, the emergence of world religions, the richest deposits of hydrocarbons, key trade crossroads etc.). Numerous wars to take control over the region, from Crusades to the WW2, underline its importance.
Russia is keen to loudly declare its status as the new old world superpower, whose presence in the Middle East will have a decisive influence on the further alignment of interests of all the parties involved.
Russia fills niches where there is no American influence or it is insignificant, offering its projects, technologies and armament; otherwise the political architecture of the Middle East will be rebuilt according to the American scenario. A landmark element of this new Middle East architecture has been the recognition by the United States of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel – a fact that forced Russia to act faster.
Energy issues play key role with regard to Russia's national interests. Abundant occurrences of hydrocarbons discovered in recent years in the Eastern Mediterranean - in territorial waters of Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Cyprus – are the potential and closer sources of exports to Europe, that is, competitors of Russia, which has to drag its own oil for thousands of kilometers from Siberia to Europe. Better to manage hydrocarbon flows from the Eastern Mediterranean.
It seems Russia intends to become a new peacemaker in the region and has entered the competition with the US on this.
Tons of killing metal are directed from South Lebanon towards Israel targeting its cities. The latter, most likely, is not going to tolerate this. It will be miracle if the war doesn’t break out.
Russia is likely keen to build its own political architecture in the region and can no longer leave Syria. Syria can become either a valuable asset or a heavy burden for Moscow. Military actions, if commenced between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah, will likely affect and involve Syria.
Russia wants nothing less than chaos in Syria, because only lasting peace in this country can ensure the implementation of the Russian regional vision.
So, the Russian military presence in Lebanon translates as control and risk management, and it is some kind of constraint on the unleashing of war.