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


  • Jonas Kjellén
  • Aron Lund

Publish date: 2022-02-11

Report number: FOI-R--5239--SE

Pages: 120

Written in: English


  • Cyprus
  • Egypt
  • EMGF
  • Greece
  • Hmeymim
  • Israel
  • Law of the Sea
  • Lebanon
  • Libya
  • Maritime Security
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Montreux Convention
  • Naval Forces
  • Navy
  • Palestine
  • Russia
  • Suez Canal
  • Syria
  • Tartous
  • Turkey


The 2015 intervention in Syria marked a new era in Russia's 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 1967-92 Soviet equivalent, the 5th Mediterranian Squadron, are likely intentional, since naval power was central to Moscow's 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 polarised 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 Russia's main goal, in contrast to the Soviet Navy's main ambition of countering the United States and NATO. In a longer perspective, continued Russian expansion toward the Indian Ocean appears likely.