It’s widely acknowledged that Russia uses its vast supplies of oil and gas, along with its position athwart transit routes from Central Asia, as economic and diplomatic weapons, intimidating opponents in Western Europe and subordinating client states in Eastern Europe with the threat of cutting off energy supplies. Now Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to gain even more leverage by extending Russia’s control over oil and gas production and shipment in the Middle East as well, notes Marc Pierini, a former French diplomat and visiting scholar with Carnegie Europe in new report for the IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook.
- Pierini writes that Russia is taking a sophisticated approach based on partnership rather than competition in the Middle East: “On the complex and oft-changing chessboard of energy politics, Russia has shown a high degree of consistency as regards the Middle East and North Africa region. Instead of solely considering regional actors as competitors (which they indeed are, because some of the major oil and gas producers are located there), Moscow decided to undertake a policy of cooperation through a series of agreements and investment decisions.”
- In addition, investments and partnerships cover not just fossil fuels but provision of nuclear energy: “In Egypt, Russia bought a 30 percent stake in the so-called Zohr field from the Italian energy group ENI in 2016 with the consent of the Italian government, with which Moscow has long enjoyed a close relationship. In addition, Rosatom operates a large nuclear power plant in El Dabba. Further afield, in just four years, Rosatom became the leading provider of nuclear energy in Africa.”
- Other examples of Russia’s expanding footprint include, unsurprisingly, moves to establish a presence in Syria (although the country’s energy resources are currently outside the regime’s control): “Russia has also made moves to control both the oil and gas sector in Syria, despite the eight-year-old civil war.”
- In Iraq, Russia is involved in pipeline deals in the Kurdistan region through a number of oil and gas companies, although the actual exports would have to take place through Turkish territory or possibly even through Syria in the distant future.” (Ed. note: The deals with Iraqi’s Kurdistan region are especially noteworthy as the Kurds are generally viewed as American clients.)
- Russia is also expanding investments and cooperation in Libya, where it supports the rebel forces under General Haftar, who controls oil fields in the country’s east. Pierini warns that this move will give Russia even more leverage over European oil supplies.
- Last but not least, “In Algeria, Gazprom is conducting hydrocarbon explorations in the El Assel area, while Russia is also building power plants in Egypt.”