Russia in the Red Sea

Just between the Suez Canal and Bab el-Mandeb, the Red Sea is one of the most important waters for international trade. And as it´s significance is growing, the great powers are trying to increase their influence. One of them is Russia, which always has been eager to get an entrance to the oceans.

For Russia, it´s influence in the Red Sea has been traditionally a good indicator of it´s own status as a world power. As it doesn´t have a good excess to the most important seas of the world, the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean, it´s trying to gain one via conquests or outposts. Another good excample for this strategy was the incorporation of Crimea for the entrance to the Black Sea. But the way to the Indian Ocean is far longer and blocked by Centrral Asia.

To get hold of more influence in that area, it has to operate in the Black Sea (which is possible since they got the harbour of Sewastopol on Crimea), needs to pass the Bosporus (which is guaranteed by the treaty of Montreux), cross the eastern Mediterranean and the Bab el-Mandeb. In other words, it has to be a super power to achieve this. Despide the need for an entrance to the big oceans, the Red Sea is one of the most important routes for the European-Asian trade as well as one of the most important ones for the trading of oil. Even though it´s not that important for the russian exports itself, it does have a huge impact on the global price of oil. That makes it important for the Kremlin.

All of the above makes this region highly interesting for Moscow.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia wasn´t able to play a major role in the Red Sea neighbourhood. This is slowly changing since 2017, three years after the conquest of Crimea, starting with a meeting between Putin and the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. Topics of the meeting were the possibility of an increasing cooperation between the two states in different sectors, including a naval base for the Russian fleet at the Red Sea. But after years of negotiation, there is little more than an approval to build a supplies center in Port Sudan, far away from the Red Sea, the initial goal of Russia.

This shows the difficulties the country faces after its long absence from the region. For example, economic relations with neighboring states are not very well developed; only in the defense, energy and mining sectors is there closer cooperation. For example, the Russian defense industry has a large number of customers in the Middle East and northern Africa. In the future, nuclear energy and the construction of nuclear power plants in the region by Russian companies will play a greater role. Thus, despite a relatively one-dimensional economic orientation, the country could succeed in exerting influence on two of the most important sectors in these states and thus expand its position.

And Russia is urgently dependent on its influence in these sectors if it wants to become one of the most important players in the Red Sea again. If it succeeds in this endeavor, it could in the long term not only increase its own power on the world’s oceans, namely in the Indian Ocean, but also the hegemonic position of the United States, which rests to a large extent on its maritime foundation. If Washington were no longer able, alone or with the help of its allies, to ensure free trade on the world’s oceans, this would inevitably lead to its end as the dominant world power. And this is of even greater interest to Russia than its position in the Indian Ocean.

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