Russia may fire missiles at Islamic State group militants in Syria from ships in the Mediterranean Sea, a senior officer told a Moscow newspaper Friday. Russia already has launched cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea, over Iran and Iraq, in its fight against ISIS. When asked if it would use similar attacks from the Mediterranean if necessary, Col.-Gen. Andrei Kartapolov told Komsomolskaya Pravda: "Without doubt."
Russia began direct military action in Syria against ISIS last month with the purported mission of stopping terrorism. But reports indicate that Moscow is instead targeting other rebel groups fighting its ally, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. The campaign comes amid fears that Russia wants to establish a political and military presence in the eastern Mediterranean and as tensions between NATO and Russia have soared over Moscow's involvement in the war between Kiev and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
“They don’t care whether Assad stays or not. They want to secure their interests, and they want to keep access to the Mediterranean for sure,” Sijbren de Jong, an analyst at the Hague Center for Strategic Studies, told Foreign Policy.
The eastern Mediterranean region is an important for strategic and economic reasons, particularly for energy producers. Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt have all expressed interest in tapping massive offshore deposits of natural gas. Moscow also has its sights on the area. Russia re-established a permanent Mediterranean task force in 2012 and announced last month a massive naval exercise.
“More and more, there is a focus on the eastern Mediterranean, where Russia has strategic opportunities,” Jeff Mankoff, acting director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Foreign Policy magazine. “There is a perception that the United States is pulling out, and given the pre-existing position that Russia has in Syria, it can do more to project power in the region.”