Lebanon is seeking Russia’s mediation in a maritime border dispute with Syria, as part of a wider regional competition for resources in the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Speaking to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti yesterday, Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Bou Saab revealed that “we have knowledge that Syria wants to demarcate the maritime border with Lebanon, and Russia is present in this area and at this border in particular.”
Special presidential envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, also commented on the issue during his latest visit to Lebanon last week, saying: “Russia may act as a mediator in the debate over maritime borders between Lebanon and Syria if it is necessary.”
He assured that “if our support or aid is needed, we are ready to provide it, as progress and achievement […] allows for stabilisation in the region.” He also stressed the Russia is always willing to lend Lebanon “any possible assistance” which would also serve the interests of Syria.
Russia’s interests in the region and its relations with both states make it likely to accept the position of mediator in the dispute, as it already has significant economic stakes in the area. The Russian Novotek company, together with the Italian Eni and French Total, are part of the collaboration of international oil companies that plan to start exploration operations in December off the shore of Lebanon.
The stability of the Syrian government and the country’s administration is also a diplomatic goal which Russia has made efforts to preserve throughout the conflict in the country. Meanwhile, Lebanon is viewed as a prominent component for its stability due to its geopolitical position as a foothold in the region and Syria’s neighbour.
Russia’s involvement in the maritime dispute comes amid another maritime demarcation dispute between Lebanon and Israel, in which the United States is acting as mediator. Over the past few months, the three countries have been undergoing negotiations to establish a land and sea border, with Beirut seeking UN supervision with the goal of being able to explore gas and energy reserves itself.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has praised the efforts of the international energy companies to explore and drill for reserves off the country’s shores, affirming that it will have a positive impact on the economy.
In the eastern Mediterranean waters, vast gas and energy reserves have been discovered over the past few years, with countries in the region and international companies scrambling to acquire their share. Southern Cyprus and its dispute with Turkey has been at the heart of the discussion, with Turkey sending its drilling vessels to exploit the gas reserves off Cyprus’ shores in retaliation for a $9 billion deal struck between southern Cyprus, Greece, and Israel for the construction of the EastMed pipeline earlier in June.