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Russia’s Relations with Egypt

January 16, 2018

Russia’s Relations with Egypt

Throughout 2017, bilateral Russia-Egypt relations have expanded, particularly in the areas of defense and economic exchanges. In late November 2017, during Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s visit to Egypt, Moscow and Cairo reached a draft agreement on mutual use of each other’s airspace and air force bases. The agreement excludes basing rights for long-range radar detection and control aircraft and is renewable every five years.

The airbase deal is not the first potential deployment of Russian forces to Egypt this year. In March 2017, reports emerged that Moscow had dispatched unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and a 22-member special forces unit to the Arab country, based out of an air force facility in Sidi Barrani, 60 miles from the Libyan border. Russia may have also been utilizing an Egyptian base in Marsa Matrouh, western Egypt, as of February this year. Russia’s presence in this part of Egypt is likely related to its support for General Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA). Russia supports the east Libya-based LNA, and Moscow’s insertion of forces into Egypt may have been timed to shore up Haftar’s group after it suffered military setbacks in early March.

Both the Egyptian and Russian governments have denied Moscow’s involvement in western Egypt. During the summer of 2017, Russia arranged to sell equipment to Egypt to upgrade Cairo’s new Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. France had originally intended to sell the vessels to Russia, but the transaction was cancelled under sanctions against Moscow for its military intervention in Ukraine. Russia negotiated the sale of Kamov Ka-52 helicopters and other hardware to Egypt for use with the Mistral ships. Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz claimed that Egypt intended to resell the upgraded ships to Russia, an assertion Moscow has rejected.

In the economic sphere, energy is an important source of cooperation. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi signed a final contract in early December 2017 on the construction of a nuclear power plant in the city of Dabaa, located along northwestern Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. Russia and Egypt had previously reached an initial agreement on the nuclear power plant in 2015, and in 2016, Moscow lent Egypt $25 billion USD to finance the Dabaa installation. The loan should encompass about 85 percent of the project’s budget. Russian state-owned nuclear energy firm Rosatom will be responsible for building the facility, which is set to be completed in 2029.

Tourism, a sector which suffered following the bombing of a Russian airliner by Islamic State (IS) in the Sinai Peninsula, is also being restored. In mid-December 2017, the Russian Transport Ministry announced that the resumption of the first direct flights between Egypt and the Russian Federation since the terrorist attack two years ago. Pursuant to this, the Russian and Egyptian governments concluded a security protocol in Moscow, while Vladimir Putin discussed the nascent agreement during his December stay in Cairo. The renewed flights will begin in February 2018.

Evan Gottesman for iStrategic

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