After consolidating in battle-torn Syria, Russia has once again asserted itself in Egypt, taking advantage of the current rift between Cairo and Washington, in the hope of re-emerging as a political heavyweight in West Asia.
“We want to give a new impetus to our relations and return them to the same high level that used to exist with the Soviet Union,” said Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy. He made the weighty remark after holding talks on Thursday with his visiting Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
Mr. Fahmy’s comments suggest that the time had arrived to revive the once thriving politico-military relationship between Moscow and Cairo, which had been disrupted by Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s former President, who chose to become a U.S. ally in the heat of the Cold War.
While evoking nostalgic memories of a bygone era of special ties, Mr. Fahmy cautioned that the Egyptian foreign policy would not be a zero sum game, despite the re-discovery of an old ally. “Cairo wants to intensify relations. But they won’t be alternative to anyone,” he stressed. Mr. Fahmy seemed to address the speculation that the relationship with Washington — a top Egyptian ally for three decades — was on a downward spiral, after the military toppled the elected President Mohamed Morsy in July.
Ties between Egypt and the United States in recent months seemed to have lost some of its old lustre — a perception that deepened with Washington’s decision to withhold military supplies to Cairo, following Mr. Morsy’s ouster, and the heavy crackdown on his supporters that followed. The Egyptian Army called Washington’s decision “strange,” and did little to mask its angst. It stressed that U.S. support at this time is particularly vital as “Egypt is facing a war against terrorism”— a pointed reference to a growing insurgency in the badlands of the Sinai desert that the army has been battling at considerable cost.
In Cairo, Mr. Lavrov was accompanied by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu — a signal that the military ties were once again likely to break the decades of estrangement of the two countries. The Russian news agency Ria Novosti is reporting that the first deputy director of the Federal Service on Military-Technical Cooperation, Andrei Boitsov, along with officials from Rosoboronexport, Moscow’s weapons exporting arm, are part of the visiting team.
As they confabulated in the Egyptian capital, the Russian warship, Varyag, the flagship of the Pacific fleet, docked in the port city Alexandria—its imposing presence symbolising Moscow’s deepening interest in the Mediterranean Sea. Russia’s permanent presence at the port of Tartus in Syria has already underscored its intentions to implant a strategic footprint in these waters. In September, a Russian flotilla had docked close to the Syrian coastline, when tensions churned by imminent strikes against Syria by the United States, had risen dramatically.
On Thursday, Egyptian Defence Minister, General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi joined Mr. Fahmy for talks with the visiting delegation. He pointed out that Egypt and Russia “will continue strategic relationship, which is opening a new stage in constructive and fruitful military cooperation”.
However, the Russian delegation did make oblique references to the need for the restoration of democracy, which was disrupted by the military takeover of the country in July. “Strong and democratic Egypt will be an important factor to maintain peace in the Middle East. We hope that the situation will stabilise soon and that all problems will be solved by peaceful means,” said the Russian Defence Minister.
Nevertheless, if at all, this was a minor hiccup in the advancement of a relationship, which could have vast geopolitical implications.
Mr. Fahmy, the foreign minister told Russia Today (RT) Arabic that Egypt was “in principle” considering the purchase of Russian weapons.
Quoting an unnamed high-ranking official, Ria-Novosti is reporting that Russia would be ready to negotiate with Egypt “the possibility of deliveries of new weaponry as well as repairing equipment supplied in Soviet times”. However, any deal would depend on Egypt’s capacity to pay, though Moscow would be “ready to discuss with Cairo a possible loan to that country”.