Russia looks to extend Middle East presence by approving deal to land warplanes at Egypt bases
When combined with its Syrian airbase, the use of Egyptian runways and airspace would allow Russia to strike broad swathes of the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean
A draft deal which would allow Russian warplanes to use Egyptian airbases has been approved by Moscow in a move that would extend Russia’s presence in the Middle East and allow it to intervene militarily in Libya.
When combined with its Syrian airbase, the use of Egyptian runways and airspace would allow Russia to strike broad swathes of the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean.
The agreement may alarm the U.S., which has provided Egypt with more than CAD$37 billion in military aid over the last 30 years, partly as a way of limiting Russia’s influence in the Arab world’s largest country.
The draft agreement, which was published by the Kremlin after approval from Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister, would allow Russia and Egypt to use each other’s airbases for five years with an option to extend.
In this photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian Su-34 bomber lands after returning from Syria at an airbase near the Russian city Voronezh, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Olga Balashova/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
The deal is not yet finalized but Medvedev instructed Russian military officials to conclude the negotiations and sign off on the agreement when it was finished.
Russia has taken a newly assertive role in the Middle East since it intervened in the Syrian civil war in late 2015 and tipped the scales of battle decisively in favour of the Assad regime against rebel forces. It has an airbase and naval facility in Syria.
Vladimir Putin is now playing the leading role in talks with Iran and Turkey to end the conflict and set the course for Syria’s future while the U.S. and other Western countries have been largely shut out of the process.
By basing Russian aircraft in Egypt, Putin would have the option to carry out a similar intervention in Libya. Moscow has cultivated relations with Khalifa Haftar, a military commander who dominates the east of the country and is opposed to the weak Western-backed Tripoli government.
In this frame grab provided by Russian Defence Ministry press service, Russian long range bomber Tu-22M3 flies during an air strike over Aleppo region of Syria on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016. Russian Defence Ministry Press Service photo via AP
U.S. officials said earlier this year that Russia had deployed special forces in western Egypt, close to the Libyan border, to support Haftar. Russia and Egypt both denied the claims.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s president, has sought closer ties with Moscow since coming to power in 2013. Egypt has bought MiG jets, helicopters, and a missile defence system from Russia, while joint military exercises were carried out for the first time in October.
el-Sisi’s relationship with Barack Obama was deeply strained, but the Egyptian leader gets on better with Donald Trump, who praised him for his hardline approach against terrorism.
See AlsoEgypt finalizes deal with Russia for first nuclear plant
Robert Fulford: President Trump finds a new friend in Egypt’s ruthless new dictator, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
Nonetheless Egypt was angered earlier this year when the US cut or delayed $291 million in aid in protest at Egypt’s human rights record and over allegations it was buying arms from North Korea.
The treaty envisions Russia and Egypt notifying the other of flights five days in advance and approving areas where aircraft can operate, and sharing information of “mutual interest.”