Since coming to power in 2013, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi—his faith in his country’s alliance with the U.S. shaken by the events of the previous two years—has been cultivating improved relations with Russia. Ramy Aziz explains the new alliance, and warns against its dangers:
Russia is challenging the West, including through its current effort at gaining a foothold in Syria and in a number of [other] countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. . . . To take but one striking recent example: in December 2017, at a summit with the Egyptian president in Cairo, after signing the final contracts to establish the el-Dabaa nuclear plant, Vladimir Putin said that he was trying to create more cooperation with Egypt, and described the country as an old and reliable partner in the Middle East and North Africa. . . .
Putin believes Sisi to be the right match for a military partnership. Putin found what he had long been looking for: a military man who had risen up in politics and was trying to rule in difficult circumstances, and was therefore in need of support and ready to offer concessions. . . . [H]e worked with full determination to turn Egypt into a country within the new Russian orbit. The most important aspects of [Putin’s] effort have been military, economic, and political. . . .
Russian and Egyptian forces carried out military exercises known as “Protectors of Friendship” in September 2017. Earlier the same year, some Russian special forces were deployed at a military base in the [country’s] western region, adjacent to the Libyan border, to . . . offer assistance to Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan militias, which enjoy both Egyptian and Russian backing. Recently, the two countries agreed to prepare a cooperation document allowing Russia to use Egyptian skies and military bases for military operations. . . .
Although the current U.S. administration continues to give Egypt military and economic support in its war on terrorists and insurgents in the Sinai, this has not succeeded in breaking ties between Moscow and Cairo and has not managed to stop Russia’s persistent efforts to establish influence in Egypt. Sisi views Russia . . . as an ally that can be depended upon more than the United States, notwithstanding all the aid that the United States has given Egypt. For that reason, the United States needs to adopt clearer and stronger language with Sisi regarding his rush to embrace Russia, like the language it used when it discovered cooperation between Egypt and North Korea. In the long run, Russia and Putin are no less dangerous than North Korea and Kim Jong-Un, and so the United States should work to end Russia’s efforts to establish influence in Egypt.
Read more on Washington Institute for Near East Policy: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/fikraforum/view/russias-alarming-attempts-to-establish-influence-in-egypt