Arms to Egypt, from Russia with love

Since the fall of the Mubarak regime, the Egyptian military has been in a precarious position

Dr. Theodore Karasik
Dr. Theodore Karasik
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Many observers are looking at the emerging relationship between Egypt and Russia with intensity. Why would Moscow want to sell weapons to Egypt at this juncture?

Since the fall of the Mubarak regime, the Egyptian military has been in a precarious position. Threats from a hodge-podge of al-Qaeda groups and affiliates from the Sinai Peninsula as well as what is becoming an internal threat from what may be a small number of Muslim Brotherhood members who may use terrorist tactics to achieve political statements, are in the waiting. A bulk of Muslim Brotherhood supports may again take to the streets at some moment, especially with the ongoing trial of ex-president Mohammad Mursi. The threat assessment is bleak at best with internationally and internally-based threats all hostile to Egypt’s national security.

The guardian of Egypt’s national security, of course, is the Egyptian security forces, including the Egyptian Army. In the short term, the Egyptian military is in a quandary. With one of the largest armed forces in terms of manpower in the region, the Egyptian Armed Forces are largely underfunded and ill-equipped. The Egyptian Armed Forces need to improve their life management cycles and land force capabilities to counter emerging threats while also securing their own positions within the country. The U.S. and other European allies had been assisting the modernization of the Egyptian Armed Forces. Russia may be on the brink of providing the aid that the Egyptian Armed Forces desperately need in the current and future threat environment.

The recent visits of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) chief Mikhail Fradkov followed by the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Russian Defense Minister Shoigu illustrates that the Kremlin is seeking a new client state to offset America's waning influence in the region. The visits also show the GCC states that fighting terrorism is the key linking all these countries together. Fradkov, Lavrov, and Shoigu, along with their Kremlin intelligence and security colleagues know that the region is rife with jihadist extremists. So do the GCC states. Here, the connection and interests of the two sides is undeniable. From the GCC point of view, interacting with Russia is now a priority, regarding Egypt. Russia and the Gulf states see Egypt as a prize that needs to be stable in order to pursue solutions to other issues in the region, most notably Syria.

The behavior of the Russians focusing on Egypt signifies a quiet acceptance by the GCC of the Kremlin’s long term predictions for the reshaping of the Middle East

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Specifically, Fradkov’s visit, followed by Shoigu’s, appeared to focus on analyzing Egyptian Army gaps and requirements to fill in short-comings. Fradkov’s visit also saw the formation of a Russian-Egyptian commission to highlight immediate requirements of the Egyptian military in relation to the threats posed to the country. A wide array of weapons from advanced conventional weapons to Special Operation Forces (SOF) equipment and riot control equipment are all in discussion to meet the Egyptian military’s needs. Apparently, the Russian-Egyptian strategic military deal “or wish-list” being cut between the Kremlin and Cairo includes discussions on:

• Su-25, Pakfat T50, Mig-35, Mig-27; plus
• Specialized equipment for Egyptian SOF: Mi-17, GM 94, AGS 30, AS SR 3, OSV 96, VSS Sniper, Kadr, Skatt, KA 226 T, N-SAT, various types of radio coms, special communications facilities, RECCE devices, and the Vega-E radar system.

The above list is ambitious and shows a long-term commitment to the Egyptian Army that goes far beyond any other bilateral military support to Egypt from Western states. That fact, in itself, is significant. Some may argue that interoperability may become an issue but apparently the list is specific enough to largely overcome this question given the threat assessment. The negotiations appear to be for the long haul, and not a “one-off” deal. Apparently, the Kremlin is here to stay in support of Egypt’s current government and the Egyptian military for the foreseeable future.
Overall, the behavior of the Russians focusing on Egypt signifies a quiet acceptance by the GCC of the Kremlin’s long term predictions for the reshaping of the Middle East. Egypt suddenly, and correctly, became important before the country itself went down the path of “a Syrian type scenario.” Payment for the weapons becomes a huge question. Will the Egyptians give full and unlimited access to Russia at the Port of Alexandria (thus adding a second Russian naval base in the Eastern Mediterranean, the other being Tartus in Syria) or other locations around the Suez Canal as part of the deal? Are there monies coming from the GCC states to help pay for the Russian arms? The answers on payment and/or barter are not clear yet but they need not be at this junction. At this point, the Russians are playing strategic chess and are winning the game regarding Egypt’s future security requirements—all with GCC approval.


Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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