Friday, November 1, 2013

Russia Returning to Egypt?

Haaretz reports:

The divide between Washington and Cairo and the suspension of American aid to Egypt have brought an old-new player back into the arena – Russia. 
Last Thursday an Egyptian public diplomacy delegation visited Moscow to express its gratitude to Russia, Al Arabiya reported. “The reason behind this visit is to show our gratitude for the cautious and objective positioning of Russia," said Mohamed Salmawy, head of the Writers' Union of Egypt. 
It is not clear why the Writers' Union head led a diplomatic mission or why a dozen intellectuals and politicians needed to "update" Russia on the situation in Egypt. But it seems that the visit's timing was not accidental. The "popular delegation," as it was called in the Egyptian media, landed in Moscow a few days after the American administration announced the suspension of $250 million worth of military aid and the transfer of planes and tanks to Egypt. 
On the Egyptian group's return, the media reported that Egypt intended to buy MiG-29 planes and other Russian military equipment. Some reports said Saudi Arabia will finance the main part of the $15 billion dollar deal. 
... For Moscow, this is an opportunity to get its foot in a door that has been closed to it since President Anwar Sadat kicked the Russians out of Egypt in the early '70s. Russia also wants an alternative naval base in the Mediterranean, as the one in Syria may be in danger if Assad's regime falls. 
But Cairo is aware that such a strategic swerve is not without problems. Russia has made it clear it will not replace the American economic assistance to Egypt, and the Egyptian army will find it difficult to operate Russian weapons systems, a learning process that takes years.
 The Russians evacuated their naval base (really, just a supply depot) at Tartus earlier this year. This article from Radio Free Europe explains the importance of the Tartus base, and suggests why the Russians would be anxious to replace it.

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