Cairo and Moscow have reached a preliminary agreement where each will be able to use the airspace and military bases of the other. The New York Times deems this an Egyptian “snub” to to the US and cites a retired State Department official stating this will be a major problem for US-Egyptian relations:
In practical terms, the presence of Russian jets in Egypt would raise concerns about the operational security of American military personnel and require coordinating with American military planes in the same airspace.
“It’s a major problem for the United States-Egypt defense relationship,” said Andrew Miller, a former senior State Department official who is now at the Project on Middle East Democracy.
Clearly Americans don’t like growing Egyptian-Russian ties, certainly not after they’ve spent 40 years bribing the Egyptians to stay in the US camp — but what is the Russian interest here?
Egyptian dictatorship no longer trusts its American patron because it failed to rally decisively to its side against the Muslim Brotherhood in 2011. Moreover, US fueled the Islamist rebellion in Syria where Egypt wants the Russian-backed Assad to win. Thus Egypt has every reason to cultivate its Russia ties and lend Moscow a helping hand, but what exactly does Russia gain by use of Egypt’s military bases?
I admit that I honestly don’t know. Egypt is too far away to be directly useful to the Russian intervention in Syria. Use of Egyptian bases would be necessary if Moscow was planning to fight ISIS in Egypt’s Sinai or intervene in Libya, but I don’t see any signs Russia is interested in further adventures before Syria is wrapped up.
Perhaps Russian surveillance assets in Egypt would grant their warships in the Eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Syria, added security as US ships and aircraft in the Eastern Med could be monitored from Egyptian bases as well?
Moscow used to have enormous presence in Egypt in the Soviet days. Thousands of Soviet advisors, pilots and air defense crews took part in the Arab-Israeli war of attrition between 1967 and 1973. As to what use Russia sees for presence in Egypt today I have no idea.
What I can say is that Washington will do everything in its power to prevent this deal from being finalized. As such whether Russians are actually allowed into the country will serve as a good indicator if Egypt under Sisi is more independent or is it still completely under the thumb of the US.