Russia

Russian Officials Come To Egypt, Reportedly To Negotiate Arms Deal

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Egyptian tank
Credit: Sherif9282/wikimedia

Russian officials are reportedly in Egypt to negotiate an arms deal in what the BBC is describing as "the highest level visit to Egypt by a Russian delegation in years."

Last month, the U.S. suspended some of its military aid to Egypt following the military-backed government's crackdown on supporters of ousted President Morsi, who was removed from power by the military, a move which the Obama administration has resisted calling a coup.

The suspension of aid was a significant change in U.S policy towards Egypt. According to the Congressional Research Service, "Between 1948 and 2011, the United States provided Egypt with a total of $71.6 billion in bilateral foreign aid, including $1.3 billion a year in military aid from 1987 to the present."

The meeting between Russian and Egyptian officials is an indication that the military-backed Egyptian government may be able to enjoy a huge amount of foreign military aid without the U.S. Despite the fact that the meeting comes after some American military aid to Egypt was suspended, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has claimed that Russia is not looking to replace "any country."

However, political analyst Samir Ghattas told Euronews that the Obama administration's changing relationship with Egypt has prompted Egyptian officials to revive relations with Russia:

Samir Ghattas: "The policies of the United States have caused serious unease and confusion in the Middle East and in Egypt in particular, especially after the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood regime. That led to new policies from the US towards Egypt like pressure on the army and reducing economic and military aid after a while.

"As a result, Egypt has sought out new relations or to be more precise, revived its old relations with different regions of the world, especially with the Russian Federation and maybe later with China, India and other rising powers.

"I suspect that there is also a need to develop economic relations between the two countries, given that Russia is a big exporter of wheat, which Egypt desperately needs.

If Russia and Egypt do agree to an arms deal, which could be worth up to $2 billion, it would be the latest example of Russia extending its influence in the Middle East and being a nuisance for American policy-makers.

Russia has been one of the Assad regime's strongest allies throughout the civil war in Syria and has, along with China, prevented the United Nations Security Council from imposing sanctions on Syria while also providing the Assad regime with financial support.

Last year, Russia sealed an arms deal with Iraq worth more than $4.2 billion, a move Bloomberg described as "a challenge to the Middle Eastern country's military ties with the U.S."

Outside of the Middle East, Russia has granted temporary asylum to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, a decision that contributed to Obama canceling a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to Bloomberg, Egypt is looking to an unnamed country in the Persian Gulf to help finance a deal to purchase Russian weapons:

Egyptian officials are seeking financing from an unidentified Persian Gulf country to buy as much as $4 billion of Russian arms, Palestinian newspaper Dunia al-Watan reported Nov. 6, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have pledged at least $12 billion to Egypt's new government.

The news of the meeting between Russian and Egyptian officials comes soon after it was reported that the U.S. would no longer be buying Mi-17 helicopters from Moscow-based exporter Rosoboronexport.  

Egypt may have enjoyed significant American military support in the past, but recent events suggest that Russia is ready and willing to take America's place and become a significant arms donor to the military-backed government, a move that would contribute to more frustration at the State Department.