Q. On the cooperation agreement between Egypt and Russia
SZ My understanding is that there may be a military cooperation agreement & that in turn could lead to an economic agreement – for now it is simply to be an intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation –
— but certainly it will be unlike that of the Nasserist era. The agreement dates back to the Russian officials’ visit to Egypt in November 2013. Had the U.S. not suspended military aid to Egypt, then Egypt might not have been as eager for this alternative source of aid, but anyway it is to be financed by Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. as is not a ‘gift’ of aid as in the U.S. – Egyptian arrangment.
Q. Undoubtedly Putin is trying to increase his role in the area. He sells weapons to Syria (without mentioning other clients like Sudan or Algeria) and is going to have an important role even in Egypt. How U.S. perceives the Russian strategy in Middle East?
SZ Generally, the U.S. sees Russia’s strategy in the Middle East as adversarial but multi-stranded. For ex. the interest of Russian middlemen in oil futures is not necessarily synonymous with official policy – but in general we can speak of politics, arms, and markets. The entire world has changed since the previous Arab Cold War in which the U.S.-Soviet enmity played out to some degree in a block of states allied with the U.S. who were opposed to others with more favorable relations with the USSR or Eastern bloc.
Q According to some reports and analysis, Putin would have pledged $2 billions of military aid (Mig, anti-aircraft systems and anti-tank missiles among these). Firstly, may you tell me, specifically, which weapons Russia will sell to Egypt?
SZ. One cannot be specific when the deal hasn’t yet been officially announced. Yes, there were statements made by a Russian official (and published in al Akhbar which given its orientation, may or may not be accurate. These quoted Mikhail Zavaly (senior official with Russia’s arms export agency Rosoboronexport ) who said Russia was offering “modern helicopters, air defense equipment and the modernization of previously purchased military equipment,” Then Vedomosti printed that negotiations were ongoing about the sale of MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets, low range air defense systems and Kornet anti-tank rockets.
– Are those new weapons well suited from a strategical point of view to fight the jihadist and terrorist security threat the Egyptian state is facing right now in Sinai and in mainland Egypt?
SZ No. The fighter jets – known as Super Fulcrum are supposed to be better suited for other types of attacks; the Syrian air force wanted to order them (the reports don’t give specifics) they have a longer range & can hit multiple targets. One might expect Egypt to want Apache helicopters or drones which Israel is using in the Sinai. Air-defense systems would be intended to protect Egypt against Israel most probably, and have no utility in the Sinai in the current situation. Although it is true that the Israeli’s employ Iron Dome & that system has protected Eilat and other areas from rocket attacks.
The campaign in the Sinai is a counterterrorist effort which differs from conventional warfare.
– How will Egypt finance such a purchase?
SZ Apparently Saudi Arabia and the UAE would pay Russia on behalf of Egypt.
Q – Sisi relies on Saudi’s and Gulf states’ financing. As you know, last July the Saudi prince Bandar had a meeting with Putin where he tried to convince the Russian leader to stop financing al-Assad in Syria (letting him understand his control on jihadist groups in Chechenia). How do you see the fact that it is now Saudi Arabia that is paying for the Russian weapons sold to Egypt? Especially with reference to the Syrian Great Game.
SZ I hope you do not print the various reports about what Prince Bandar is and isn’t doing – I don’t know that the above is accurate in the least. Saudi Arabia’s official position on Syria is quite different; it wished to protect Syrian civilians and move towards a transitional government.
There is no “Syrian Great Game” – there is a genocide against the civilians of that country. Saudi Arabia, which had allowed Syrian expatriates to organize charity and aid has been accused of doing much more of course, and now funds groups in the FSA and beyond. Now, very sadly this conflict has continued instead of reaching a negotiated settlement by the world community. Anyway, we can speculate that Morsi might have involved Egypt militarily, but Egypt’s current government apparently has no intention of intervening in Syria.
– Will the deal bring more costs for Egypt as it has to “adapt” once again to Russian weapons or given the nature of the Egyptian military industry – specialized in “linking or adapting” the two weapon systems Egypt will have economical advantages?
Egypt already has many outdated Russian tanks, submarines and systems, which were either updated, or replaced or remain obsolete. It also has Western manufactured aircraft and naval systems. There is no need to link the various types of weapons or military craft; they merely need to function. There are no economic advantages to having outdated weaponry, nor to having materials exclusive to one national manufacturer – the issue here is really political – it is advantageous to have more than one source of weapons available to Egypt.
-And who does really benefit from this deal? Is it something that mostly benefits the military-industrial complex? It will undoubtedly benefit Russia’s military-industrial manufacturers, just as the U.S. deal over many years benefitted the U.S. manufacturers.
– Do you think that Obama has, somehow, progressively lost interest in the area (or part of that area) because of other priorities? If that’s the case, what are those other priorities?
Obama, rather strangely, announced at the very beginning of his first term that he would be disengaging from the Middle East and communicated to DoD (Dept of Defense) that the focus would shift to Asia. This message might have been lost as he also simultaneously said he would “engage’ diplomatically with the region in a new manner – to contrast with Pres. Bush. No-one knew what that meant, exactly. He has supported covert warfare in Yemen, Somalia, and elswhere in Africa, and in Pakistan – but withdrew from Iraq and plans to withdraw this year from Afghanistan. This diminished funding for engagement in the Middle East, even though the Arab spring brought about much unanticipated activity and new threats, including in Iraq – now destablized to the point that its government had to request external assistance in current campaigns there to resecure areas threatened once again by jihadist insurgents.
In Egypt, Obama’s administration, and the State Dept. as well as certain U.S. senators/congresspersons have angered and alienated Egyptians since 30th of June by insisting on restoration of the “rights” of the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, Kerry, as Sec. of State has been rather more diplomatic about this, but is outshouted by U.S. media and DC-centered think tanks continuing a very sharp attack on the Mansour-Beblawi government and Egypt’s sovereign rights to determine its own policy vis-a-vis any given political group. The Egyptian view is that matters are gradually stabilizing since there is a new, much-improved Constitution, and presidential and parliamentary elections will follow. Obama’s views on Egypt are somewhat of a mystery, one hopes it is not true that the U.S. had planned for moderate Islamists to dominate the region from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen to (if Assad were overthrown) to Syria. Apparently his administration regards the rapprochement with Iran as a great feather in its cap, although Iran retains centrifuges and an ability to produce nuclear materials and has thoroughly and poisonously aided Syria’s Assad. It does not seem likely that events in the Middle East will quiet down so some similarly dramatic effort could be made in Asia, but maybe that is the president’s intended foreign policy goal before his term ends.
The following was published a few days ago in al-Ahram http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/94399/Egypt/Politics-/Strong-EgyptRussia-relations-can-be-spurred-by-cul.aspx