A look at Egypt-Russia relations as Putin visits Cairo

2017-12-11 20:00
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. (Dmitri Lovetsky, AP File)

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. (Dmitri Lovetsky, AP File)

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Cairo - Relations between Russia and Egypt have rapidly grown over the past three years, with Presidents Vladimir Putin and Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi forging a multi-faceted relationship that features economic, military and political cooperation.

Here is a look at the history of this relationship and where it might be headed, as Putin pays his latest visit to Cairo.

Cold war ties

The young Egyptian officers who seized power in Egypt in 1952 and later toppled the monarchy initially flirted with the United States through various channels. But vociferous, anti-Israel rhetoric from Egypt's Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser, coupled with Cold War realities, doomed any hope that Washington could become Cairo's superpower patron.

A 1955 deal to buy Soviet weapons through Czechoslovakia brought Egypt into the Soviet camp despite Cairo's efforts to remain non-aligned. Moscow later agreed to build a massive hydroelectric dam on the Nile in southern Egypt after the World Bank, reportedly at Washington's behest, declined to finance the project.

Relations plunged deeper when Egypt accused the United States of colluding with Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, in which Israeli troops seized the Sinai Peninsula. Following that war, Egypt's ties with Russia became much closer, with thousands of Russian military advisers stationed in Egypt, some with their families. Soviet-made military hardware poured into Egypt, from tanks and fighter-jets to helicopters and artillery pieces. Russian pilots even flew reconnaissance flights for the Egyptians over Israeli installations.

Switching camps 

The United States began to reassert its influence over Egypt when Washington brokered a 1970 cease-fire that ended months of intensive fighting between Egypt and Israel in the Suez Canal region and along the Red Sea coastline.

In a surprise move, President Anwar Sadat in 1972 expelled the Soviet military advisers, arguing that Moscow was not doing enough to help the Egyptians match Israel's military might. A year later, Egypt and Israel fought the last of their four wars and the road was paved for Washington to replace Moscow as the most dominant foreign power in the Middle East.

The US-brokered Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel cemented the new American-Egyptian alliance, transforming Egypt into a key US ally and the recipient of $1.3bn in annual foreign aid, which continues to this day.

Renewing ties 

Egyptian-American relations took a plunge after the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, the country's first freely elected leader, amid mass protests against his divisive rule in 2013.

President Barack Obama's administration criticized the move, which effectively ended Egypt's troubled transition to democracy, angering the country's new leaders. Since then, pro-government media have regularly accused Obama of siding with Morsi's now-banned Muslim Brotherhood group.

Al-Sisi, who as defense minister led the overthrow of Morsi and was elected president the following year, was quick to pivot toward Moscow. He has visited Russia twice since assuming office, and has struck deals to buy billions of dollars' worth of military hardware, including helicopter gunships and fighter jets.

An agreement to have a Russian company build a nuclear reactor was signed in Cairo on Monday. Late last month, Russia said it approved a draft agreement with Egypt to allow its warplanes to use Egyptian bases.

Al-Sisi has also cultivated close ties with US President Donald Trump, however, and relations with Moscow have not been problem-free.

The bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in October 2015, which killed all 224 people on board, prompted Moscow to suspend all flights to Egypt. More than two years later, the suspension remains in force and Egyptian tourism, heavily dependent on Russian tourists, is suffering. Egypt has spent millions of dollars to upgrade security at its airports, but the Russians remain reluctant to resume flights.

Read more on:    russia  |  egypt  |  north africa

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