Inside Story

Russia and Egypt: Reviving old ties?

We examine what the two countries stand to gain or lose from renewed relations.

Last updated: 14 Nov 2013 10:43
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Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoygu are in Egypt for talks that are expected to expand cooperation with Cairo. The visit follows a decision by the US to suspend much of a billion dollar military aid package.

The two-day visit is part of Moscow's attempts to revive old ties with Cairo. And Egypt's move towards Russia follows frayed relations with the US, after it announced it would be withholding part of its $1.3bn of military aid to Egypt.

I think that the relationship between  the United States and Egypt is actually quite strong. We have seen some tensions over the past couple of months, but I think that Secretary Kerry’s visit to Cairo last week made it very clear, that especially [at] the military level things are quite strong in terms of the relationship.

H.A. Hellyer, Royal United Services Institute 

The US is also halting the delivery of military hardware including F-16 fighter jets and Apache Helicopters as well as Harpoon missiles and tank parts. But Washington says the freeze is not permanent, and that it will still provide health and education assistance.

Egyptian officials insist they are not trying to substitute one ally with another, but Egypt’s military needs funding and weapons – and Moscow wants to rebuild its influence in the Middle East.

So, a deal seems to make sense, but what do both sides stand to gain or lose?

Relations between Russia and Egypt go back more than half a century.

Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser marked the start of the friendship in 1958, with an 18-day visit to the then USSR.

During his years in office, a number of military officers trained in the USSR - among them future President Hosni Mubarak who trained as a pilot in Kyrgyzstan.
But ties between both countries took a turn for the worse under President Anwar Sadat, who directed Egypt towards the West. In 1972, Sadat expelled 20,000 Soviet military advisers from the country.

And relations were re-established under the rule of Hosni Mubarak, however despite a number of state visits, they were never as warm as they had been under Nasser.

So, is Cairo's recent shift towards Moscow, a response to the spat with the US over the coup or is Egypt simply diversifying its allegiances? And could Russia be a dependable ally?

Inside Story, with presenter Sue Turton, is joined by guests: Sergei Markov, vice president of Plehanov Russian University of Economics and a member of the civic chamber of the Russian Federation; Richard Weitz, senior fellow and director for Center for Political and Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute; and H.A. Hellyer, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

" .... The only thing Russia really has to offer Egypt, I will think will be weapons, English is their main foreign language, their industries are all trying to move closer to Europeans and Western markets, they don't need Russian oil and gas, so it is pretty much an arms for cash relationship …"

- Richard Weitz, senior fellow and director for Center for Political and Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute


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