DUBAI — The rumors surrounding an arms deal between Russia and Egypt deepened last week after the Egyptian Air Force commander stood up his Russian counterpart for a scheduled meeting at the Dubai Airshow, according to a source close to Moscow’s delegation.
The meeting between Egypt’s Air Vice Marshal Younes Hamed and Lt. Gen. Viktor Bondarev was scheduled for Nov. 19. Hamed never showed, according to the source.
“The Russian delegation was waiting for 90 minutes before they left,” the source said Nov. 20. “There has been speculation amongst them of US or British intervention,” he added.
Russia is said to have offered Egypt billions of dollars in new weapons, a move to offset the suspension of some US arms to Cairo. Saudi Arabia has reportedly offered to pay for the equipment.
Numerous US State Department officials in Dubai and Washington refused to comment on the much-speculated sale of Russian arms.
The US suspended some military aid to Cairo in early October and held back deliveries of Lockheed Martin F-16s, General Dynamics Abrams tanks and Boeing Harpoon anti-ship missiles following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. The US government has not called the event a coup.
On Nov. 19 — the same day Hamed and Bondarev were set to meet — the US delivered to Egypt the first of four Ambassador Fast Missile Craft.
Amid this diplomatic awkwardness, Russia has been looking to move in, offering Egypt a package of advanced weaponry.
Recent visits to Egypt by Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) chief Mikhail Fradkov, followed by the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, have fueled speculation that the Kremlin is seeking a new client state.
According to Theodore Karasik, director of research and development at the Institute of Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), a United Arab Emirates-based think tank, the visits appeared to focus on analyzing Egyptian Army gaps and requirements to fill in shortcomings.
“Fradkov’s visit also saw the formation of a Russian-Egyptian commission to highlight immediate requirements of the Egyptian military in relation to the threats posed to the country,” he said.
A wide array of weapons from advanced conventional weapons to special operation forces equipment and riot control equipment are all in discussion to meet the Egyptian military’s needs, he said.
Karasik added that the Russian-Egyptian strategic military deal being cut between the Kremlin and Cairo includes discussions on Su-25, T-50 PAK FA, MiG-35 and MiG-27 fighters. It also includes talks of specialized equipment for the Egyptian Special Operations Forces, various types of radio communications gear, special communications facilities, reconnaissance devices and the Vega-E radar system.
Russian analysts, however, do not view the strained US-Egyptian military ties as a “big problem.”
“We have not seen any evidence of this. No documents were signed either,” said Ruslan Aliev from the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow. “Rumors going around must have some sort of basis, but myself and analysts in Moscow see no benefits for both sides.”
Since the Egyptian military has been supplied by US equipment since 1979, a transition to Russian hardware would require a significant investment.
“Both sides have been in negotiations for years without results,” Aliev said.
However, a visit to Moscow scheduled for this week by Saudi Intelligence Chief Prince Bandar Bin Sultan may offer an insight into the development, Aliev added.
“We will have to see what will happen after Prince Bandar’s visit soon to Moscow, however there has been no information released on his agenda or the negotiations that will take place,” he said.
Karasik said that, overall, the behavior of the Russians focusing on Egypt signifies a quiet acceptance by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) of the Kremlin’s long-term predictions for the reshaping of the Middle East.
“Egypt suddenly, and correctly, became important before the country itself went down the path of a Syrian-type scenario,” he said.
Aliev agreed with the analysis but said that any purchases of Russian hardware would only be in the context of the GCC agreeing to it.
“We have seen it before, and it is possible for a country like Iraq that has been under heavy US influence to buy Russian equipment, so Egypt can do that but only in the context of the GCC giving aid to Egypt and permitting them to spend it on Russian equipment,” he said.
However, the prospect of a Russian naval base in Alexandria is sensational and unbelievable.
“Since the Soviet Union, the naval deployment has been on the sea, Tartus is not a base. It only provides a small technical hub. So a naval base in Alexandria is not in line with Russian naval operations in the Mediterranean,” he said.