Russia is proceeding to implement its Sukhoi deal with Egypt
by Ksenia Svetlova | August, 2021
Spotlight: Russia & The Middle East
Egypt is moving ahead with the purchase of the Russian fighter jets
Russian media has recently announced that Egypt had started to receive the advanced Russian Sukhoi fighter aircraft, SU-35, ordered two years ago. The transaction is shrouded in great vagueness for, throughout this time, most items relating to it originated in Russia. The Russian media has been reporting on the progress made in this transaction from the time it was signed until the aircraft were being transferred to Egyptian bases, whereas the Egyptian media has remained silent, not even confirming the details.
At this stage one could say that, despite the United States' severe warning against the execution of this transaction, valued at approximately one billion U.S. Dollars, and regardless of the threat of sanctions, Egypt seems to be determined to proceed with the purchase of the Russian aircraft. It is still concerned about a rift in its relations with the United States, but is also extremely interested in purchasing the Sukhoi jets, as they stand to strengthen its air force considerably. Egypt has also received 300 R-73 air-to-air missiles from Russia along with 300 R-77 missiles for its Mig-29 aircraft. The Egyptian Army is the largest in the Middle East, and in recent years, Cairo has been taking numerous steps to upgrade its military capabilities in the air, at sea, and on land. It has only recently inaugurated a new naval base in the north-western part of the country, near the Libyan border.
Ever since Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi has entered office, Egypt's relations with Russia have improved considerably. Russian President Vladimir Putin had visited Egypt, and el-Sisi had visited Moscow several times, where, much to the United States' dismay, he proceeded to sign military acquisition deals. Russia is also building Egypt's first civil-use nuclear reactor. However, it is noteworthy that, for some years now, Egypt has been diversifying its security-related purchases, and has only recently ordered 30 Rafale aircraft from France. The difference between the jet deal with France and the one with Russia is significant, however, and even ideological, as the U.S. administration has been trying to prevent Russian weapons from entering markets traditionally controlled by it, as well as its allies' growing closeness with Moscow.
Following Ankara's purchase of S-400 air defense systems, the United States had cancelled a shipment of F-35 stealth aircraft destined for Turkey. The latter was also suspended from the development project of the fifth generation of this combat aircraft. The Pentagon claimed that this decision was made due to its concern that the S-400 system would be used to collect information on the advanced American stealth jet's capabilities, and report it back to Russia.
But while Turkish-American relations have remained strenuous, Egyptian-American relations have been warming up considerably in recent months, particularly in light of the Egyptians' diplomatic efforts to help Israel and Hamas reach a ceasefire this May. Egypt is a close ally of the United States in the Middle East, inter alia due to the peace accord it signed with Israel. The Russian Sukhoi aircraft saga is expected to be continued – the Egyptian media, as mentioned, has not confirmed the news of the aircraft having been transferred to Egypt, and the United States has yet to respond. It is estimated that, despite Washington's warnings, the Egyptians will be determined to proceed toward the realization of the jet deal with Russia, while trying to keep it low-key so as not to jeopardize their relations with the United States.
Russia and the United States have reached an understanding in the U.N. Security Council over continued support for Syria
Following some vigorous debates and numerous disagreements, Russia and the United States have finally reached an understanding with regard to the international humanitarian aid provided to Syria. The U.N. Security Council had voted unanimously in favor of continuing the current model of activity, enabling the support to be provided not only through Damascus, but through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in northwest Syria too. Russia had formerly objected to the ongoing use of this crossing, suggesting that all humanitarian support be provided to Syria through Damascus (and thus overseen by Bashar el-Assad's regime). A concern was raised, however, that if the northwest crossing, near the border with Turkey, will close, the flow of refugees from this area to Turkey will increase substantially, for fear that the humanitarian aid would not reach its final destination. Under the U.N. Security Council's final resolution, the crossing will continue to operate for six months, after which its continued use will be revisited, "subject to the issuance of the Secretary General’s substantive report, with particular focus on transparency in operations, and progress on cross-line access in meeting humanitarian needs".
Russia views the compromise reached in the U.N. Security Council as a "breakthrough" in its relations with the United States, and the Russian media has even reported that the two leaders spoke on the phone earlier this month to discuss their continued collaboration in relation to the humanitarian aid to Syria. Nevertheless, this telephone conversation also contained a warning by President Biden with regard to cyberattacks against the United States and other countries around the world. The U.S. President also said he was able to set up a channel of communication with the Russian President through which to convey important messages, adding that Russia will be held responsible for its negative cyber activity.
In their first meeting in Geneva in June, President Biden had already signaled to Putin that he was interested in "constructive relations", and was not about to let Russia off the hook when it came to the cyberattacks he attributed to Moscow. What will the White House do if the cyberattacks continue? At present the U.S. President is not specifying the American response expected, and is allowing Moscow to form its own policy in this matter instead, while encouraging it using trust-building steps such as the understanding reached with regard to the cross-border delivery of humanitarian assistance to Syria.
Authored by Ksenia Svetlova, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.
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