Spotlight: Russia in The Middle East
By Ksenia Svetlova | November 24, 2019
Insights on strategic issues facing Russia and the Middle East
- Egypt: Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu promised to "boost the strength of the Egyptian Armed Forces' defense capabilities" – the contacts for purchasing the 35-SU fighter jets continue, despite the threat of American sanctions – Putin might visit Egypt in 2020.
- Syria: Russia has established a helicopter base in the northern Syrian city of Qamishli.
- Libya: "Wagner" mercenaries try to tilt Libya war in favor of General Haftar.
- Abu-Dhabi: Russia presents it's state-of-the-art fighter jets during Dubai air salon, offering UAE and other countries opportunities to produce certain components for the Su-57 as part of potential sales.
Egypt: Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu promised to "boost the strength of the Egyptian Armed Forces' defense capabilities" - the contacts for purchasing the 35-SU fighter jets continue, despite the threat of American sanctions - Putin might visit Egypt in 2020
The military ties between Cairo and Moscow kept blooming this week. During the visit of senior Russian defense officials to Cairo, Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu promised to empower Egypt military force and to intensify the collaboration between the two. The background of this statement comes from the tension between the USA and Egypt over the possible purchase of the Russian SU-35 fighter jets.
The American Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned the Egyptian president Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi that the purchase of SU-35 will put Egypt at risk of the American sanctions and jeopardize future acquisitions. Just like in the case with Turkey, American officials claim that Russian weapons systems would complicate Egypt's ability to conduct joint operations with the United States and other NATO countries During this high-profile visit, Russian officials also presented to Egypt projects to modernize the shipyards of the Suez Canal and outlined opportunities for building new ones. The contract between the Russian AK BARS Company and Suez Canal Authority has been signed recently.
Moscow and Cairo's rapprochement is a milestone in Russian general strategy in the Middle East. Russian and Egyptian armies perform joint drills, Russia is building Egypt's first nuclear plant at Al-Dabaa and promotes strategic weapon sales that make Western leaders uncomfortable. Russian President Vladimir Putin may visit Egypt in 2020.
Syria: Russia has established a helicopter base in the northern Syrian city of Qamishli
As the US army completes its withdrawal from Northern Syria, the Russian army had established its base in the northern Syrian city of Qamishli. The aircraft will cover the Hasaka province, which stretches to the Turkish-Iraqi border and will allow the Russian army to protect the joint patrols of the Syrian border area along with the Turkish military. The base will reportedly be equipped with air defense systems, a flight control room, pre-flight training facilities, and medical services. The first group of helicopters has already arrived at the base, and an anti-aircraft "Pantsir" missile system was deployed on the ground. The Russian forces also took over the American abandoned bases at Ain al-Arab (the Arabic name of the Kurdish town Kobani).
Russia is determined to bring back the control all over Syria back to President Bashar Assad and to keep the Turkish army from moving forward into Syria territory beyond the lines that were recently agreed between Moscow and Ankara. The withdrawal of the US forces from Northern Syria allowed Moscow and it's Syrian protégé to expand their presence in the area significantly, without one bullet being shot.
Libya: "Wagner" Russia mercenaries try to tilt Libya war in favor of General Haftar
After a long period of cooperation with all sides in Libya, it now seems that Russia had decided to bolster rebel commander General Halifa Haftar's forces, using the infamous "Vagner" mercenaries. The military victory in Syria had inspired Moscow that now seems to apply the Syrian model also in Libya. Haftar is now fighting against the temporary Libyan government, recognized by the UN. Over 200 "Vagner" mercenaries had arrived in Libya during the last few weeks. The total number of "Vagners" who now fight for Haftar rises to 1400.
This move allows Russia to affect the battle in Libya, without taking responsibility for any "Wagner" mercenaries' actions. If successful, this move is designed to promote Moscow's interests in Libya - establishing Russian military bases and securing lucrative oil export contracts. Russia also looks to tighten cooperation with Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt. Those countries provide some support to general Haftar. In the past, Haftar received a warning by the US about his cooperation with Russia, and nowadays the US Congress mulls new sanctions against Russia due to the use of mercenaries in Libya. Yet, with no real plan on significant military action in Libya, it is doubtful that these measures will alter the course of events in this war-torn country.
Abu-Dhabi: Russia presents it's state-of-the-art fighter jets during Dubai air salon, offering UAE and other countries opportunities to produce certain components for the SU-57 as part of potential sales
Following a dialogue with Emirati counterparts, Sergei Chemizov, in charge of Russia's main state-owned industrial conglomerate Rostec, had announced plans for "localization" of portions of the Su-57 supply chain within other countries that decide to buy those jets on the sidelines of the Dubai Air salon. The offer is designed to make the possible deal more attractive for prospective customers in the Gulf and beyond. Russia is interested in upgrading its relationship with the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf and it aspires to sell its modern fighter jets and advanced defense systems to Abu-Dhabi and Riad, traditional US allies in the region.
Authored by Ksenia Svetlova, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichmann University.
If you wish to receive the weekly brief regularly, please follow the link to register.