Towards an Egyptian-Russian strategic alliance

Hassan Abou Taleb
Tuesday 2 Jan 2018

Despite some difficulties surrounding current Egyptian-Russian relations, an extended strategic relationship may be in the works

This view that Egypt and Russia are headed towards a long-term strategic relationship is supported by several facts within the Arab region and broader changes going on across the world order. Both spheres demand we look to the future with a perceptive eye and new way of thinking, aimed at realising the highest interests of both countries. A strategic view should seek to achieve maximum benefit from every change taking place in the world and requires being ready for forthcoming transformations.

The strategic realities of the Arab world are totally unpleasant and cannot be relied upon solely to bring a qualitative leap that fits the minimum of common Arab interests, including Egyptian ones, except in a limited frame. Such interactions make the Egyptian state’s responsibility to search for additional sources of support outside the Arab region into a vital issue, especially considering that the number and intensity of threats surrounding the Egyptian state is unprecedented.

In spite of all the successes achieved in the war on terror, still terrorism has not yet been resolved. Solving that matter requires enormous resources and huge efforts. Besides, an important part of it is related to managing foreign relations, revitalising old friendships and building well-established alliances on multiple levels and fields.

On the international level, all indicators point out that grand changes are in progress in the structure of the world order. Perhaps not more than two decades or a little more will pass and a new world leadership will rest upon the shoulders of a number of powers from various continents, unlike the unipolar world as it is the case with the US now.

Such countries will have the necessary economic and military capabilities and moral influence to manage international affairs in a totally different way from that of the US.

Undoubtedly, Russia will be among this international elite along with China, Brazil and India. Definitely, this will affect the nature of the new world order emerging within the next two decades or more.

For its part, Egypt is not in a state of sufficient luxury to particpate among those leading elite. Due to its history, location, potentialities and moral influence, it is obliged to be in the heart of those movements and activities leading to a more balanced, more democratic and more just new world.

In this context, it is confirmed that Russia will not spare any effort in firmly establishing its world standing and moving in several paths.

Some of these paths implied a number of dangers and risks iat the outset, as was the case of its direct military intervention in the Syrian crisis at the end of October 2015.

However, the will of the Russian state was enough to secure a victory over the IS terrorism and prove itself in Syria and the wider Arab region. What Russia has attained through high cost it is now aspiring to firmly establish, and its next step is to stabilise its feet in the south of the Mediterranean, whether militarily, politically or economically. It is a matter that doesn't start out of thin air but the Russians have a previous and a long history of cooperation with all the North African Arab countries.

What Russia needs now is to find a place allowing it to continue the process of firmly establishing its standing with all its different dimensions.

So there are big interests regarding regional stability and the world order is progressing in a way that connects Egypt and Russia. These interests are far bigger than just a consensus on some current Arab and regional issues. They also transcend current and future bilateral interests, however vast.

In light of such a scene, searching for a long-term strategic alliance is a crucial issue for both countries which will encompass all fields of cooperation whether economic, commercial, developmental, nuclear, military or political.

Anything less than such an alliance -- that is, falling short of bilateral cooperation -- is surrounded by risks and setbacks no matter the contracts and treaties signed.

For instance, consider the construction and contracted 25-year operation of Egypt's first nuclear power facility by Russia, and the technical agreements ensuring the training of Egyptian technician crews and in methods of disposing of depleted nuclear fuel. The maintenaince of solid Egyptian-Russian relations is necessary over the next decades to avoid potentially dire consequences.

Building strategic alliances entails far more than just military cooperation and often such relationships are difficult to initiate. However, the clarity of objectives, strong will and constant gains will guarantee the two countries solve the expected problems.

One of the difficulties which face any Egyptian-Russian strategic alliance is a Russian assessment that views Egypt’s movement towards Moscow as being motivated by problems in its relations with Washington.

This misunderstanding needs preemption. Egypt must clarify that it is interested in building stable and permanent alliances that result in common benefits, not just transient political attractions.

What’s confirmed is that Russia is looking for a permanent military presence in the south of the Mediterranean. Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir made an offer to President Putin during their meeting a month ago to host a Russian military base on the Red Sea. The offer didn’t go down well in Russia.

There was a formal Russian request a year ago to construct a naval base on a location that’s near to Egyptian-Libyan borders. Egypt saw that as running contrary to its long-established policy of not accepting the construction of foreign military bases on its soil. What is acceptable is conducting joint training exchanges between Egyptian and Russian forces.

At the end of November last year, news reports in Moscow mentioned that President Putin ordered the Russian Defence Ministry to negotiate with Egypt in order to reach an agreement allowing mutual usage of both countries’ airports on the condition of five days prior notification and to confirm continuation for five consecutive years. This shed lights on the Russian strategic planning in a way that suits the potentialities of the Egyptian side.

In the case of Egypt being assured that this kind of cooperation, going hand in hand with the increasing armament relations, will achieve certain Egyptian interests, it is possible to accept this matter without hesitation.

The writer is a political commentator.  

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