The official Russian government portal for legal information, Pravo.gov.ru, has announced that Russia and Egypt are about to sign a five-year pact allowing mutual use of territorial airspace and military bases.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
(Source: Egypttoday.com, November 29, 2017)
The Draft Agreement
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Egyptian Minister of Defense and Military Production, Maj.-Gen. Sadqi Subhi.
On November 28, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree instructing Russia's Defense Ministry to sign the airbase deal. On November 29, Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu visited Egypt to conduct negotiations. During his visit, Shoigu stated that Egypt "was and will remain" Russia's "strategic partner" in North Africa and the Middle East.
On November 30, the Russian government approved a draft agreement with Egypt. However, the agreement is to be negotiated with Cairo.
According to the agreement, Russia will enjoy the right to use Egyptian airspace for its military aircraft as well as the option of "mutually exploiting military bases" for accommodating its jets.
According to Article II of the draft agreement, both sides enjoy the right to use each other's airspace and bases in conformity with local law and international norms. According to Article V, the aircraft will provide security by local forces. The commander of the force dispatched will establish direct contact with representatives of the receiving country. According to Article XVII, paragraph 3, the agreement is not aimed against "the interests and security of third parties."
Order of the Government of the Russian Federation No. 2644-r of 28.11.2017, signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. "On the signing of the Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt on the Procedure for the Use of Airspace and Aerodrome Infrastructure of the Russian Federation and the Arab Republic of Egypt."
Reactions To The Agreement
This is the first time since the 1973 October War that the Russian air force will enjoy an agreed-upon presence on Egyptian soil. In 1973, Russian military advisors were expelled from Egypt by President Sadat prior to the war with Israel.
According to Vladimir Fitin, who chairs the Center for Middle East studies at the pro-Kremlin Russian Institute of Strategic Studies (RISS), the agreement concerns a "supplementary logistics [hub] which might help Russian air force act in a free manner in the Syrian theater, when needed. If the necessity arises for new direct flights from Russian [to Syria], then the option of using airfields and infrastructure in Egypt becomes very important." As for Russian involvement in neighboring Libya, Fitin added that the matter has not yet been discussed.
It should be recalled that back in October 2016, Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi and other senior officials denied a report in Russia Today that Russia wanted to lease military bases including the airbase of Sidi Barrani west of Alexandria. In March, the AFP reported that Russian Special Forces had been stationed in an Egyptian base most probably at Sidi Barrani. The reports were denied by the Russian Defense Ministry.
Appendix I: Russia-Egypt Relations
On May 29, Lavrov visited Cairo with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu for a joint meeting of the Russian and Egyptian foreign and defense ministers. Shoigu said that Russia was offering Egypt "very interesting projects in the realm of military-technical cooperation." The Russian defense minister called Egypt one of Russia's main strategic partners in the region. Shoigu said: "We are interested in Cairo's leading role, when it comes to the questions of strengthening regional security and stability." The minister also said that Russia proposed to increase mutual and joint military exercises and stressed that he saw a positive dynamics in Russia-Egypt security relations.
(Tvzvezda.ru, May 29, 2017)
Russian media outlet Lenta.ru pointed out that, during the meetings, the Russian side referred to the Egyptian counterparts as "friends", while the Egyptian officials used the term "partners." This, according to Vasily Kuznetsov from the Russian Academy of Sciences' Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, was shorthand for Egyptian unwillingness to draw too close to Russia given the importance it attaches to relations with Washington.
(Lenta.ru, May 30, 2017)
Reuters reported that Russia deployed Special Forces to an air base at Sidi Barrani, in Egypt, near the Libyan border. Reuters reported: "The U.S. and diplomatic officials said any such Russian deployment might be part of a bid to support Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar, who suffered a setback with an attack on March 3 by the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) on oil ports controlled by his forces... Egyptian security sources offered more detail, describing a 22-member Russian special forces unit, but declined to discuss its mission. They added that Russia also used another Egyptian base farther east in Marsa Matrouh in early February."
The Russian Defense Ministry denied the reports. Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, said: "There are no Russian special operations units in Sidi Barrani [the Arab Republic of Egypt]." He then added: "Western media outlets have been stirring up the public with such info leaks from anonymous sources for a while. Such 'insights' especially frequently visit anonymous sources in Ukraine and the Baltic states. And the words by Reuters about the U.S. intelligence services, citing the same source saying that U.S. intelligence on Russian military activities is often complicated by its use of contractors or forces without uniforms looks especially silly and ridiculous."
(Tass.com, March 14, 2017)
Commenting on the news, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: "I did see reports by some foreign agencies to the effect a couple of dozen military specialists were seen in Egyptian territory and that some drones were seen there, too, I have not heard about that from any other sources." He then added: "In any case, if the rumors concern the military, then go and ask the military. I can only say that I am responsible for diplomats, but there have no diplomats in Libya for a long time. They are forced to remain in Tunisia and address the Libyan affairs from there."
(Tass.com, March 14, 2017)
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "We do not have such information."
(Tass.com, March 14, 2017)
Senators Dzhabarov and Ozerov from the Federation Council have also denied that Russia sent its troops to Egypt. Both called the Reuters publication a "part of the information war" and a "continuation of the anti-Russian rhetoric in an attempt to discredit Russia in the realm of applying armed force abroad."
(Ria.ru, March 14, 2017)
However, the Russian blog Diana-mihailova.livejournal.com, known for its inside stories, published the information that at least four military Ilyushin aircrafts flew from Sidi-Barrani airfield to Latakia, in Syria, on February 2. The following radar images are taken from Flightradar24.com website, a known internet-based service that shows real-time aircraft flight information on a map. The images were republished by other influential blogs.
(Source: Diana-mihailova.livejournal.com, February 1, 2017)
On October, 10, 2016, Izvestia quoted two different sources confirming that Russia is negotiating with Egypt for permission to deploy its troops at Sidi Barrani, a former Soviet Naval and air base on a long term rental basis. According to the publication the base was expected to become operational in 2019.
Back in October, MP Andrey Krasov, deputy chair of the Duma Defense Committee, commented: "At the moment a growing number of states, including Egypt, have begun recognizing Russia's role in preserving the global balance of forces. It's one thing to fight terror by uttering words, and an entirely different story to take concrete measures, as the Russian Federation does. I think that we have to boost cooperation with Egypt and this includes a joint rebuilding of a military air base."
(Izvestia.ru, October 10, 2016)
In March 2017, Russian Vice-Premier Dmitry Rogozin met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. After the meeting, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov: "A very close and trustworthy political dialogue exists between our heads - Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of the Arab Republic of Egypt al-Sisi… During Rogozin's meeting with the [Egyptian] president, the sides confirmed the strategic nature of our relations and the understanding of the situation in the region and placed the main emphasis on the struggle with the terrorist threat, which concerns the governments of both countries."
(Tass.com, March 1, 2017)