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Russia to conduct joint army drills with Egypt amid bid to regain regional hold
By Ariel Ben Solomon
11/05/2014
Israeli think tank: Moscow improving Middle East relations through ‘arms-supply diplomacy’
 
A Russian delegation met with a number of senior Egyptian army officials and agreed on the general plans to hold joint military exercises, a source told an Egyptian newspaper.

The Russian military delegation left Egypt on Friday after a four-day visit to boost cooperation, the source told Al-Shorouk.

The source added that the parties agreed to contracts for the purchase of spare parts for Russian weapons and that in the next few days talks will take place between the two militaries.

This is the fourth reported Russian visit to Egypt over the past few months.

If media reports from late last month are true, that Egypt plans to purchase 24 MiG-35 fighter jets, it would “represent a significant event in the Middle East strategic picture, [and be] another sign of reduced United States involvement in the region,” said a May report by the Institute for National Security Studies, whose authors are Yiftah Shapir, Zvi Magen and Gal Perel.

Besides the economic benefit of such an arms deal, “the clear Russian interest is in the political-strategic realm,” the report said, adding it is “a component of Russia’s overall effort to rehabilitate its status in the Middle East, which was greatly undermined during the Arab Spring.”

According to the report, Russia seeks to improve relations with regional countries by returning to “arms-supply diplomacy.”

The latest Egyptian report about the Russian delegation’s visit, published on Saturday, is just another piece of evidence of the Russians ramping up their “arms diplomacy,” Magen, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and former Israeli ambassador to Russia and Ukraine told The Jerusalem Post.

Asked about other places where Russia is using “arms diplomacy,” Magen said that Moscow is negotiating arms deals “with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon and of course Syria and Iran.”

Even though these deals are still only at the discussion level, the fact that they are occurring reveals the intent, he said.

The INSS paper drew attention to five major obstacles to the reported jet deal:

• First, the MiG-35 fighter jet has yet to reach the production stage.

• Second, in the 1980s the Egyptian military shifted from Soviet-made weapon systems to American technology. “While Egypt continues to use a number of Russian- manufactured systems [air defense systems in particular], the purchase of modern Russian aircraft will require a new logistical system that is separate from the system used for aircraft of American manufacture,” the report said.

“This involves not only procurement of the planes, but also of new, unfamiliar weapon systems [including air-to-air missiles and air-to-ground missiles], and each weapon system requires its own maintenance and training system. This is a long and expensive process, and the logic of embarking on it is questionable.”

• Third, it is unclear whether Egypt can afford an expensive deal. Even if it is financed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates the Saudis may be reticent to support Russia in a deal while it continues to support Syrian President Bashar Assad.

• Fourth, it is unlikely that Egypt “would actually be prepared to cut off ties and give up US defense aid and weapons purchases from the United States.”

• Lastly, the arms deal has not been confirmed by credible sources.
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