Russia’s ominous return to the Middle East

Putin seeks to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Egypt

– – Monday, October 23, 2017


One of the most significant foreign policy events of the last 50 years is the introduction of Russian forces in the heartland of the Middle East and through this development, a restored cooperation with Egypt. Henry Kissinger noted that the Russian deployment of military forces in Syria is “unprecedented in Russian history presenting a challenge that American Middle East policy has not encountered in at least four decades.”

During the presidency of Anwar Sadat, Russia was asked to leave Egypt and, more significantly, leave interests that were cultivated over several years. At that time, the Russian dream of a perpetual warm water port was undermined. Now however, Russia is ensconced in the Middle East as a tribute to the changing fortunes of world affairs.

In September, Egyptian and Russian paratroopers concluded Protectors of Friendship 2, a joint military exercise on Russian soil. The commander of the Egyptian forces, Major Gen. Nehez Abdel Wahab stressed the importance of the exercise in “maximizing mutual experiences in light of the distinguished military relations between the armed forces of both countries.” This exercise is consistent with emerging military cooperation since 2015, an astonishing development considering the fact that Egypt and Russia opposed one another in Syria over the fate of Bashar Assad.

But it is now apparent Russia is a supporter of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s government and was among the first countries to endorse his presidential bid. Cairo has obviously strengthened its ties to Moscow against the backdrop of strained ties with the Obama administration since the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. When President Trump delivered his Riyadh speech encouraging deepening relations between the U.S. and the Sunni nations of the Middle East, Mr. el-Sissi welcomed the overture, but made it clear Egypt’s foreign policy would not be dictated by others.

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