Monday, December 30, 2013

Surrendering Egypt to Russia

James J. Coyle: Surrendering Egypt to Russia
By JAMES J. COYLE / For the Register
Published: Nov. 22, 2013 Updated: Dec. 2, 2013 9:28 a.m.


Russia is negotiating its biggest arms deal with Egypt since the Cold War after the U.S. cut aid to Egypt.
Source: Bloomberg News
As the United States reduces its footprint in the Middle East, Russia is taking advantage of the power vacuum America's retreat is creating. Egypt, whose defection to the West in 1972 was essential to creating the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, may be transferring its loyalties to the Kremlin.
On July 3, Egyptian military leaders removed Muslim Brotherhood cadres from government positions. This included the removal of President Mohamed Morsi. Confusing liberal democracy with Alexis de Tocqueville's “tyranny of the majority,” the United States decided to punish the generals and canceled a joint military exercise with the Egyptian army. Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to an Egyptian newspaper, immediately offered to discuss Russian joint military exercises.
Egypt warned that they would not take American chastisement lightly, that they had other choices they could make. Not recognizing the warning signs, in October, the U.S. canceled $260 million in cash aid (out of a $1.5 billion annual total) and held up the delivery of military equipment, including F-16 fighter planes. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait promptly pledged at least $12 billion to make up for the shortfall in American aid, and Russia offered a major arms deal to the Egyptians.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Cairo on Nov. 14 – the first Russian defense minister to visit the country since 1971. Shoigu offered to sell MIG-29 fighter jets, attack helicopters, anti-tank missiles and low-range air-defense missiles. The package is worth $2 billion; supposedly, Egypt is looking for loans from Saudi Arabia and Russia to pay for the purchase. Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy proclaimed, “We want to give a new impetus to our relations and return them to the same high level that used to exist with the Soviet Union.”
The new Russian defense relationship might never materialize. Egypt may not be able to afford the weapons package, Russian weaponry would not integrate smoothly with Egypt's American supplied forces and U.S. aid might always be resumed.
But the Russians are pulling out all the stops: the defense minister's arrival was preceded by a port call in Alexandria by the Russian warship Varyag. This could presage the offering of port facilities to the Russian navy as a part of any rapprochement. Israel National News is reporting that Putin himself is expected in Egypt later this month to announce a $15 billion arms deal.
While we no longer face the zero-sum game of the Cold War, it is bad policy to encourage an American ally of forty years into the arms of a country that opposes U.S. policies in the world and is a major ally of Syria's Bashar al-Assad. There is an old saying in the Middle East: you cannot make war without Egypt and you cannot make peace without Syria. Current American policy is allowing Russia to gain control over both countries – and the ability to make war or peace.
James J. Coyle is the director of Global Education at Chapman University and chair of the Eurasian committee of the Pacific Council on International Policy.