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Egypt air base deal bolsters Russia’s presence in Middle East

Airborne early warning and control aircraft and 'dangerous cargo' are not provided for in draft deal

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a directive on November 28 approving a draft agreement between Russia and Egypt on the mutual use of airspace and airfields in both countries, laying the groundwork for a final deal to be negotiated and signed.

Medvedev’s decree directed the Russian defense ministry, with the assistance of the ministry of foreign affairs, to hold negotiations with Egypt on the deal and to sign the final agreement. Any changes made to the draft agreement must not be of a “fundamental nature.”

Russia’s minister of defense Sergey Shoygu was in Cairo on Wednesday and discussed Russian-Egyptian military technical cooperation with his Egyptian counterpart. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Egypt was interested in enhancing relations with Russia at all levels, and in the military domain in particular.

Medvedev’s decree and 10-page draft agreement was published on Thursday, November 30, and includes many specific provisions.

The draft deal allows Russian and Egyptian military aircraft to use each other’s air space and airfields with five days advance notice, which the document says should include passport information of the entire crew and all passengers.

Importantly, the agreement does not include airborne early warning and control aircraft and aircraft carrying “dangerous cargo.”

Security of aircraft at all airfields will be ensured by the host nation. Both sides will pay for fuel and other liquids supplied to their aircraft, technical repairs and housing of the crew.

The two sides will establish a joint commission to resolve issues that may arise during the fulfilment of this agreement.

The deal is valid for 5 years and can be amended and extended. No later than November 1 each year, each side will present to the other party a list of airfields used under the agreement.

Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-24
Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-24 at Latakia Air Base, Syria. Image:

Russia’s presence in the Middle East

Russia already maintains an air base at Hmeimim in western Syria and a large naval base at Tartus as part of a deal with Damascus. In July, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the deal into law, which will allow Russia to use the Hmeimim base for 49 years, with an option to extend the agreement for another 25 years.

Russian aircraft frequently overfly Iran and occasionally land there. In August 2016, the Russian MoD released a video showing Tu-22M3 long-range bombers and Su-34 strike fighters taking off from Shahrokhi in Iran’s Hamedan province to carry out sorties against Islamic State in Syria.

Although the Russians quickly stopped using the base, Iranian Defense Minister General Hossein Dehghan said in November 2016 that Tehran and Moscow were moving toward a deal to co-produce Su-30 fighter jets.

In March, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told Reuters that Russia can use its bases “on a case by case basis, when it is necessary for Russians fighting terrorism to use Iranian facilities.”

Russian ties with Libya’s eastern commander Haftar

Russia also has close ties with Libya, most notably with commander General Khalifa Haftar, who recently visited Moscow and held talks with Shoygu. Exiled from the late 1980s until the ouster of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Haftar commands a large rebel force in the country’s east, the Libyan National Army, in support of the government of Tobruk. The eastern government opposes the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli.

Earlier this month, a team of human rights organizations gave evidence to the International Criminal court, asking it to investigate Haftar and the LNA for crimes against humanity in Libya.

Haftar met with Shoygu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on August 14, cementing long-standing ties between the commander and the Kremlin. On March 14, The Guardian and Reuters reported that Russian special forces had been deployed to Libya to support Haftar and the LNA.

“We were promised assistance in the fight against terrorism,” The Guardian quoted the speaker of the eastern legislature, Agila Saleh, as saying.

Russian Su-35S, Su-34 and T-50
Sukhoi Su-35S (Su-35BM) multirole fighter, Su-34 fighter-bomber, and a T-50 stealth multirole fighter flying together, August 14, 2011. Image: Alex Beltyukov/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

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