Egypt-Russia ties set to grow despite plane crash
Cairo - The bombing of a Russian passenger plane over Sinai shortly after take off from Sharm el-Sheikh was probably meant to ruin growing Egyptian-Russian relations but it appears the attack will strengthen bonds, analysts said.
The October 31st plane crash, which killed 224 people, filled the Russian leadership with certainty that the terrorist tide Egypt had been battling for almost two years in Sinai was a national security issue for it, too.
“This is why I strongly believe that the plane bombing will open the door for more cooperation with Russia,” political analyst Nabil Zaki said. “Russia strives to ensure that its citizens will not be hurt by rampant terrorism in other parts of the world and also keep this terrorism away from its own borders.”
Keeping terrorism from its own borders was apparently one reason Russia is bombing positions of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.
Moscow estimates the number of Russians within the ranks of ISIS in Syria at 4,000. It says it does not want these nationals to return home and put Russian national security in jeopardy.
The plane explosion dealt a serious blow to Egypt’s tourism industry, especially after Russia and Britain suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh and evacuated tens of thousands of tourists from the Red Sea resort.
Nevertheless, Moscow cannot, analysts such as Zaki say, leave Egypt alone as it battles Sinai’s militants who are fighting a war of attrition against Egypt’s military and police.
The militants have killed scores of Egyptian troops and police in Sinai, using techniques including coordinated attacks on security posts to planting explosives on roads.
On November 23rd, a group of Sinai suicide bombers slammed a car loaded with explosives into a hotel in the north Sinai city al-Arish where dozens of judges overseeing the parliamentary vote were gathered. Several judges and police officers were killed.
Here is, observers say, exactly where Cairo needs Russia. Egypt’s powerful military, which is new to guerrilla warfare tactics, needs Russian space technology to determine the locations of militants and militant activities in Sinai.
“Russia can provide Egypt with satellite images,” security expert Khaled Okasha said. “It can also offer training to Egyptian commandos and antiterrorism troops.”
Egypt is reported to be planning to purchase Russian air defence systems, fighter jets and attack helicopters. It has signed a deal to buy two France-made helicopter carriers. Russia pledged to provide Egypt with equipment necessary for the carriers.
But Sinai is not the only spot where Egypt needs Russia. Cairo has expressed repeated concerns over growing militant activities in neighbouring Libya, which is gradually falling into ISIS’s lap.
Libya, Okasha and other experts say, is a matter of national security for Egypt, which says arms from the neighbouring country end up with militants in Sinai or in the western border region.
According to media reports, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been trying to draw up a new coalition with European states overlooking the Mediterranean, such as France, Italy, Spain and Greece against growing ISIS presence in Libya.
Egypt has also been trying to cancel a previous UN Security Council ban on arms supplies to Libya’s army so that this army can eradicate ISIS. Okasha said Russia, a permanent Security Council member, could help.
“Russia is a very important player in the Security Council,” he said. “It can change a lot of things if it teams up with Egypt and other like-minded states.”
But all this does not seem to be mere wishful thinking coming out of Cairo.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was in Cairo on November 24th to deliver the message that Moscow was ready for close cooperation with Egypt to fight ISIS in Sinai, describing the country as a “strategic partner”.
About two weeks earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his priority was to protect Russian citizens living abroad, regardless of where they are.
“People who are not in Russia due to various reasons should be firmly sure: We will always protect your interests,” Putin said at the fifth World Congress of Compatriots in Moscow.