Egypt-Russia ties set to grow despite plane crash

Friday 18/12/2015
Egyptian police and emergency personnel carry a body on a stretcher at the site where masked gunmen shot dead four Egyptian policemen south of the capital Cairo, on November 28th.

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.