Egypt’s Sukhoi Su-35 deal with Russia could spark tensions between Washington, Cairo

First batch of the 24 fighters, with a $2 billion price tag, to be supplied to Egypt in 2020.
Wednesday 20/05/2020
A file photo of Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighters of the Falcons of Russia aerobatic team fly in formation for the airshow in Krasnoyarsk, last year. (REUTERS)
A file photo of Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighters of the Falcons of Russia aerobatic team fly in formation for the airshow in Krasnoyarsk, last year. (REUTERS)

CAIRO –Egypt is close to finalising a deal for the supply of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 aircraft despite the threat of US sanctions, straining relations between Cairo and Washington.

Russian News Agency TASS recently quoted a source saying that Moscow had begun producing the latest-generation military jets for delivery to Egypt, according to a contract signed by the two countries.

A file picture of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter taking off from the Russian military base of Hmeimim near Syria’s Latkia governorate. (Reuters)
A file picture of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter taking off from the Russian military base of Hmeimim near Syria’s Latkia governorate. (Reuters)

A document published by the official website of the Russian government contractor revealed a tender related to a contract to supply electrical connections and cables that will be used to manufacture a new weapon for Egypt.

Cairo is to receive the first batch of the 24 fighters, costing $2 billion, during the third or final quarter of 2020, after the transfer was delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Egyptian army’s addition of the powerful Russian aircraft is expected to increase its military clout in the region and could possible threaten competing US fighter jets.

Sources that spoke to The Arab Weekly ruled out heavy US sanctions against Egypt unless Cairo were to use the weapons in ways that threaten American or Israeli interests in the region.

The same sources stressed that Cairo is not willing to undermine its relationship with Washington, meaning that it will be careful not to threaten US interests in its use of the aircraft.

Major General Yahya Kadwani, a member of Egypt’s Defence Committee in the parliament, said that the army has a responsibility to upgrade the country’s weapon systems and diversify its military industry partnerships. Diplomatic sources suggested that Cairo will carefully manage the US’s reaction and that the two countries’ militaries have continued to coordinate on sensitive issues such as the fight against terrorism.

The US State Department announced last Thursday that it had approved a $2.3 billion military sales deal for Egypt, which includes delivery of equipment to upgrade 43 advanced Apache attack helicopters.

Abdel-Moneim Said, an analyst at the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies, said that the United States is trying to press Egypt to stop the Russian deal, but remains committed to bilateral ties due to the important trade relationship and joint operations.

In a statement to The Arab Weekly, Said said that he expects the US Congress to discuss potential sanctions against Cairo, but that the US may let the idea go in exchange for certain guarantees from Egypt.

Cairo has long tried to diversify its arms sources for national security purposes, reaching out to countries like Germany, France, China and Spain, an indication that it is not solely looking to Russia.

A file picture of Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-35s fighter jet on display during the MAKS-2019 International Aviation and Space Show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia. (AP)
A file picture of Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-35s fighter jet on display during the MAKS-2019 International Aviation and Space Show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia. (AP)

It began pursuing the recent Russian deal as well as French Rafale aircraft after Washington declined to sell Egypt F-35 fighter jets.

Last November, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned Egypt against concluding the purchase of Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35.

However, Cairo appears poised to proceed with the deal and will try to absorb the negative effects which the deal could have on its relationship with the US, knowing that Washington needs its security partnership with Egypt to  promote stability in the Middle East.