Russian-Egyptian Military Cooperation Highlights Russia’s Influence in the Middle East

01 March 2014

In a monthly Operational Environment Watch commentary, EFD Fellow Anna Borshchevskaya highlights how increased military cooperation between Russia and Egypt demonstrates Putin's growing interest in the MENA region as U.S. interest declines. 


Russian-Egyptian military cooperation was in the Russian press in February. The accompanying excerpt from reports that the two countries signed over $3 billion worth of arms contracts—arms that the U.S. had refused to sell Egypt in October 2013 following the ouster of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government and its president, Mohammad Morsi. December Russian press reports, written before the contract was officially signed, had quoted a lower figure of $2 billion, yet experts even described this lower amount as the largest military agreement for Russia and Egypt since the 1970s. More importantly, this is the largest Russian arms deal in decades. 

This growing bilateral military cooperation highlights Russia’s overall growing influence in the Middle East/North Africa as the U.S. interest in this region declines. The accompanying excerpts from Russia’s Voice of America quote Russian experts who confirm this view. They point to a number of factors, including:
• Arab nations are seeking to balance relations with a number of countries
• Russia has lost many relationships in the Middle East over the last several decades, and the waning U.S. interest in the region provides Russia with an opportunity to restore some of the old ties by filling a vacuum wherever the U.S. withdraws
• Russia is not guided by ideology or an overarching regional strategy (unlike the U.S.), the basis of which might lay restrictions on or even hamper such cooperation. 

As Russia and Egypt strengthen bilateral ties, the larger context of Russia’s interests in the Middle East and Russia’s zero-sum approach to pursuing them are also important. Russia is indeed not the Soviet Union. Yet the zero-sum strategy of filling in power vacuums whenever the U.S. withdraws is one Soviet element that remains in place. Russia’s influence currently keeps growing, and certainly should not be underestimated. 


This article was originally published here.