Russia and Egypt kicked off a joint eight-day naval exercise in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday, highlighting growing security ties between the two countries.
Named “Friendship Bridge 2015” the drill is the first naval exercise the countries have held in the 40-plus years that the two have been official allies.
The exercises are taking place off the coast of Alexandria and are aimed at practicing protection of coastal areas, the Russian Defense Ministry told local media.
The drill comes on the heels of a deal for Moscow to supply Egypt with the advanced S-300 air defense system and other arms, as Cairo increasingly looks north for allies after the US temporarily cut off aid following a military coup two years ago.
“Friendship Bridge 2015 is one of the strongest and biggest joint exercises between Egypt and Russia,” Egyptian military spokesman Brigadier-General Mohamed Samir, told the Chinese Xinhua news agency, adding that the training “comes in light of the high-level bilateral talks pertaining to military and security cooperation and exchange of expertise between the armed forces of the two countries.”
He added that the joint naval exercise asserts “the strategic and military cooperation” between Egypt and Russia.
The Russian vessels in the exercise include the guided missile carrier Moskva and the catamaran missile corvette Samum, along with three other ships. Egypt’s five ships in the Friendship Bridge 2015 exercises include the frigates Taba and Dumyat.
Since Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi ousted Mohammed Morsi, who is currently imprisoned and sentenced to death, the country has faced sharp criticism from the West and even a temporary halt in the almost $1.5 billion it receives from the US in military aid.
Russia too has drawn international ire and sanctions for the war in eastern Ukraine, which has persisted since February 2014. It has since started looking for allies in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.
Russian President Vladmir Putin visited Egypt to secure a nearly $2 billion arms deal and to show his support for Sissi’s presidency in early February 2014, even before Sissi announced his candidacy.
Last month Russia held similar naval exercises with a Chinese squadron in the Mediterranean.
AP contributed to this report.