Russia has been seeking to upgrade its military ties with Egypt in an effort to augment its limited access to the Mediterranean and bolster its navy’s presence in the region, the London Times reported Sunday.
According to the report, Moscow has been shopping for alternatives to the Tartus port in Syria, where it maintains a limited naval facility, due to fears that President Bashar Assad’s regime will eventually be toppled by rebel forces.
The Times of Israel could not independently confirm the report.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that Russia would seek to maintain a permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean, but experts say the base in Tartus can’t provide sufficient support for such a presence and is too small for large ships.
“Tartus is vulnerable and not good enough and the Egyptian ports are perfect for the Russian navy,” the Times quoted an unnamed Israeli defense source as saying.
An Egyptian diplomatic delegation was in Moscow over the weekend for meetings with Russian officials. According to the Times, the purpose of the trip was to lay the groundwork for a visit to Cairo by Putin.
Egypt, whose relationship with the US has been suffering in the wake of recent political turmoil in the country, has been on the lookout for a new military patron, and Russia’s need for a larger, more reliable port of call in the Middle East could present a confluence of interests for Cairo and Moscow.
On October 19, Israel’s Channel 2 reported that Egypt was looking to Russia to supply it with arms after the US froze much of its military aid in protest over the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi.
Dissatisfied with Egypt’s progress toward reinstating a democratic government, the US announced earlier this month that it was freezing a sizable portion of the $1.5 billion it provides Egypt each year.
US officials said the aid being withheld included 10 Apache helicopters, at a cost of more than $500 million, M1A1 tank kits and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The US had already suspended the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets and canceled biennial US-Egyptian military exercises.
Israel has reportedly argued “directly and bluntly” with the Obama administration against cutting aid to Egypt, telling Washington it was making “a strategic error” in reducing financial assistance to Cairo.
A renewed alliance with Moscow – the Soviet Union was Cairo’s chief backer for much of the second half of the twentieth century – could also infuse Egypt’s ebbing economy with much-needed tourism and investments.
Another ally of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, said Saturday that it had boosted its aid pledges to Egypt’s military-backed government to a total of $4.9 billion.
The deal, signed for $1.9 billion in new loans, fuel supplies and other assistance, came during a visit to Abu Dhabi by Egyptian interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.