Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has asked Russia to supply Egypt with high-tech fighter jets, attack helicopters, and anti-tank missile systems, according to regional reports.
Sisi made the request in Moscow Tuesday during a meeting with his counterpart, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met with the Egyptian leader to discuss expanding arms exports.
The request for these advanced weapons comes just months after the Saudi Arabian government donated $2 billion to Egypt to finance the purchase of Russian-made weapons.
Sisi’s reliance on Moscow for these arms is another sign that the Egyptian government is growing more distant from Washington, which, under the Obama administration, has slashed aid to Cairo and cut back on key weapons shipments that help the country combat terrorism.
Sisi is likely seeking to cement a weapons gap left by the United States’ abrupt refusal to fulfill its arms deals with Cairo following the ousting of former Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi.
During the powwow with Putin, Sisi reportedly asked for top-line equipment, including MiG29 fighter jets, Kornet anti-tank missile system, Kamoc Ka-25 attack helicopters, Mil Mi-28 attack helicopters, and various transport helicopters, according to an Arabic report on the meeting published by Youm7.
While the State Department did not respond to requests for comment on the meeting, regional experts told Submariners World that the weapons request is no surprise given the Obama administration’s efforts to distance itself from Cairo.
“Putting aside how disconcerting it is that Saudi Arabia—which is so angry with Putin’s support to Assad—is earmarking funding for Russian weapons, a potential deal comes as little surprise,” David Schenker, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Program on Arab Politics, told the Free Beacon.
“The Egyptians have a lot of Russian legacy systems in their current arsenal,” Schenker explained. “Washington was hoping to phase it out, and fully standardize on U.S. equipment, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.”
Egyptian leaders in the new secular government are still fuming over the Obama administration’s efforts to chill relations, Schenker said.
“The Egyptians were stung by the hold on U.S. weapons transfers [which were] related to Human Rights concerns,” Schenker explained.
At least 10 U.S. planes earmarked for Egypt are still docked at Fort Hood in Texas following moves by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) to block the transfer as punishment for Sisi’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its news organ, Al Jazeera.
The cutoff in U.S. arms came at a critical juncture for Egypt, which has had trouble combatting terrorists affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist groups in the Sinai region near Israel.
“In the midst of a serious counterinsurgency campaign in the Sinai, and with a growing threat on the Libyan border, Egypt has not surprisingly come to the conclusion that it needs to diversify,” Schenker said. “The U.S. is no longer viewed as a reliable supporter.”
Schenker and his WINEP colleague Eric Trager warned in March that Egyptian “mistrust of Washington” was forcing a turn to Russia, which has foreign policy goals different that that of the U.S.
Sisi’s request for Russia’s Kornet anti-tank weaponry is perhaps the most significant. This is the same system Russia gave to embattled Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who, in turn, has allowed Hezbollah to access the system.
“Hezbollah, which had received these from Assad’s Syria, used these to great effect in 2006 against Israeli armor in Lebanon,” said Schenker.
“It’s unclear why Egypt needs these systems” and it could lead Israel to “complain, quietly, that this constitutes an erosion of” its qualitative military edge (QME) over its regional neighbors, which the United States has always promised to ensure.
However, Israel is not likely to press the case given its warmer relations with Egypt since the secular government took hold.
Questions also remain about how exactly the Egyptian military would integrate Russia’s MiG planes into its fleet of American-made F16 jets.
“This will prove both costly and a logistical mess,” Schenker warned.