BY MARK N. KATZ
Atlantic Council | JUNE 05, 2014
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s election as president—which President Vladimir Putin indicated his support for when the two leaders met this past February in Moscow—will see a deepening of the Russian-Egyptian rapprochement that these two leaders have already begun. Moscow is pleased that Sisi has ended Egyptian support for the Syrian opposition against Assad that ousted President Mohamed Morsi exhibited. Putin is also happy that Sisi has not sided with America and other Western states in opposing the Russian annexation of Crimea or Moscow’s policy toward Ukraine. Sisi, for his part, values Putin for (unlike President Barack Obama) not criticizing the Egyptian military’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups.
One sign of Putin’s desire to court Sisi is the recent agreement for Gazprom to supply liquefied natural gas (LNG) in 2015 to Egypt’s EGAS at below market rates and with generous financing terms. Various forms of Russian-Egyptian military cooperation, including a Saudi-financed arms purchase, have also been reported to be in the works. Some have even speculated that Sisi is turning away from Washington and toward Moscow.
It is doubtful, though, that Sisi sees Moscow as a replacement for Washington. Instead, he may be holding out the prospect of increased Russian-Egyptian military cooperation as a means of inducing the Obama administration to reverse its cutback of American arms transfers to Egypt in response to Sisi’s crackdown on his opponents. If so, this plan appears to be working, as Washington’s recent decision to deliver ten Apache helicopters to Cairo suggests, although Congress continues to pressure the White House to withhold delivery
Moscow, though, may not be seeking to replace Washington as Egypt’s principal ally. Russia is neither willing nor able to provide anywhere near the same level of support to Egypt that America does. Putin may instead be satisfied just to have improved economic and military ties to Egypt. This alone will go a long way toward raising Moscow’s profile in the Arab world. Like Sisi, there are many other Arab rulers who prefer Putin’s unashamed support for authoritarian order to Obama’s unsettling (albeit inconsistent) concern for human rights and democratization. If (like Sisi) other Arab leaders make greater efforts to cultivate Moscow just to get more support (and less criticism) from Washington, this would further Putin’s efforts to get Russia taken more seriously—including by the United States.
The limit of how far Russian-Egyptian relations can improve, though, may be defined less by the United States than by Saudi Arabia. Saudi-Russian relations remain sharply divided over several issues (including Syria, Iran, and the treatment of Muslims inside Russia). While Riyadh may indeed be willing to buy Russian arms for Egypt, the Kingdom appears to be doing so in the hope of inducing the Obama administration to reverse its cutback on American arms transfers to Egypt. It is doubtful that the Kingdom would want Cairo to make a major switch from relying mainly on American arms to relying mainly on Russian ones. Riyadh would certainly not pay for anything like this. But if major gas deposits could be developed in Egypt or off its coast, then Cairo would not need Saudi aid in order to buy Russian weaponry. Perhaps it is the hope both for the possibility of such a find as well as the desire to get in on it that accounts for the generosity of Gazprom’s terms in its recent deal to sell LNG to Egypt.
Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University.
Moscow, September 13, 2012 – Interfax – An outbreak of anti-American feelings in North Africa and the Middle East, manifested with the killing of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, will not develop into a war of the Islamic world against the West but it shows that the U.S. has not carried till the end the Arab Spring project, Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies Vyacheslav Naumkin told Interfax on Thursday.
PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 198
In recent months, Russia (with Chinese support) has increasingly staked out a strong position in support of the Assad regime in Syria. As Syria’s allies dwindle, Russia has become its foremost protector in the international arena. In doing so, it has followed a policy consistent with previous statements in support of regimes facing popular uprisings throughout the Middle East. This is not a new policy, as similar statements were made by Russian leaders during the Green revolution in Iran in 2009. To explain this policy, many analysts have focused on the importance of Russian economic investments in countries such as Libya and Syria or on political connections dating back from the Soviet days.
Ayşe Zarakol, Washington and Lee University
PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 207
More than a year after the inception of the so-called Arab Spring, Turkey’s much-ballyhooed regional rise is teetering on the brink. Especially in its ability to influence outcomes in Syria, but also in its reading of regional dynamics in general, Turkey finds itself consistently outmaneuvered by other regional powers like Russia and Iran with longer standing interests in the Middle East. Furthermore, the convergence between the positions of Turkey and the West on Syria, when so explicitly pitted against the Russian position (whether or not by design), recalls to mind Cold War dynamics where Turkey was hardly more than an extension of the United States in terms of its role in the region. In other words, Turkey may finally be in the big leagues, but it is also dangerously close to a strikeout.
Delegates in Geneva agree to a new peace plan, but Moscow is still sending mixed signals as the conflict threatens to spill into other countries.
July 3, 2012
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is putting a positive spin on a new peace plan for Syria agreed to over the weekend in Geneva by the Syria Action Group, which comprises the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council as well as Turkey and Arab representatives. We hope her optimism is justified, but Russia continues to send maddeningly mixed signals about whether it recognizes that the time has come for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down.
By George Friedman
Stratfor Geopolitical Weekly | July 24, 2012
We have entered the endgame in Syria. That doesn’t mean that we have reached the end by any means, but it does mean that the precondition has been met for the fall of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. We have argued that so long as the military and security apparatus remain intact and effective, the regime could endure. Although they continue to function, neither appears intact any longer; their control of key areas such as Damascus and Aleppo is in doubt, and the reliability of their personnel, given defections, is no longer certain. We had thought that there was a reasonable chance of the al Assad regime surviving completely. That is no longer the case. At a certain point — in our view, after the defection of a Syrian pilot June 21 and then the defection of the Tlass clan — key members of the regime began to recalculate the probability of survival and their interests. The regime has not unraveled, but it is unraveling.
Eurasia Daily Monitor
July 16, 2012 — Volume 9, Issue 134
Scope and Depth of Circassian Question Incrementally Increases in the North Caucasus
On July 3, the prime minister of Adygea, Murat Kumpilov, received a member of the Jordanian parliament, Munir Sobrok. The visitor from Jordan reportedly came to Adygea to explore the situation in the republic and make inquiries as to whether the Adygean authorities were prepared to accept Circassian refugees from Syria. Sobrok informed the Adygean officials that Jordan’s King Abdullah II was willing to help all Syrian Circassians fleeing Syria, including those who wanted to relocate to the North Caucasus. Sobrok reportedly stated that the Jordanian authorities do not put obstacles in the way of Syrian Circassians escaping violence from that country by crossing into neighboring Jordan. The details of the Jordanian envoy’s visit to Adygea were revealed by the vice president of the International Circassian Association, Mugdin Chermit, and a member of the organization Adyghe Khase-Circassian Parliament, Rashid Mugu. Strangely, the head of Adygea, Aslan Tkhakushinov, declined to meet King Abdullah’s envoy, citing a lack of time, and an aide to the prime minister, Timur Khatsats, said he did not know of a planned meeting between the two. Pressure by two opposing sides – officials in Moscow and the Circassian activists in the North Caucasus – must have resulted in a state of denial on the part of Adygean officials. At a conference in the city of Maikop on June 30, the Adygean leadership was harshly criticized by Circassian activists for inaction in regard to facilitating the Syrian Circassians’ repatriation (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/209724/).