Russia negotiating ‘biggest weapons deal with Egypt since the Cold War’

Russia seeks to capitalise on US President Barack Obama’s decision to cut defence aid to Egypt’s military-backed government in deal that could be worth as much as US$2 billion.

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CAIRO // Russia is negotiating its biggest weapons deals with Egypt since the Cold War as it seeks to capitalise on US President Barack Obama’s decision to cut defence aid to the military-backed government.

Egypt is seeking as much as US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) of Russian weaponry, including MiG-29 fighter planes, air-defence systems and anti-tank missiles, said Ruslan Pukhov, a member of the Russian defence ministry’s advisory board and head of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow.

The Russian defence and foreign ministers will fly to Cairo this week for two days of talks with Egyptian officials on “military-technical” cooperation, Russia’s foreign ministry said. Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy confirmed the arms talks in an interview with Russia’s state-run Arabic language channel RT today.

The Obama administration last month suspended some military aid to Egypt, including $260 million in cash and deliveries of F-16 fighter jets, helicopters and tanks after Mohammed Morsi was removed from power.

The Russian visit sends “a strong political message that stresses the desire” of Russia “to bolster relations and cooperate with Egypt in all fields”, Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said. This does not mean “substituting one party with another but rather diversifying the alternatives and choices”.

Gulf Funding

Egyptian officials are seeking financing from an unidentified Gulf country to buy as much as $4bn of Russian arms, Palestinian newspaper Dunia Al Watan reported last week.

Russia signed a weapons deal with Iraq last year that’s worth more than $4.2bn, its biggest with that Middle Eastern country since the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

At the top of Egypt’s shopping list is the MiG-29 M2 fighter jet, an advanced version of the Soviet-designed aircraft, Mr Pukhov said. Egypt is interested in 24 of the warplanes, a package that may be worth $1.7bn, according to MrPukhov.

Egypt may also be interested in short- to medium-range Russian defence systems such as the Buk M2, Tor M2 and Pantsir- S1, say experts.

Bloomberg News