Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1429, (7 - 13 February 2019)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1429, (7 - 13 February 2019)

Ahram Weekly

‘Consolidating’ Moscow’s presence

Russia becomes more involved in Middle East security issues, reports Ahmed Eleiba

 

Al-Sisi, Shoukri and Kamel with Patrushev last week in Cairo
Al-Sisi, Shoukri and Kamel with Patrushev last week in Cairo

Last week President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and head of General Intelligence Abbas Kamel met with Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council. Patrushev was in Cairo to discuss security issues of concern to both Cairo and Moscow.

Their talks focussed on ways to fight terrorism and extremist thought and the latest regional security developments, especially in Syria and Yemen, according to a statement issued by Presidential Spokesman Bassam Radi.

The Russian Security Council secretary’s visit reflects Moscow’s interest in becoming more involved in Middle East security issues, especially those with a bearing on the fight against terrorism. Patrushev left for the UAE, a close ally of Egypt, after visiting Cairo, in order to discuss the same concerns.

Shortly before his visit to the Middle East, the senior Russian security official, in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta, said that the US needed to present a timetable for the evacuation of its troops from Syria. 

“I believe that statements by the US can only be taken seriously if it presents a plan for a staged withdrawal from Syria,” he said, stressing that the plan needed to be precisely timed and detail the geographic phases of the withdrawal.

One purpose of Patrushev’s talks in Cairo and the UAE may have been to encourage the two Arab countries to play a greater role in future arrangements in Syria. Unofficial reports suggest both Cairo and Abu Dhabi have indicated willingness to do so.

Libya is also likely to have been high on the agenda in light of the military operation the Libyan National Army (LNA) launched in southern Libya in mid-January targeting extremist organisations. Although France and Italy have a presence in Libya and the US is staging drone strikes under the banner of fighting Al-Qaeda, Libyan parties, including the LNA command, have been trying to persuade Russia to become involved as a counterweight to the growing European presence. So far it is unclear as what the nature and scope of a potential Russian presence might be, and what Moscow’s position is on the issue.

Yemen will also have been discussed. There Russian perceptions are clearer. Moscow has been actively involved in the peace-making efforts, especially through the Stockholm initiative. The Yemeni question is, of course, of vital strategic importance for Cairo and Abu Dhabi.

The three issues — Syria, Libya and Yemen — are intertwined and cooperation between Egypt, the UAE and Moscow in handling them could benefit all three parties. Russia’s relationship with Iran and their cooperation in Syria makes it possible for Moscow to play a constructive role in resolving the complicated situation in Yemen. Russia might also be able to play a political role in Libya in the future given the growing influence of Seif Al-Islam Gaddafi who is seeking Moscow’s support for a political return.

Russia is convinced Cairo has a part to play in security arrangements in the three countries long plagued by conflict but also realises Cairo has refrained from becoming militarily involved out of the conviction political solutions are the only way to end the cycle of violence. Egypt’s Russian guest shared this viewpoint. “Our viewpoints concord on the importance of adhering to political solutions for the various crises that the region is undergoing,” said Patrushev.

Another sign of a new direction in the management of the fight against terrorism is the recent Russian posited scenario linking Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. Russian Federal Security Service Director Alexander Bortnikov told the heads of special services, security agencies and law enforcement bodies in Moscow in November 2018 that “the international terrorist organisations Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State could unite their potentials.

“There are a number of signs indicating their possible merger,” he said.

In the same meeting Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted that terrorists in Syria and Iraq continued to receive outside support.

It is in this context that we should understand Radi’s statements following Patrushev’s visit. He said: “The Russian official noted the importance of working to consolidate the military/security aspect of cooperative relations, especially with regard to the fight against terrorism and extremist thought.”

“Patrushev praised Egypt’s efforts in this regard and underscored the need to combine efforts and improve the mechanisms to confront challenges that transcend national borders.” 

In return, President Al-Sisi praised “Russia’s unswerving efforts to contribute to the comprehensive development process in Egypt, especially through the construction of the nuclear power plant in Dabaa. This will be a milestone in friendly relations between the two countries, as was the case with the construction of the High Dam.”

Another landmark will be the industrial zone Russia intends to build east of Port Said which will contribute to maximising Russia’s direct investment in joint manufacturing.

Patrushev described his visit as “consolidating” Russia’s military and security relations with Egypt. It is an apt word considering how this bilateral relation has steadily grown and strengthened over the last five years, a trend that appears likely to continue.

On 3 and 4 February Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), met with President Al-Sisi and Minister of Electricity Mohamed Shaker. During their meeting Al-Sisi affirmed Egypt’s determination to adhere to the highest international nuclear security and safety standards in the construction of the Dabaa plant. He added, according to the presidential spokesman, that “Egypt is looking forward to cooperating fully with the IAEA in order to benefit from its expertise in training and developing the human resources that will support the nuclear station’s operations and maintenance.”

At the same time, Al-Sisi expressed Egypt’s hopes that the IAEA would “do more to support efforts to create a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.”’

Amano reviewed the latest developments in the IAEA’s work and ways to enhance cooperation in order to support Egypt’s technical capacity to peacefully use nuclear energy.

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