Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1159, (1 - 7 August 2013)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1159, (1 - 7 August 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Foresight and fighter-jets

Russia steps up the challenge to US MENA dominance just days after Washington halts delivery of fighter jets to Egypt amid post-Morsi turmoil, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Conventional wisdom on $1.5 billion military assistance to Egypt among the new crop of Egyptian policymakers after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi is that Cairo, not Washington, holds all the cards. Moscow concurs.

Egypt watchers in the West greeted with surprise Russia’s offer to sell MIG-35 and Su-35 fighter jets to Egypt as Washington withheld delivery of F-16s. The offer makes nonsense of US policy in the Middle East and North Africa.

US President Barack Obama remains ambiguous about the post-Morsi situation in Egypt. Last Wednesday, the Obama administration announced that Washington would delay the delivery of four F-16 fighters to the Egyptian military.

The way Washington works means the decision must have been sanctioned by the Pentagon and the CIA. Yet, accommodation to the post-Morsi interim government in Egypt is the only hope Washington has of dealing with Cairo.

It is against this backdrop that US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on the phone to two key members of Egypt’s interim government: Vice President Mohamed Al-Baradei and Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmi. These calls ostensibly aimed to voice Kerry’s “deep concern about the bloodshed and violence” seen across Egypt in the wake of Morsi’s ouster. Kerry, of course, takes the standard line in Washington that Egypt is a pivotal ally of the US in Africa and the Arab world.

“This is a pivotal moment for Egypt,” Kerry noted in a written statement. “The US calls on all of Egypt’s leaders across the political spectrum to act immediately to help their country take a step back from the brink.”

Fahmi concurred. “I think this heightened polarisation and the continuous incitement for violence is very, very dangerous because it keeps people on a very short fuse … and Egypt needs to move forward,” Fahmi was quoted as saying soon after the conversation with Kerry. “Let’s stop the violence and get into a dialogue about how to reach reconciliation,” he added.

“The situation in Egypt remains very complicated,” read a Russian Foreign Ministry statement. Nevertheless, Moscow’s position on Egypt is remarkably similar to that of Washington’s. “We appeal to all the political forces of Egypt, and leading community and political leaders of the country, to be reserved, [and] reject violence [that] may lead to the escalation of the situation. We are convinced that the problems of Egypt should be resolved within the legal framework only, on the basis of ensuring national unity… ” the ministry statement elaborated.

In a separate but related development, Rosoboronexport, in technical consultations with the Egyptian Defence Ministry, hinted at the possible supply of Mikoyan MiG-29M2 and Sukhoi Su-35 fighter aircraft, according to the Russian news agency Interfax-AVN.

“We made a presentation of the MiG-29M2 and Su-35 aircraft for the Egyptian Defence Ministry. Technical consultations are underway,” Sergei Kornev, head of the Department of Air Force Special Gear and Services Export at Rosoboronexport, announced at the Farnborough International Airshow near London, much to the consternation of Washington.

Ironically, Russia also announced intentions to deliver 18 Su-30 Russian fighter jets to Ethiopia, a country that ousted President Morsi offended when he criticised the construction of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, triggering a brouhaha between the two Nile Basin countries.

Moscow is willing to supply Egypt with MIG-35 and Su-35 fighter jets, which will be delivered to the Russian Air Force in large numbers within the next three years, after resolution of some technical problems found during final tests, said Russian Deputy Defence Minister Yury Borisov on Wednesday.

Even so, some observers believe Russia’s offer is implausible. “There are problems with completion of the state order for these models,” Borisov conceded. Still, the Russian offer raised eyebrows.

The Su-35, powered by two 117S turbofans with thrust vectoring, features high manoeuvrability and the capability to engage several air targets simultaneously, is a formidable fighting jet. And Moscow clearly has the economic and military clout to influence events in the Middle East and North Africa, as in Syria and over the Iranian nuclear controversy. Moscow is increasingly flexing its muscles, and has a keen interest in doing so.

The West must acknowledge that Moscow’s foreign policy has changed less than expected since the demise of the Soviet Union. Russia’s ambition to hold on to its place as a regional hegemon in the Middle East poses political dilemmas for Western powers. But the West must move warily.

The US resolutely hangs on to the notion that it is the regional power broker. But Washington cannot contain easily Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin pointedly disclosed this week that former CIA employee Edward Snowden still remains in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, dismissing — perhaps with malice — all accusations against Russia in relation to Snowden’s arrival to Russia. “Snowden did arrive in Moscow. It came as a complete surprise for us,” Putin extrapolated.

The Snowden affair highlights both Russia and China’s ascendancy.

“He arrived as a transit passenger [from Hong Kong]. He does not need a visa or any other documents,” Putin pointed out. “As a transit passenger he has the right to buy a ticket and fly wherever he wants. He did not cross the state border, therefore he does not need a visa,” the Russian president expounded. “Any accusations aimed at Russia are nonsense and absurdity.”

A dejected US Secretary of State Kerry stated in New Delhi Monday he would be disappointed to learn that Russia and China had known about Snowden’s plans to fly from Hong Kong to Moscow, and further on to Cuba or another Latin American destination.

“I hope this won’t affect the business-like nature of our relations with the United States. I hope our partners will understand this,” Putin countered. “Snowden is a free man. The faster he chooses his ultimate destination, the better for us and for him.”

“We deem absolutely ungrounded and unacceptable the attempts we are witnessing to accuse the Russian side of violation of US laws and almost a conspiracy, which, above all, are accompanied with threats,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared at a press conference in Moscow.

Whether on Snowden, or on the delivery of fighter jets to Egypt, Russia speaks with a more assertive voice.

“There are no legal grounds whatsoever for this behaviour of US officials,” Lavrov deliberated concerning Snowden. “Our special services have never worked with Snowden and are not working with him today,”Putin added.

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