Egypt Negotiates With Russia for Arms After U.S. Spat

Nov. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Egypt pledged strong ties with Russia as it negotiates multibillion-dollar arms deals following a U.S. decision to cut defense aid to the military-backed government.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are in Cairo today to meet their counterparts Abdelfatah al-Seesi and Nabil Fahmy, the highest-level contact between the two countries since the military-led ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July.

“We look forward to strong, stable and continuing relations with Russia,” Fahmy said at a joint news conference with Lavrov. “We are working on reactivating relations that have been there throughout the past years, not as a replacement to anyone.”

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 in an effort to prod the North African country toward democracy. More than 1,000 people have been killed since Mursi’s removal in clashes between security forces and his supporters.

“We agreed on the continuation of political cooperation, as well as, military and military-technical cooperation which was a basic part of the discussion,” Lavrov said. “We have decades-old relations with the Egyptian people. We are strategic partners.”

While no military deals are expected to be signed at the Cairo talks, the two sides will agree on a framework for defense contracts, the Russian government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported today, without citing anyone.

Jet Fighters

Egypt is seeking as much as $2 billion of Russian weaponry, including MiG-29 fighters, air-defense systems and anti-tank missiles, according to Ruslan Pukhov, a member of the Russian Defense Ministry’s advisory board and head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow.

Egyptian officials are looking for financing from an unidentified Persian Gulf country to buy as much as $4 billion of Russian arms, Palestinian newspaper Dunia al-Watan reported Nov. 6, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have pledged at least $12 billion to Egypt’s new government.

Egypt is discussing the possibility of spending $4 billion on Russian weapons and on contracts to renovate the Aswan Dam, Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported Nov. 11, citing unidentified Egyptian government officials.

Egypt, an American ally for more than three decades, received about $1.3 billion a year in military aid from the U.S. prior to Mursi’s ouster.

Soviet Ally

Egypt and the Soviet Union became allies in the 1950s when President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev forged ties. Egypt received Soviet military assistance, including during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, and the Soviets financed infrastructure projects such as the Aswan Dam to irrigate land and supply electricity.

The ties lapsed after Nasser’s death in 1970, when the Arab nationalist was succeeded by Anwar Sadat, who set the regional power on a pro-U.S. track that accelerated under Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in 2011. In 1972, Sadat expelled thousands of Soviet military advisers and in 1976 ended a treaty on friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tamim Elyan in Cairo at telyan@bloomberg.net; Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net