(UR) Cairo — On Wednesday, as Vladimir Putin was dismissing as “rhetoric” allegations Russia is committing war crimes in Syria, Egyptian officials announced that beginning in mid-October — and for the first time ever — Russia and Egypt will cooperate militarily.
“Egypt’s armed forces will hold joint military exercises with their Russian counterparts on Egyptian soil for the first time from Oct. 15 – 26, Cairo’s military spokesman said on Wednesday,” writes Reuters, adding, “The joint military training will include drills between Egyptian and Russian paratrooper units in the northwestern region of el-Alamein.”
While the news that Egypt is, seemingly all of a sudden, prepared to work with Russia — temporarily setting aside the fact that Egypt’s government, since 2015, has been operating as a satellite of the United States — is somewhat jarring in itself, the story of how this came about is also highly indicative of the radically shifting geopolitical alliances taking shape around the planet.
U.N. RESOLUTIONS ON SYRIA
Over the weekend, amid humanitarian calls by multiple countries for Russia to halt its campaign against the rebels battling the pro-Assad Syrian military in Aleppo, two U.N. Security Council resolutions seeking peace in Syria failedto pass.
One resolution, drafted by France and Spain, demanded all aerial bombardment — meaning Russia and Syria — be ceased immediately and all sides allow for “unhindered humanitarian access.” The other resolution, put forth by Russia, was essentially the same — minus, not surprisingly, the language about halting aerial assaults.
The Russian draft — again, not surprisingly — failed to garner the required number of votes. And the French version, while receiving sufficient support, was promptly vetoed by Russia — who, as with other permanent U.N. Security Council members, has that right.
Russia’s veto was perfect fodder for those looking to push the narrative of Russian aggression, and French President Hollande — who’d already stated any nation who shot down his country’s resolution would be“discredited” in the eyes of the international community — wasted no time in capitalizing.
“These are people today who are victims of war crimes,” Hollande said of the civilians in Aleppo while speaking to a French TV station, suggesting Putin could very well find himself in the International Criminal Court at the Hague.“Those that commit these acts will have to face up to responsibility, including in the ICC.”
And while France, and the West as a whole, maintain this is the global consensus view on Russia, events at the U.N. over the weekend suggest this is not, in fact, the case.
A SURPRISE VOTE
To be sure, very little of what took place on Saturday was surprising. No one expected the Russian resolution to pass and most assumed Russia would exercise its veto power to kill the French version. Something did happen, however, that caught folks off guard and has since become the focal point of a spat between nations.
Because on the issue of Syria, Egypt backed Russia. Or, more accurately, it didn’t altogether condemn Russia. And that, it appears, is enough.
“If you want real sovereignty in decision-making, nations that are sovereign in their decisions suffer, suffer a lot,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in defense of the U.N. vote, adding, “Those who want to have a free will must endure.”
Egypt, in an effort aimed at “stopping the Syrian people’s tragedy” and avoiding the “political bidding that has become a hindrance to the Security Council’s work,” voted for both resolutions on Saturday — the one that would’ve ordered Russian jets grounded, yes, but the one that would’ve carried no such restriction as well.
A MATTER OF PRACTICALITY
Statements aside, it’s likely Egypt’s move had far more to do with economics than any humanitarian impulse. The North African nation’s financial outlook has been grim since getting caught up in the Arab Spring uprisings which began in 2011.
The situation worsened last year, when ISIS militants shot down a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai Peninsula. Moscow subsequently halted all flights to Egypt — a considerable blow, given Egypt had become a tourist hotspot for Russian citizens.
Lately, though, the two nations had been mending their relationship. In January, Russia agreed to sell Egypt some of its Kamov-52 naval attack helicopters. Then, in July, Russia announced plans to invest $4.6 billion in Egypt’s industrial zone.
More recently, Russia is in talks with Egypt about reopening air travel and letting tourism resume. So it’s reasonable to conclude that Egypt, understanding full well what an economic friendship with Russia could translate into down the road, decided to work the long angle and back Russia’s play in Syria.
This, of course, did not sit well with some — one oil-rich Gulf ally of the U.S., in particular.
A WAR OF WORDS
Saudi Arabia, who’s been the principal financial backer of the U.S.-installed regime of President Sisi since he came to power in 2014, expressed immediate outrage over Egypt’s Security Council vote, with a Saudi ambassador to the U.N. calling it “painful.”
“Sorry, Egypt. But voting for the Russian draft resolution makes me doubt you are the mother of Arabs and the world,” Salman Ansari, head of the Saudi lobby in the U.S., said later in a tweet. The comment refers to the “Mother of the World” title Arabs and Egyptians often ascribe to Egypt.
The North African nation stood firm, however, and defended its decision. A rare public spat between Egypt and Saudi Arabia broke out, about which the Associated Press described the two opposing arguments:
“Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s differences over Syria are rooted in Riyadh’s conviction that Syrian President Bashar Assad must be removed for that country’s civil war to end, while Cairo advocates a political process that denies Islamic militants any role in Syria’s future. Riyadh is also opposed to Russia’s military intervention in Syria in support of Assad. Under el-Sissi [sic], Cairo, wishing to see Syria’s institutions and army emerge unscathed from the conflict, has not publicly spoken against the Assad government or the Russian intervention.”
In fact, within days of Egypt’s U.N. vote, Saudi Arabia had cancelled already-planned shipments of petroleum goods to Egypt, leaving the country scrambling to fill serious shortages. Fortunately for Egypt, the nation it just friended — and is set to hold its first military drills with in a matter of hours — happens to be the world’s number onepetroleum exporter.
Friday, a Reuters article opened with this paragraph:
“A halt to shipments of Saudi fuel to Egypt under a $23 billion aid deal shows that a rift between the Arab world’s richest country and its most populous may be deeper than previously thought, which could leave Egypt desperate for a new sponsor.”
A new sponsor.
Indeed, Egypt’s U.N. vote has prompted many analysts to wonder if the move was meant as a signal to other Gulf nations — Saudi Arabia, primarily — that Egypt has options. That no longer does it have to remain subservient to regional politics. Some of that ‘free will’ President Sisi was talking about it.
If nothing else, though, Egypt’s sudden pivot toward Russia signals one thing for certain. The more the U.S. and their pals in the West push the “Russian aggression” or “Russian war crimes” narrative, the more they’ll watch allies being pressured into making tough decisions regarding allegiance — and, as we’ve seen with Egypt, they may not always like the result.
This article (How Russia Just Nabbed Egypt as a Military Ally, Out From Under the US’ Nose) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to James Holbrooks and UndergroundReporter.org. If you spot a typo, please email the error and the name of the article to firstname.lastname@example.org. Image credit: Kremlin.