Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Russian Challenge in the Mediterranean | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55360708

Russian President Putin shakes hands with Syrian counterpart
al-Assad in Moscow/ Reuters

Moscow, Paris, Tripoli, Cairo – The Arab Spring and the developments that have followed it have highlighted a clear inclination in Moscow toward the dedication of Russia’s strategic and political presence in the Mediterranean, benefiting from the politic of regression adopted by the U.S. President Barack Obama, emphasized in his agreement with Iran, waiving the Syrian revolution, and the U.S. silence facing the Russian power show in Crimea and the East of Ukraine.

Russia’s direct intervention in Syria and its military fighting along with Iranian militias has become the clearest evidence on this offensive tendency in the Kremlin; the Russian exploitation for the U.S. regression hasn’t only included Syria and Ukraine, but also reaches some region in North Africa.

As previously happened during the Soviet alliance with Arab countries including Egypt, and Yemen, the military cooperation between Syria and Russia hasn’t enabled Moscow to establish permanent bases on the Syrian territories.

Moscow had never established permanent military bases on Arabian territories except when the Soviet warships used the Egyptian base of Sidi Barran in 1972 to monitor the action of U.S. warships in the Mediterranean; and the base of Tartus – Syria, which was more like a maintenance station to provide the Russian warships with supplies and modest maintenance. However, in spite that the Soviet Union didn’t establish military basis in the Arab countries, its military presence was strong in the mentioned countries.

The beginning in Syria

Syria signed the first agreement of military cooperation with Soviets during the rule of President Shukri al-Quwatli, who visited Moscow in October 1956 to hold direct discussions with Soviet leaderships on weapon purchases.

Some sources say that based on these talks, Moscow dispatched 160 military experts with the first weapons’ ship to Damascus, because at that time, Syria forces lacked for such experts.

Since that time, soviet experts played a regular role in the Syrian armed forces and maintained their mission till the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The situation is not so much different between Moscow and Damascus now, concerning the recruitment of Russian experts in different sectors of the Syrian army; however the Syrian party has helped Russians on acquiring free air and navy bases for an unlimited duration, which is considered a historical precedent in the Syrian-Soviet relations.

Russian-Egyptian cooperation

The relations between Egypt and Russia have witnessed a continuous momentum especially on the military field, since the election of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2014. Both parties have inked many armament-related agreements; media reports have also revealed that Moscow has requested to build a Russian military base on the Egyptian territories or to rent Sidi Barrani base.

Egypt has denied these reports, and Spokesman for the Egyptian Presidency Ambassador Alaa Youssef said that Egypt has always refused any foreign military bases on its territories.

The first relation between the two countries were launched in 1943 and they were developed particularly in the armament field in 1955, during the rule of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, during which Egypt hammered a USD250 million-deal with Russians to receive various arms through the Republic of Czechoslovakia.

Soviet experts forced out of Egypt

The Egyptian-Russian cooperation witnessed regression in the seventies after President Anwar Sadat forced the soviet experts to leave Egypt prior to October War. Then, the cooperation was completely suspended because of the divergence of political views between Cairo and Moscow after the Camp David Accords with Israel.

In 1981, after the election of President Hosni Mubarak, ties gradually resumed with Moscow and both parties re-inked many armament agreements in 1995 to 1997, 1998, 2006 to 2011, and 2013.

Earlier this month, the Russian website Gazeta reported that Russia and Egypt implemented the first joint military maneuver.

Russians in Libya

As per Libya, Russians currently align with Khalifa Haftar and consider him a leader who can bring back stability to Libya and eradicate chaos controlling the country since the death of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Concerning the armament, Russians have been waiting to resume contracts they have signed with Gaddafi.

It is worth mentioning that Libya and the Soviet Union begun in 1955 and that Gaddafi visited Moscow three times during the rule of the communist party, because he was keen to build friendly relations with the West’s first enemy. He maintained these relations even after the collapse of the Union and exchanged many visits with President Vladimir Putin till he was killed in 2011.

Russian tried to resume relations and agreements with Libyan after 2011, but the chaos that has controlled the country obstructed them.

No defense agreement

A source close to Gaddafi told Asharq Al-Awsat that both countries did not ink any defense agreement to protect Libya from NATO; Russia tried to protect its old friend, but apparently it lacked the needed power at that time.

In the beginning of the revolution against Libya, Moscow called for dialogue instead of using arms, but Gaddafi was surprised when Russia didn’t use its VETO right against the U.N.’s resolution to attack his country.

Meanwhile, Russia doesn’t seem to support a party against another in Libya, but it often aligns with Haftar who has been fighting terrorists in Tripoli.