Russia holding joint military exercises with Egypt

In mid-October, Russian airborne troops will be sent to the north of Africa on an Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft.

In mid-October, Russian airborne troops will be sent to the north of Africa on an Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft.

Evgeny Karmaev / TASS
For the first time ever, airborne troops from Russia and Egypt will get together in mid-October for practice operations aimed at destroying militants in a desert environment. The exercises are significant in the context of the ongoing operations in Syria.

Russia and Egypt are set to hold their first ever joint military exercise in mid-October.

Analysts believe that training exercises to prepare for an anti-terrorist operation "in a desert environment" demonstrates capabilities of Russia’s rapid-response forces in the ongoing conflict in Syria, while providing evidence that Cairo, in case the situation deteriorates, is counting not only on Washington, but also seeking to enlist Moscow’s support.

The joint exercises among paratroopers in Egypt will involve six airfields and 15 aircraft and helicopters for various purposes, as well as 10 combat vehicles, the Defence Ministry stated. Russian airborne troops will be sent to the north of Africa on an Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft mid-October.

The Russian military will go to Egypt dressed in new military fatigues for a hot climate. Sessions on language preparation, tactics and orientation are already being held at training ranges and in classrooms.

"Special attention is being given to knowledge of the customs and traditions of the Egyptian people", the Defence Ministry said. It will be the first ever joint military exercise of paratroopers from the two countries in Egypt, the department emphasised.

They will develop a common approach to encircling and destroying illegal armed formations in a desert environment.

This scenario is more than relevant for Egypt, said Vladimir Isayev, Professor of the Institute of Asia and Africa at Moscow State University. Part of Egyptian territory, to the north of the Sinai Peninsula, is no longer controlled by government forces, and Cairo is no longer able to count on Washington's support in this matter, he said.

Isayev said the Egyptian army would like to count on Moscow's support if the terrorist organizations that are operating in Sinai try to expand the territory under their control.

"It is unlikely that the paratroopers will participate. It is more likely that the Russian Aerospace Forces will take part," he said.

‘There is no political motive here’

A year ago, a Russian A321 airliner operated by Kogalymavia exploded in the air over the Sinai Peninsula, on its way from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg. All 224 people on board were killed. Russia's security services classified the incident as a terrorist attack. Moscow promptly completely suspended air traffic between Egypt and Russia. Negotiations to resume mutual flights are now underway.

The Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the Russian-Egyptian exercise to Gazeta.ru, stating that "there is no political motive here."

Moscow and Cairo have been recently working to build a close and trusting relationship, according to retired Colonel Viktor Murakhovsky. This is evidenced by the purchase by Egypt of France's Mistral helicopter carriers with pre-installed Russian equipment, which were originally destined for the Russian army, he said.

Also, according to experts, Moscow is demonstrating its ability to form expeditionary groups at short notice and transfer them to the desired area.

"It's worth considering the proximity of Egypt and Syria," said Murakhovsky. "Russia shows that, if necessary, it will be able to deploy a sufficient number of its troops, which are part of the reserve of the Supreme Command and belong to rapid-response forces."

How will the U.S. respond?

Egypt is a main U.S. ally outside NATO, and annually receives hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of weapons from Washington. A total of $1.3 billion has been designated to assist Egypt for 2017.

The U.S. provides the Arab republic with Abrams tanks, F-16 fighters, helicopters, and also carries out maintenance of this equipment.

But it is unlikely that Washington would respond to the joint exercises between Moscow and Cairo, said Semyon Bagdasarov, director of the Moscow-based Centre for the Study of the Middle East and Central Asia.

"Egypt is a strategically very important country for the U.S.-- America's relationship with Israel and how the U.S. will be treated in the Middle East in general depends on the Egyptians. Plus, control of the Suez Canal," said Bagdasarov.

This is not the first Russian joint exercise with U.S. partners.

Russia and Pakistan, for example, are currently holding a joint exercise in the Pakistani village of Cherat. It involves around 200 servicemen who will exchange experiences on the destruction of terrorists and armed groups in a mountainous environment.

First published in Russian by Gazeta.ru.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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