Chalk up another major coup for President Vladimir Putin in the strategic battle for the Black Sea.
He has gained another valuable ally, right under the noses of NATO and the United States.
According to Al-Monitor.com, Russia and Egypt will conduct a joint naval exercise in the Black Sea for the first time, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced.
An Egyptian navy delegation discussed the planned exercise with Russian navy officials during a three-day visit this week during to Novorossiysk, which is on the Black Sea.
The two navies will be accompanied by aircraft and will “work out joint tasks to protect sea routes from various threats,” according to a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry, Al-Monitor reported.
The exercise will be under joint command and include rocket and artillery fire from participating ships, the statement said. The drills will also include simulated inspections of “suspicious vessels.”
The exercise, dubbed “Friendship Bridge 2020,” will be the first ever joint naval drill between the two countries in the Black Sea, Al-Monitor reported.
Russia is seeking to position itself as a more favorable partner to Middle Eastern countries than the United States, and sees opportunity in Egypt, which is labouring under restrictions placed on it by the IMF.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s 2013 coup in Cairo brought about a renewal of Egypt’s military relations with Moscow, Al-Monitor reported. The two countries held their first joint naval exercise in 2015 on the Mediterranean.
Additionally, Russia’s forcible annexation of Crimea in 2014 helped to position Moscow as an even more powerful player in the Black Sea — a strategic frontier with NATO that offers access to natural gas reserves and greater influence over Russia’s eastern European neighbors.
It also extended Russia’s radar and air defense ranges, and prompted increased US naval activity in the Black Sea, Al-Monitor reported.
The annual US-led multinational Sea Breeze exercise wrapped up on the Black Sea in July. That event brought together 27 ships and 19 aircraft from the United States, Ukraine, Romania, Turkey, Bulgaria, Georgia, Spain and Norway.
Russia’s Defense Ministry, which has not yet announced a start date for the exercises, has other concerns on its Caspian-Black Sea axis at the moment. Its relations with Armenia are being tested as Turkey has come firmly to the aid of Azerbaijan amid the war over Nagorno-Karabakh.
According to Arab News online, Mohamed Soliman, a researcher at the Washington-based Middle East Institute for Political Studies, said this is the first time that Egypt will send military vessels to the Black Sea. He added that this sends a message to Turkey.
This view was echoed by Egyptian military expert Nabil Muharram, who said Cairo wants to send a message that its navy is present to create balance in the region and is ready to defend Egypt’s interests. Muharram added that Egypt’s navy has had strong relations with Russia’s since the 1950s.
Ayman Salama, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, said his country’s participation in the drills comes at an important time amid tensions in the Mediterranean due to Turkish efforts to control energy resources.
He added that the strengthening of Egyptian-Russian strategic relations is a source of concern for Ankara, whose relationship with Moscow has deteriorated due to Turkish interventions in Libya and the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.