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Russians 'send in big guns to sell arms to Egypt'

  |   Nov. 5, 2013 at 11:50 AM
CAIRO, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- The Russians have been quick to exploit U.S. President Barack Obama's Oct. 9 suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Egypt.

Moscow's military intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Vyacheslav Kondrashov, reportedly visited Cairo seeking to restore a strategic dialogue between the Kremlin and Cairo after a four-decade break and to discuss Egypt's military requirements in the event of tougher U.S. action in response to the Egyptian army's July 3 ouster of the country's first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the killing of hundreds of his supporters.

Egypt's relations with the United States nosedived after the Obama administration froze delivery of four Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets, 10 Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and kits for 125 General Dynamics Land Systems M1A1 Abram tanks, along with some $260 million of the $1.3 billion in U.S. military Cairo gets every year.

Washington says the cutoff will not be permanent, but relations between Washington and Cairo, already troubled by Washington's effort to secure a rapprochement with Iran, have swiftly chilled, jeopardizing an alliance that played a major role in stabilizing the Middle East for much of the last 30 years.

Israel's Debkafile website, which is widely believed to have links with Israeli intelligence, said that Kondrashov, head of Russia's GRU military intelligence and deputy chief of the general staff, said Egypt asked Moscow to provide the type of weapons the Pentagon refused to supply, including medium-range ballistic missiles that cover most of the Middle East, including Iran.

Debkafile suggested that the weapon Egypt's generals "are most likely after" is Russia's new SS-25 road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile which has a reputed range of 2,000 miles and which the Russians recently tested.

Military analysts say Moscow probably isn't very keen on supplying such advanced systems to Egypt as that would aggravate Washington and would add a new layer of complexity to the highly volatile security crisis in the Middle East.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to restore the influence Moscow had in the Arab world during the Cold War, with arms sales an important element in that drive.

Kondrashov's response on the missile issue is not known. But Debkafile reported he said Moscow is prepared to offer the Egyptian generals long-term credit on easy terms to finance any arms package on which agreement is reached.

Kondrashov's Oct. 28 arrival in Cairo, at the head of a large military delegation, was the first such visit since the late President Anwar Sadat expelled Egypt's Soviet allies in 1972, a precursor to his eventual shift to the United States and Egypt's switch from Soviet to U.S. military hardware.

The Sunday Times of London said the Egyptians would like to acquire the new generation of anti-tank weapons Russia is now producing and want upgrades for the Soviet-era tanks and other equipment is still has in its military inventory.

However, much of that equipment is aging or obsolete, and it's difficult to determine why the Egyptians would want to bother with upgrades, when they might be in a position to acquire top-of-the-line systems from Moscow.

However, in 2006, the Egyptians reportedly had Russia's Oboronitelnye Sistemy, or Defensive Systems, overhaul the S-125 surface-to-air missile system it had bought years earlier from Moscow to modern standards and renamed the S-125 Pechora 2M, a far more powerful and effective weapon designated SA-3A Goa by NATO.

These are still in the Egyptian air-defense inventory. Israeli warplanes reportedly targeted Syrian S-125s acquired from Russia in a raid on the port of Latakia Oct. 30.

There's also been speculation that the Russians, who maintain a limited naval facility at the Syrian port of Tartus may seek to obtain a larger base at an Egyptian port on the Mediterranean, where Putin apparently seeks to establish a permanent Russian naval presence.

Egyptian strongman Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the defense minister and army chief, has shown no sign of backing off his harsh crackdown on Morsi's Islamist supporters, and indeed there are reports it is intensifying.

Wayne White, a former deputy director of the State Department's Middle East intelligence office, observed: "The F-16s and tanks are not relevant to the ongoing repression, so this action may not do anything to reduce it."

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