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MOSCOW, June 8. /TASS/. The first-ever joint Russian-Egyptian naval exercise in the Mediterranean, which follows shortly after similar Russian-Chinese drills, is of great military and political significance, experts believe. Russia is coming back to a region where it had lost its foothold over previous years and Egypt is becoming one of its main allies.
The active phase of a Russian-naval exercise called Friendship Bridge-2015 is beginning in the Mediterranean on Tuesday. The Defense Ministry said that for the first time ever in the history of the two countries the naval exercise will be held to practice measures to protect shipping routes from various threats.
Alongside Friendship Bridge-2015 Russia and Egypt are to conduct an anti-terrorist exercise of the joint rapid reaction force. In the near future Russia will start supplying its military hardware to Egypt, and Egyptian military servicemen will begin to be trained at Russia’s military academies again. The two countries’ defense ministers achieved an agreement to that effect last March.
"Russia is confronted with attempts at ousting it from the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the deputy president of the Geo-Political Problems Academy, Leonid Ivashov, told TASS. "Until just recently we had logistics facilities for our naval forces in Tartus, Syria, and in Aden, Yemen. Now Syria is being attacked from all sides and Yemen is in chaos."
That Russia and Egypt have begun building closer relations, their defense ministers been holding bilateral meetings and military-technical cooperation has resumed and begun to be developed is a very positive development. "The Russian-Egyptian exercise immediately follows the Russian-Chinese one in the Mediterranean,’ Ivashov recalls. "This is a sure sign Russia is persistent and systematic in its efforts to stage its comeback to the region."
The Egyptians, Ivashov said, had for a long time remained within the realm of US influence. "But the events of the past few years, when the United States in fact turned its back on Hosni Mubarak and played a role in propelling the Muslim Brotherhood to power, as well as what it did to Saddam Hussein in Iran and Muamar Gaddafi in Libya, has brought about a fundamental change in the attitude to the Americans. The Egyptian military has now regained power and selected new partners to have opted for Russia as the main military and strategic partner."
Alongside Israel and Saudi Arabia Egypt has for many years been a pillar of US influence in the Middle East, recalls the leading research fellow at the Institute of International Security Problems under the Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexey Fenenko. "These days it is conducting a more balanced policy. Apparently it has been trying to create an alternative to US influence by expanding cooperation, including military-technical cooperation with Russia," he told TASS.
"The naval exercises, just as the newly-concluded agreement on military-technical cooperation in general, is a sure sign the rapprochement between Egypt and Russia is continuing," the leading research fellow at the Arab Studies Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, Boris Dolgov, told TASS. He pointed out that Egypt’s attitude to almost all conflicts in the Middle and Near East was very similar to Russia’s.
An adviser to the director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, Yelena Suponina, believes that the exercise should be regarded not only from the standpoint of bilateral relations, but also in the context of the overall situation in the Mediterranean. Suponina recalled that the Egyptian president was actively building relations with two other non-Arab Mediterranean countries - Greece and Cyprus. "A new alliance in the Mediterranean is taking shape. These countries disagree with the United States in many respects and are determined to safeguard their own independent policies."
And the director of the Centre for Military and Political Studies, Alexey Podberyozkin, has told TASS the Eastern Mediterranean is the main node of modern contradictions, with the problems of Syria and the Islamic State being in the forefront. "Besides, military presence in this region is of great practical significance. It implies an opportunity to promptly evacuate civilians (Russian citizens in Syria are many) and also to maintain Russian naval presence in part of the region."
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