Exercise "Protectors of Friendship 2" And the Egyptian-Russian Strategic Relations

The joint exercise should be analyzed against the background of three key strategic developments: The Russian "comeback" to the Middle East as a dominant player, Egypt as a regional power, and the international cooperation in the war on terror

Photo Credit: sis.gov.eg

Egyptian and Russian paratroopers have concluded the "Protectors of Friendship 2", a joint military exercise on Russian territory in September 2017. The Egyptian paratroopers arrived at an airfield in the city of Anapa on September 9, 2017. The "Protectors of Friendship 2" exercise took place in Krasnodar, 148 kilometers northeast of the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk.

During the joint Russian-Egyptian military drills, the two countries’ paratroopers trained in landing upon arriving at the drill site, as well as in seizing and holding a mountain pass.

The commander of the Egyptian forces in the drill, Maj. Gen. Mehez Abdel Wahab, delivered a speech at the end of the drill in which he stressed the importance of the exercise in "maximizing mutual experiences in light of the distinguished military relations between the armed forces of both countries."

For his part, the deputy commander of the Russian Air Borne Forces, Gen. Victor Kubcihin commented on the accomplishment of the Egyptian-Russian military exercise, wishing success to all participant elements in carrying out their further assigned tasks.

Egypt and Russia have been stepping up military cooperation in recent years. In 2015, Russia and Egypt held a joint naval exercise called "Friendship Bridge 2015", off the coast of Alexandria, including supply and communication exercises, search operations, and defense and live-firing exercises. In October 2016, the two nations' airborne forces held the "Defenders of Friendship-2016," exercise in Egypt close to Al-Alamein, a coastal city 100 miles west of Alexandria. In July 2017, Egypt's Defense Minister Sedqi Sobhi and Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu met in Cairo to discuss ways of boosting military cooperation.

The Planning and Preparations

Representatives of the Russian Airborne units and the airborne units of the Armed Forces of Egypt held a number of consultations to coordinate the time period, procedures and conditions of the joint exercise in Russia. Egyptian military experts and Russian Airborne servicemen have conducted a reconnaissance of the area at the Russian Airborne range in the Krasnodar Krai.

The First Phase of the Exercise

The Egyptian paratroopers together with the Russian Airborne troops performed all the combat missions including forced march, parachuting, small arms shooting, and hand-to-hand combat.

The Egyptian paratroopers made their first jumps from a Russian Il-76, using Russian D-10 parachutes. Furthermore, the host acquainted the Egyptians with Russian weapons and military equipment. Notably, they were shown the capabilities of the “Ratnik” combat outfit.

The Exercise’s Main Phase

A Russian reinforced airborne battalion and an Egyptian Airborne company took part in the tactical exercise. The main combat tasks within the exercise’s main phase included practical parachuting, maneuvering, seizing and holding a mountain pass in Kuban.

In total, about 600 troops were involved in the exercise, as well as 100 pieces of the Russian Airborne combat and special hardware.

Exercise "Defenders of Friendship 2016"

Exercise "Defenders of Friendship 2016", a joint Russian-Egyptian counter-terrorist exercise, took place in Egypt in the area between the city of Alexandria and El Alamein, on October 15-26, 2016.

It was the first joint Russia-Egypt anti-terrorism military exercise, based on earlier agreements between Russia and Egypt. In June 2015, Russian and Egyptian navy forces conducted their first-ever joint naval drills in the Mediterranean Sea near Alexandria.

According to Russia's Defense Ministry, exercise "Defenders of Friendship 2016", involved six airfields and 15 helicopters and planes. During the drills, Russia’s Ilyushin-76MD transport planes dropped five combat vehicles BMD-2, and one armored personnel carrier BTR-D and about 300 Russian and Egyptian paratroops parachuted themselves. Russian and Egyptian paratroopers practiced localization and elimination of militant groups in desert conditions. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, a new uniform for hot climate had been developed for servicemen who were participating in military drills with the Egyptian army.

The exercise has been controlled by operation groups of both countries from the joint command center, which had been formed at the El Hammam military base.

Egypt-Russia Joint Navy Exercise "Friendship Bridge 2015"

In June 2015, Russia and Egypt conducted their first joint naval exercise, codenamed the "Friendship Bridge 2015".

Russia and Egypt have commenced their joint naval exercise off the Mediterranean Egyptian port of Alexandria, as part of efforts to strengthen the military cooperation between the countries.

The Russian side was represented by the ships of the Black Sea and Baltic Fleets. The Russian vessels in the exercise included the guided missile cruiser Moskva and the catamaran missile corvette Samum, the tanker Ivan Bubnov and landing ship Alexander Shahalin.

Egypt’s ships in the "Friendship Bridge 2015" exercises included the frigates Taba, Dumyat and Sharm El-Sheik, two missile patrol boats, April 25 and June 18 and two F-16 fighters.

The coastal staff of both navies has been located in the "United Control Centre" of the Navy of Egypt. The Moskva cruiser was the exercise flagship, housing the mobile headquarters. Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Black Sea Fleet Vice Admiral Valery Kulikov and chief of the Egyptian Navy’s combat training department Lt. Gen. Mahmud Mufarrah were in command of the drills.

The eight-day exercise has covered supply and communications at sea, search operations, as well as all forms of defense at sea and firing exercises. During the exercise, Russian and Egyptian Navy ships performed protection tasks over sea routes against different kinds of threats.

"According to the exercise joint command, crew members of the two countries’ warships drilled maneuvering in column at the exit from the Alexandria naval base, successfully conducted an exercise to repel an attack of a small target, and in accordance with the set parameters and standards conducted a joint air defense drill in the area of operations with the involvement of the F-16 fighters of the Egyptian Air Force," Russian Navy spokesman said. For the Russian crew, it was a good opportunity to practice the drills on the US made modern air crafts.

Summary

Exercise "Protectors of Friendship 2017" was the first joint Russian-Egyptian military exercise on Russia’s territory. The joint exercise should be analyzed on the background of three main strategic developments: The Russian "comeback" to the Middle East as a dominant player, Egypt as a regional power and the international cooperation in the war on terror.

Russia: In the past years, one of the most significant geostrategic developments in the Middle East has been Russia’s increasing political and military involvement. Aside from its deepening military and political involvement in Syria, Russia is improving its relations with Egypt.

The joint military exercise is significant for Russia’s gradual reemergence as a major player in the Middle East. Egypt is a regional power in the unstable Middle East and strategic cooperation with Egypt is a significant step toward reasserting a regional role that Russia has not enjoyed since 1970.

Egypt: Russia is one of the main non-Arab supporters of El-Sisi’s government and was among the first countries to endorse El-Sisi’s presidential bid in 2014. Cairo has sought to strengthen its ties with Moscow, against the backdrop of strained ties with the Obama administration, since the ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. Egypt, though interested in forming stronger relations with Russia, primarily seek to signal to the international community that its foreign policy is not to be dictated by others.

Diversifying the sources of Egypt’s armaments became a priority among state strategists after the 30 June Revolution. Overreliance on one provider was now seen as shortsighted. Egypt was also keen to ensure its armaments policy responded to international political developments, including the growing influence of China and Russia.

The "Protectors of Friendship 2" exercise is a significant step in the fast-growing strategic alliance between Egypt and Russia. Egypt and Russia have never been that close since the era of late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, referring to the level of economic and military cooperation.

Cooperation in the war against terror: The Middle East has witnessed an increase in military exercises in recent years, and Egypt is part of this trend. The rise in joint exercises can be explained in light of the increasing intensity of terror threats faced by those countries.

Military cooperation and joint exercises are part of the Egyptian foreign policy and strategy and Egypt has carried out 30 joint military exercises in 2016 with 20 Arab and African countries, as well as European countries including France and Russia.

Egyptian-Russian relationships have seen major developments since Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi took over as president, with mutual presidential and ministerial-level visits. In March 2015, the two countries signed a protocol on military cooperation and announced the beginning of naval exercises.

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