On October 9, 2020, Russian news agency TASS reported that Egypt would participate in joint naval exercises with Russia in the Black Sea before the end of the year. According to a statement issued by the press office of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, delegations from the Russian and Egyptian navies had held three-day consultations in Novorossiysk on preparations for the 2020 Friendship Bridge Exercise and that the two countries were working together to develop “a programme of exercises to take place in the Black Sea for the first time.”
According to published information, warships from the Black Sea fleets of the Russian and Egyptian navies, supported by aircraft, will conduct exercises in how to defend sea lanes against various threats. The exercises will cover troop deployment, replenishment at sea, and suspicious vessel searches. Members of the Russian and Egyptian navies will carry out training on all forms of defence and protection at sea and on using ship-borne weapons to launch missiles and fire artillery.
These joint Egyptian–Russian naval exercises are of particularly important as they are the first of their kind that either party has conducted in the Black Sea. The context of the exercises is also important for both sides:
1. Russia is experiencing turbulent regional and international conditions. Its relations with the USA are strained, as are those with the European Union, the members of which – the United Kingdom included – imposed a package of sanctions on officials close to President Vladimir Putin following the poisoning of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. The international community is also placing pressure on Moscow for its extensive role in the Syrian crisis, the most recent manifestations of which – the Russian–Syrian attacks on Idlib – have been described as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Furthermore, Russia–Turkey relations have also recently become strained in several areas, such as the Syrian crisis and the Libya issue, in which Russia appears far more closely aligned to the Egyptian position. This has been exacerbated by the outbreak of the Armenia–Azerbaijan conflict, Turkey’s immediate expression of support for Azerbaijan, and other subsequent developments such as the downing of an Armenian Russian-made Su-25 fighter jet. Concerns have grown about the possibility of open war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which would ultimately pave the way for further conflict between Russia and Turkey, given Russia’s close alliance with Armenia, especially within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
2. For Egypt, these joint exercises with Russia in the Black Sea come following a series of regional threats and crucial political challenges, such as the Renaissance Dam crisis, tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Libya conflict. Naturally, these have led to overlap in Cairo’s foreign policy priorities, with Egypt operating on an increasing number of fronts.
Recent Egypt–Russia activities, in particular the announcement of joint maneuvers in the Black Sea, have various implications, most importantly:
The Friendship Bridge exercise agreed on between Russia and Egypt represents a major turning point in the growing relations between the two countries, based on their shared strategic interests and agreement on several issues, including areas of Egyptian foreign policy.
These moves have had important repercussions, in particular for Turkey; Egypt’s recent activities and its growing closeness to Russia are inevitably tied to Turkey’s renewed desire to repair relations with Egypt, expressed recently by Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın in an interview with a local television channel. Turkey’s announcement that it is planning to test its S-400 missile defence system in the Black Sea also cannot be separated from this context. Despite Western and US warnings, including the threat of sanctions, Turkey appears determined to go ahead with these plans; Ankara is aware that it needs to build regional military relations and alliances with Russia and is keen not to allow further disagreements with Moscow to arise, especially in light of growing Western and US pressure against it.
 “للمرة الأولى .. مصر وروسيا تجريان مناورات في البحر الأسود”, Sky News Arabia, 9 October 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/3lYiXBs
 “الاتحاد الأوروبي يفرض عقوبات على رجال بوتين”, Asharq Al-Awsat, 16 October 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/357849P
 “الضربات السورية الروسية على إدلب ترقى لجرائم حرب”, Middle East Online, 15 October 2020. Available at: https://bit.ly/348lsv9
 “تركيا تسقط طائرة أرمينية .. ومقتل قائدها”, Al-Ain, 29 September 2020. Available at: https://al-ain.com/article/1601388338
 “طائرات استطلاع غربية تتجسس على الشواطئ الروسية”, RT Online, 11 June 2019. Available at: https://bit.ly/3dzDw4r
 See: “Russian navy tracks U.S. destroyer as it reaches Black Sea”, Ahval News, 15 April 2019. Available at: https://ahvalnews.com/black-sea/russian-navy-tracks-us-destroyer-it-reaches-black-sea
 “رئاسة تركيا توضح سبيل التقارب مع مصر وما لا يمكن تجاهله”, CNN Arabic, 14 October 2020. Available at: https://arabic.cnn.com/middle-east/article/2020/10/14/turkey-egypt-relations
 “الإعلام الروسي: تركيا تُسقِط خلال تدريبات ثلاثة أهداف بـ’إس-400’”, RT Online, 16 October 2020. Available at: https://cutt.us/oQ9Z0
Hanin Ghaddar | 10 Oct 2021
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