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Egyptian-Russian Relations after the June 30th Revolution: Historic Recurrence or Political Option

Bassem Elmaghraby

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Since the establishment of the formal diplomatic relationship between Egypt and Russia (previous Soviet Union/USSR) in 1943 the relation between them have gone through multiple stages from the rapprochement to the extent of alliance until the divergence to the extent of severing diplomatic relations, during the 1950s and 1960s -the reign of Nasser- their relationship improved dramatically to the extent of alliance, for example many Soviet experts were sent to help in improving the infrastructure of some cities, establishing factories, and construction of the High Dam as well as the electricity networks…etc.  Moreover, Moscow was the first supplier of weapons and military technology to Egypt at that time, and most importantly great cooperation and military agreements have been concluded in 1968 after Nasser’s visit to Moscow, especially with regard to the Air-force and missiles.

After President Nasser’s death in 1970 and President Sadat take over the rule in Egypt a new stage between the two countries has been started, although the signing of the friendship agreement between Egypt and the Soviet Union in 1972, but soon the relations among the two states reached the worst situation ever where Sadat decided to expel the Soviet experts in July 1972, cancel the friendship agreement and even recall the Egyptian ambassador to Moscow, in turn, the USSR also recalled the Soviet ambassador to Cairo. 

The relations between the two countries were soon restored after President Mubarak took over the rule of Egypt, while he was keen to maintain close relationship with the US, he also concentrated on keeping a good relations with the Soviet Union; therefore, he invited the Soviet experts to take part in the maintenance process of the High Dam and other projects, signed scientific and cultural cooperation agreement with the USSR in 1983; re-exchange the ambassadors; strengthen the relations with the Russian Federation, the legitimate heir, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991; and even the USSR became the second largest trading partner after the US.

Since the outbreak of the January 25th revolution until the June 30th revolution, relations between Egypt and Russia were cautious, given Russia’s opposition to the Arab Spring in general and the Egyptian revolution in particular considered it as an American-model of democratic transformation, as well as fear of the spread of radical political regimes that could affect Russia’s relations with neighboring countries and other factors.

Once the June 30th revolution broke out and overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood regime, the Russian orientation was very clear to support the revolution and consider what happen in Egypt as a correction of the path of the Arab Spring, and stressed that the stability in the Middle East, Arab region and even the Islamic and world level depends heavily on the developments in Egypt; in addition, the Russian diplomacy expressed Moscow’s keenness on maintaining stability and security in Egypt and the region. In other words, Russia has strongly supported Egypt’s return to the regional and international arena, its participation in all regional initiatives, and resisted any attempt to marginalize the Egyptian role.

It seems that the Russians were looking forward to this moment, when the political change is allowing them to strengthen the relations with Egypt; where both of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Russian ministers visited Egypt in November 2013 as known as “2+2” political talks, followed by the Egyptian Foreign Affairs and Defense ministers visit Russia in February 2014, the President Sisi was the Egyptian defense minister at the time.

Since the first days of the Sisi presidency, it has been clear that Egyptian-Russian relations are developing positively; first of all, the Russian position on the Egyptian revolution gave the chance to the new regime to diversify its foreign policy options by strengthening the relations with Russia, In addition, President Sisi wanted to restore and modernize Egypt’s foreign position at the regional and global levels, especially after the difficult historical experiences of recent decades.

In this context, the relations among the two countries could be summarized in political, social, economic and military relations as below:

Political and Social Relations

The Egyptian interim president “Adli Mansour” received a telephone call in November 2013 the Russian President “Vladimir Putin”, through which Putin expressed his and his country’s full support for Egypt and its transitional administration.

A Russian people’s delegation visited Egypt in May 2014 with a group of participants in the construction of the High Dam on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the transformation of the Nile River.

In September 2014 the Egyptian Prime Minister announced the establishment of the “Russian Unit” under the Cabinet to follow up the bilateral relations in various fields, which held its first meeting in the next month with the participation of 9 ministers and other officials.

The Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa “Mikhail Bogdanov” also visited Egypt in November 2014, discussed with the Egyptian Foreign Minister the developments of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Egypt’s efforts in this issue. Afterward, in December the Russian Deputy Prime Minister “Arkady Dvorkovich” visited Egypt to meet President Sisi and other officials for further talks.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister visited Russia in February 2015 and met with his Russian counterpart discussing the two countries relations and common interests, and the Libya’s crisis in particular; then during March 2015 many mutual statements, meetings, and visits have been held to further boost the two countries relations such as the President Sisi meeting with the Secretary of the Russian National Security Council “Nikolai Patrushev” in Egypt; and the meeting of the Egyptian Defense Minister “Sedqi Sobhi” with his Russian counterpart “Sergey Shoigu” at the headquarters of the Russian Defense Ministry. Before the end of May 2015 the Egyptian Foreign Minister and his Russian Counterpart stressed the importance of intensifying the anti-terrorism efforts and enhance the joint cooperation in various fields; followed by the meeting of the Russian Minister of Industry and Trade “Denis Manturov” with President Sisi in Cairo during which they discussed the establishment of a free trade zone between Egypt and the Eurasian Customs Union (EAEU). In September 2015 the Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister with a delegation visited Russia and concluded further talks related to the disarmament, non-proliferation, Egypt’s candidacy for membership of the Security Council for the period 2016-2017, and issues on the agenda of UN General Assembly.

The head of Russia’s state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom has a meeting with President Sisi in November 2015 during which they inking three agreements between the two countries. Afterward, the Russian Defense Minister also met President Sisi discussing the cooperation between the two countries regarding international and common concerns; followed by some meetings between the Russian delegation from one side and the Egyptian Minister of Defense, Minister of State for Military Production, and other officials from the other side concluding some protocols and agreements.

Throughout 2016 many mutual visits and meetings dealt with issues of coordination on various issues of mutual cooperation and enhancing cooperation between the two sides starting from January when the Russian Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade visited Egypt and met Minister of Defense, followed by the meeting between President Sisi and the Speaker of the Russian State; then the political talks between the Egyptian Foreign Minister and his Russian counterpart; and also the visit of the Egyptian delegation headed by the Minister of Civil Aviation to Russia regarding the Russian Aircraft Accident; and later the Egyptian Defense Minister visited Russia in light of the Egyptian-Russian strategic cooperation; finally, during November an Egyptian delegation from the Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Authority visited Russia to discuss the export of Egyptian products, followed by the visit of the Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation to Russia.

In the same context, the year 2017 witnessed a remarkable political cooperation and mutual visits between the two counties, where in March President Sisi received the Russian Deputy Prime Minister for political talks; after three days he received also Chairperson of the Russian Federation Council and her accompanying delegation to discuss the mutual cooperation in all levels; on May the Pope Twadros II, the Pope of Alexandria and the Patriarch of St. Mark, visited Russia received by Russian President; then the Russian Defense Minister and Foreign Minister visited Egypt again and held talks with President Sisi; in August another round of discussions between the Foreign Ministers of the two counties in Moscow; in October the Speaker of the Egyptian House of Representatives visited Russia to participate in the 137th session of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; in November a Russian security delegation visited Egypt and had a meeting with the Minister of Civil Aviation

The cooperation between the two countries continued to grow up during 2018, where in May the 2+2 talks between the Foreign Minister and the Minister of Defense in the two countries held a new round in Russia; followed by another visit for the Minister of Defense to Russia in August to discuss the military cooperation between the two countries with his counterpart; and in September the Foreign Ministers held another meeting on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York discussing various issues including an assessment of the progress made in the bilateral relations between the two countries.

The Russian president, Putin, with a high-level delegation visited Egypt in February 2015 discussed the economic and political relations, the main issues in the Middle East, and concluded some deals and agreements, the most important of which is the establishing of the first Egyptian nuclear plant. In addition, he visited Egypt for the second time in December 2017, during the visit he discussed with President Sisi various issues especially the regional challenges and the political cooperation, witnessed the signing of the agreement to establish the nuclear plant, and stressed the importance of preserving the current status of Jerusalem.

President Sisi also have been visited Russia many times, the first time, as mentioned above, when he was the defense minister in 2014; then during his presidency he visited Russia again in August 2014, only two months after his election and first visit outside of the Arab world, discussing the various issued in the Middle East and agreed for greater global cooperation in the anti-terrorism activities, in addition to the agreement for concluding economic, military, and social deals or agreements;  President Sisi also visited Russia in May 2015 to take part in the Russian celebrations of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II; At an invitation of the Russian side, the President Sisi with an official delegation visited Russia in August 2015 held talks with his Russian counterpart about the anti-terrorism efforts, joint cooperation, regional and common concern issues, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Furthermore, as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of starting the relations between the two countries President Sisivisited Russia again in October 2018, during which he concluded the comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation agreement together with the Russian President, gave a speech before the upper house of the Russian parliament, as the first foreign leader to do so, in addition to convene some other meetings between the officials of the two countries and many agreements and decisions have been reached during this visit such as the expanding of the military exercises.

The cooperation between the two countries started to reflect in their diplomatic common views in some issues for example on Syria both countries have been calling for preserving the country’s territorial integrity and its national army. In October 2017, the two countries brokered a ceasefire deal in southern Damascus. In Libya, the two countries support the Libyan National Army, which is led by Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who dominates eastern Libya. In addition, the airspace deal with Egypt could bring Russia closer to Libya and raise the likelihood of greater Russian military involvement there.

Economic relations

Since the June 30th revolution broke out the economic cooperation between the two countries have greatly flourished between the two countries for instance:

In February 2016, a memorandum of understanding was signed to establish a Russian Industrial Zone (RIZ) in Egypt as the first country in the world where Russia will establish such project outside the Russian mainland, which represents a gateway for Russia to the African continent; in addition to signing some other cooperation agreements and memorandums of understanding to enhance investment cooperation between the two countries and facilitating efforts to establish a free trade zone between Egypt and the Eurasian Economic Union. Furthermore, a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the representatives of the two countries through which Russia will supply 10 civilian aircraft with Financial Leasing System as a first stage, then supply of 20 civilian aircraft as a second stage with the possibility of supplying 20 other aircraft as a third stage after obtaining the necessary approvals to facilitate the direct flights between Egypt and Russia. 

The volume of trade between Egypt and Russia rose during the year 2017 to 6.7 billion dollars, where the volume of Russian imports to Egypt reached 6.2 billion dollars (with an increase of 64%) and the volume of Egyptian exports to Russia reached 504.5 million dollars (with an increase of 35%).

It is worth to be mention here that the value of Russian exports to Egypt reached 2.418 billion dollars in the first five months of 2018 (an increase of about 32.3% over the same period in 2017), while the value of Egyptian exports to Russia reached 356 million dollars (an increase of 26.5%); more than 416 Russian companies operate in Egypt with capital of over $ 60 million, trade exchange between Egypt and Russia in the first five months of 2018 reached 2.775 billion dollars (with an increase of about 31.5% from 2017), in August 2018 a contract to buy 180 thousand tons of Russian wheat has been concluded, in September 2018 another contract to produce and supply 1300 new railway vehicles to Egypt has been concluded as the largest deal in the history of the Egyptian railway.

In December 2017 the two presidents signed a document under which they gave the start signal to El-Dabaa nuclear project, where they have signed in 2015 a cooperation agreement to establish this project as the first nuclear plant in Egypt based on a Russian loan, with four reactors and a capacity of five gigawatts, is scheduled for completion by 2029, according to Russia’s state-owned nuclear operator Rosatom, financed by a $25 billion loan from Moscow.

Furthermore, the Russian oil giant Rosneft bought a 30% stake in Egypt’s Zohr gas field for $1.125 billion last year, becoming a key player in developing one of the largest gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, Rosneft and Fleet Energy signed a framework agreement to explore a joint venture for providing gas supplies to Egypt.

Military relations

After the June 30th revolution, the pace of military visits between Egypt and Russia increased, with several visits by Russian military officials to Cairo to prepare for the start of expanded military talks between Egypt and Russia; for instance the frequent mutual visits of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense between the two countries since 2013 during which the two countries agreed to modernize the Egyptian military arsenal and provide it with Russian weapons, allowing the Egyptian political leadership to achieve its goal to diversify the sources of armament. After President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi takes over the power in Egypt he was keen to raise the combat and training abilities and to provide the armed forces with new types of weapons especially with Russia.

When president Sisi made his first visit to Russia he checked out some military objects, items, and systems which brought during his visit. Since then the military cooperation between Egypt and Russia began to grow significantly, especially in the fields of armament and training; while the armament cooperation was focusing on the development of the air force and the air defense system in particular as below:

Development of air forces

Based on the Egyptian strategy to diversify the sources of arms, the cooperation with Russia concentrated on providing the Egyptian Air Force with new and sophisticated aircraft, therefore, the deals with Russia included various types of armaments, ammunition and the technical needs of aircraft; in addition to buy many Russian fighter aircrafts and advanced MiG-29 and MiG-35, in addition to the Sukhoi Su-35.

A large number of KAMOV 52 helicopters were also contracted combined with all types of missiles, ammunition and technical assistance for aircraft.

Development of air defense

The cooperation with Russia regarding modernizing the air defense system has been concentrated on updating the short-range air defense system to the Tor-M2 system, and the medium-range air defense system to the Buk-M2 system.

Moreover, the addition of the long-range air defense system for the first time within the Egyptian Air Defense Forces, which announced on 26th of August 2015 after receiving the “300-S” Russian system also known as ” Antey 2500″; this system is the strongest in the response to all types of aircraft and missiles.

The Russian gift and the joint exercises

In August 2016 Egypt received a Russian missile vessel so-called Molniya b-32 as a present, which participated in the opening ceremony of the new Suez Canal. It considered as one of the most modern Russian naval vessels because of its high combat capabilities, where it contain a rapid and long-range sea-to-sea missile platform, in addition to advanced technology in military communications and modern defense systems.

The two countries witnessed great cooperation with regard to the joint training; where they have signed protocols of cooperation in joint trainings including sending missions of armed forces and technicians to train on the latest technology in manufacturing, in addition to conducting the joint exercises and maneuvers to improve the combat capabilities of the armed forces.

Accordingly, Egypt hosted the first joint military exercise with the Russian paratroopers so-called “Protectors of Friendship 1” in October of the same year; then the Egyptian and Russian paratroopers carried out the second joint military exercise so-called “Protectors of Friendship 2” held in Russia in September 2017; followed by the third joint exercise so-called “Protectors of Friendship 3” in October 2018, which is hosted by Egypt. The training included various activities and events, including the exchange of training experiences for Special Units, implementation of various forms of atypical shooting, training on the Special Forces fighting and combating terrorism, as well as the dropping of personnel, equipment, and vehicles from both sides.

It’s worth to be mention here that after the last visit of President Sisi to Russia in October 2018 the two sides agreed to invite military observers from 13 countries to observe these anti-terror drills.

Weapon deals, Military exhibitions and other activities

In August 2018 the Egyptian Defense minister participated in the opening ceremony of the Russian International Military-Technical Forum so-called “ARMY-2018”.

On the other side, the Russian participation was the most prominent during the Egypt Defense Expo (EDEX) 2018, where the Russian delegation demonstrated the products of 11 large domestic producers of military hardware and equipment for all military branches. Russia showcased a full-size copy of the Ka-52 reconnaissance and attack helicopter. The display stand of Russia’s state arms seller Rosoboron export featured the mockups of Yak-130 combat trainers, Su-35 fighter jets, MiG-29M/M2 multirole frontline fighters, Mi-17, Mi-28NE, Mi-35, Mi-26, and Ansat helicopters. Russia also demonstrated S-400 Triumf long-range air defense missile systems, Tor-M2E and Buk-M2E surface-to-air missile complexes, the Pantsyr-S1 air defense missile/gun system, and also Igla-S and Verba man-portable missile complexes. In addition to the T-90MS main battle tank, the BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle, the Terminator tank support combat vehicle, the BTR-82A armored personnel carrier, Khrizantema-S and Kornet-E anti-tank systems, in addition to small arms and close-in weapons.

In November 2015, the Russian warship “Admiral Vladimirsky” visited the Adabiya port in Suez to express the strengthening of strategic military understanding and cooperation between the Egyptian and Russian Navy.

In November 2017, the two countries agreed to allow the military aircraft of the two countries to exchange airspace and air bases with each other.

Many weapon deals have been concluded between the two countries for instance the two countries signed a $3.5 billion arms deal in 2014;50 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets were purchased from Russia in 2014 and delivery started late 2017; Egypt also purchased 46 of a naval version of the Kamov Ka-52 Alligator helicopter, intended for the two French Mistral helicopter carriers that Cairo bought from Paris in September 2015; in addition to the initiate to buy the T-90 tanks.

Moreover, Egypt launched an observation satellite, called EgyptSat-A, by Russian rocket, called Soyuz-2.1b, on 21st of Feb 2019 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan; the satellite will be used to gather imagery of the Egyptian territory and surrounding regions for digital mapping, assessments of mineral, water and other resources, environmental monitoring, vegetation monitoring, studies of the headwaters of the Nile, and disaster management.

In conclusion

The relations between the two countries have witnessed various stages of prosperity, the breaking of diplomatic relations, gradual growth, a period of caution and prosperity once again after the June 30th revolution; which some interpreted as historic recurrence; while others interpreted the recent boom as a political choice to approaching the East at the expense of the West due to the surrounding political and international events or interactions.

In fact, the rapprochement and prosperity of the relations between Egypt and Russia since the June 30th revolution depends mainly on the nature of the interests between them. Both countries share many common interests; both are strategic and influential countries in their regions, globally, and at various international organizations as well.

Consequently, the fact that history repeats itself is a natural phenomenon in international relations, but this repetition itself is a result of interaction, interests and political choices between states. That is the case between Egypt and Russia where the events between the past and the present have resembled, but this resembling or repetition is a result of the changeable Social interaction and mutual interests of both countries that constitute their decisions and political choices.

The national interests are the main reason for Russia to support the political transition in Egypt and June 30th revolution, while it opposes the Arab Spring in general and even oppose the January 25th revolution in Egypt itself only two years earlier, and for Egypt to further strengthen its relations with Russia; where the Russian leaders admitted in many occasions the significant importance of Egypt in the Arab, African, Middle East, and Muslim circles, the Russian perception about the radical political regimes in the region, their perspective about the Arab Spring and fears of the revolution infection and their relation with neighboring countries, and the Russian position in some issues such as the Syrian, Libyan, and Crimea crises; all of these factors shows the great interests for Russia to strengthen its relation with Egypt.

On the other hand, Egypt also was in urgent need for Russian support after the revolution for gaining the international legitimacy of its ruling regime especially after the American position on the revolution, to diversify and balance its foreign options, to face the domestic pressure and popular rejection of the dependence on the US, and for the Economic, Social, Political, and military cooperation and assistance; all of these interests, and more, make it rational for both sides to seek more cooperation.

Political Science Lecturer Assistant, Suez Canal University, Egypt; and Ph.D. candidate at Jilin University, China

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Middle East

US-Iran Tension: Avert any big disaster to humanity

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US-Iran tension is growing to a dangerous level. Irrespective of who is right and who is wrong, but everyone agrees that it is leading toward a big disaster. Human life and natural resources are at stake. Irrespective, who will suffer more and who will suffer less, but it is human life, which is the most precious thing in this world, is at stake.

Middle-East is an oil and gas-rich area and meets the major portion of world energy demand. Any disturbance in this region will have a severe impact on the global economy. Whether one is right or wrong, will be the victim of this crisis directly or indirectly.

This war will be not like the Iraq war or the Libya War. As at that time, there was only one superpower and the world was unipolar. There was no resistance from any corner of the world. US and allies, without any resistance, conducted the war and achieved their desired results. But a lot of resistance was witnessed in case of Syrian War. The whole scenario has been changed, the calculated results were not achieved yet. Finally, the US has decided to pull back its troops. Similarly, Afghanistan case is not ideal, after spending trillion dollars, and fighting for 17 years, not gains on the ground and finally has to pull back.

It may not be limited to only US-Iran but may engulf the whole region. As traditional rivals are waiting for an appropriate opportunity to settle their old disputes. Whether, it is Arab-Iran, or Israel-Iran, or Arab-Israel enmity, may it spread to a much wider sphere than expected. It is in control of a few countries to start or refrain the escalation, but once it has been broken, it may be beyond the control of either country.

Especially, Russia and China are not sleeping at this time. They are in a strong position to offer resistance. It should not be taken an easy task like Iraq or Libya war. It is difficult to predict the exact reaction of Russia or China, but anticipated resistance.

If we expect, US or Iran to avert this foreseeable war will be not a realistic approach. As if they were to avoid any disaster, they should not have created so hype and should not have moved to this stage. They may not accept total hegemony of the US in this part of the world. They have heavy stakes in the middle-East and cannot be spectators only.

Geopolitics has been changed, regional alliances have emerged, and nations have re-aligned themselves. Much more complex changes have been witnessed after the war on terror. Public awareness has been enhanced, maybe some of the governments in this region have a different outlook, but public opinion is much more realistic and may play a vital role in the days to come. Old time’s friends may stand on the other side of the table. Some radical changes may be visible on grounds.

UN role was ineffective in the past and a little is expected in the future. In fact, the UN has been hijacked and curtailed to a very limited role practically. While one of its major mandates was to resolve the disputes among nations and avoid wars or war-like situations.

Under this serious scenario, there is a hope that all peace-loving nations and individuals, may peruse the UN and International Community do something to avert this bid human disaster.  We all share one world, we have the responsibility to save this world. Any loss of human life in any part of the world is considered the loss to the whole of humanity. And the destruction of natural resources may be considered a loss to humanity. Any damage to Environment or ecology or biodiversity may be a net loss to humanity. We all are son and daughter of ADAM and share a common world, common environment, common resources. We need to protect humanity, environment and natural resources.

It is strongly appealed to the UN, International Community and all individuals who believe in Peace, must act, and must act now, and must act strongly, to avert any bid disaster to humanity.

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Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.

The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.

The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.

“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.

The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.

Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.

The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.

A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.

The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.

The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.

“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.

The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.

The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.

The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.

Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.

In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”

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The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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