The US has threatened Egypt with sanctions over its decision to buy Russian jets, reports the Wall Street Journal.
According to an unnamed official a letter sent by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper warns Egypt that a new arms deal with Russia would “complicate” US defence transactions and security assistance to Egypt.
The US is the world’s largest supplier of arms; in 2018 Egypt imported $197 million worth of arms from the US.
In August Cairo signed a $2 billion military agreement with Moscow to buy 50 MiG-35 warplanes. Mutual cooperation between the two countries has grown steadily since President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s rise to power in 2014, despite a setback in October 2015 when Daesh downed a Russian air carrier in Sinai killing over 200 people.
During a visit to Egypt in 2017 Russian President Putin agreed to build Al-Dabaa nuclear power plant, following on from a 2015 visit in which the two countries signed several deals.
The US warning is surprising given that Washington is one of Cairo’s biggest allies. In September, US President Donald Trump sparked outrage when he referred to Al-Sisi as his “favourite dictator” as he waited to meet him at the Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, France, for the G7 summit.
“Everyone has protests,” Trump said in September, whilst waiting to meet Al-Sisi at the UN General Assembly in New York. “I’m not concerned with it. Egypt has a great leader. He’s highly respected.”
His comments came as Egyptians took to the streets across the country to protest against corruption at the heart of the Sisi regime. Over 4,000 people were arrested in what was seen as the biggest crackdown yet under Al-Sisi’s rule which has been marked by widespread allegations of torture.
Social media users launched a wide-scale campaign against Trump under the hashtag “Trump supports a thief,” angry at his unwavering support for the dictator who has detained 60,000 political prisoners.
Washington is also putting pressure on Turkey to drop a bid to purchase Russian military fighter jets. Over the summer Trump banned the sale of US F-35 jets to Ankara after it bought the Russian S-400 air defence missile system.