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Egypt 'ready to agree' new Russian air base on coast

Reports come as Russia says it will make naval base on Syrian coast 'permanent'
Russian and Egyptian flags surround posters of Putin during his visit to Cairo last year (AFP)

Egypt is in talks to allow Russia use of military bases across the country, including an air base on the Mediterranean coast close to the border with Libya, Russian media reported on Monday.

Russia is especially keen to renovate an ex-Soviet naval base in the coastal town of Sidi Barani, which was used until 1972 to monitor US warships in the Mediterranean, Russian foreign and defence ministry sources told local daily Izvestia.

According to the source, an agreement could see the Sidi Barani base be renovated and ready for use as an air base by 2019.

Cairo is “ready to agree to lease to Moscow to address primary geopolitical issues, if the needs of the Egyptian side are met,” the paper quoted a defence ministry source as saying.

“A growing number of countries, including Egypt, are becoming aware of Russia’s role in maintaining the balance of forces in the world,” deputy chair of the Russian parliament’s defence committee Andrei Krasov told the newspaper.

“I believe we must cooperate with Egypt, including by recovering the air force base [at Sidi Barani].”

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has long said that he is keen to see Russia maintain a permanent presence in the Mediterranean.

Russia already has the Hmeimim air base on the shore of the eastern Mediterranean in the Syrian province of Latakia.

It also operates a naval base from Tartus, some 80km to the south.

The Russian defence ministry said on Monday that it aims to make the Tartus naval base “permanent”, and is drawing up the necessary paperwork to achieve a longer-term deal.

“At Tartus, we will have a permanent naval base in Syria,” Russian Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov told parliament on Monday.

The announcement came days after Moscow announced it was sending an S-300 air defence missile system to the Tartus naval base in a bid to beef up its security.

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