On Dec. 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin completed a diplomatic sprint, touring Syria, Egypt and Turkey in just one day. While the latter two visits were announced by the Kremlin beforehand, his detour to the Russian air base in Syria's Khmeimim was a surprise to the public, for security reasons. In Syria, Putin ordered the partial drawdown of Russian troops and, together with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, attended a military parade. Addressing the troops, Putin said: "You are coming home to your families with victory. The Motherland is waiting for you, friends! Thank you for your service!" He went on to warn: "Should terrorists rise up in Syria again, we'll deliver strikes like they have never seen."
Putin then headed to Cairo, where he was met at the airport by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev approved an agreement in November with Egypt on use of the airspace and airport infrastructure of both countries, raising speculation that Russia plans to lease Egyptian air bases.
That possibility was first mentioned in 2013 when numerous sources said Egypt was willing to provide the Port Said and Suez navy bases for Russia's temporary use.
In 2016, Moscow said it might return to Sidi Barrani, another Egyptian military base on the Mediterranean. Until 1972, this base had been used by the Soviet Union to monitor NATO naval actions in the region; now Russia eyes using it mostly for air force operations. Last year, the Izvestia newspaper cited a source in the Russian Defense Ministry who claimed Cairo was ready to lease Sidi Barrani for a permanent Russian military contingent. Even if that were to materialize, the base needs to be modernized and couldn't be ready before 2019, the paper said. Officials in Moscow insisted, however, that Russia's military presence was needed because of counterterrorist operations and would help stabilize North Africa.
Indeed, now that Russia sees itself as victorious over the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, helping Cairo battle terrorists in Sinai may become a pillar of Russian-Egyptian security cooperation. In October 2015, an IS affiliate in Egypt claimed responsibility for bombing a Russian tourist plane, killing more than 200 people. The attack ruptured direct air connection between Russia and Egypt for more than two years.
The agreement regarding airspace and airports that Medvedev approved was made around the same time Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was...