BELGRADE – Moscow is reportedly negotiating with Cairo on a possible lease of land to open an airbase in western Egypt. The base may be operational as soon as 2019, according to military and diplomatic sources cited by Izvestia daily.

“The negotiations over possible participation of Russia in rebuilding of Egyptian military sites on the Mediterranean coast near Sidi Barrani are quite successful. If both parties agree to the terms, as soon as 2019 the base may become operational. Cairo is ready to lease it to Moscow because it would use it to pursue high-priority geopolitical goals, which align with Egypt’s interests,” a diplomatic source told the newspaper.

Sidi Barrani is a small coastal town about 100km from the Libyan border. The Soviet Union had a small naval facility near the town until 1972, which was used to monitor US naval forces deployed to the region, the report said.

The diplomatic source said that the planned new facility would be operated by the Russian Air Force rather than the Navy. At least initially, only a small contingent would be deployed, the source said.

A military source told the newspaper that the new asset would be convenient, considering the growing instability in the region.

“The utility of an airbase near Sidi Barrani is obvious for Moscow. Even though Russia has a similar base in Syrian Khmeimim, the presence of Russian warplanes in Egypt would allow Moscow conduct military missions in the western Mediterranean,” Talaat Musallam, a strategic and security expert and former Egyptian armed forces general told the newspaper.

“Libya, which remains in turmoil, would be a potential place of action,” he added.