Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi secretly commanded his government to send rockets, artillery and gunpowder to Russia, saying in a meeting that the shipments should be discreet in order “to avoid problems with the West,” according to a leaked document first obtained by the Washington Post.
The revelation drew immediate backlash from Washington, which has supplied Cairo with an average of nearly $2 billion in annual aid for the past 45 years. “If it’s true that Sisi is covertly building rockets for Russia that could be used in Ukraine, we need to have a serious reckoning about the state of our relationship,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told the Washington Post.
U.S. officials have denied seeing any evidence that the shipments have yet taken place, but the document indicates that Sisi’s order came down just days after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in late January. Given the importance that the United States has placed on strangling Russia’s weapons supply, the leak risks blowing up relations between Washington and one of its closest allies in the Middle East.
The Biden administration has yet to weigh in directly on the accusation, which comes as Congress has already been pressuring the executive branch to do more to rein in Egyptian human rights abuses. After the State Department agreed to withhold $130 million in planned aid to Cairo last year, then-Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) blocked an additional $75 million tranche of support despite opposition from the administration.
When asked about the accusations, Egyptian officials insisted that Cairo maintains a neutral stance toward the war in Ukraine. “We continue to urge both parties to cease hostilities and reach a political solution through negotiations,” an Egyptian foreign ministry spokesperson told the Washington Post.
The intelligence report is part of a large tranche of classified files that have appeared on Discord servers since February. Some observers have characterized the leak as the largest since Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations about the NSA’s spying program.
The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the leak. Notably, one document showed that the U.S. only expects Ukraine to make “modest territorial gains” in its spring offensive, a sharp departure from Washington’s public messaging to date. “Not a surprising conclusion to those who’ve been following this closely, but these leaks are a real black eye for the administration,” tweeted Emma Ashford of the Stimson Center.
Another document revealed that Russian spies “claimed UAE security service officials and Russia had agreed to work together against US and UK Intelligence agencies,” according to AP News.
The UAE allegation comes as the United States considers expanding defense cooperation with Persian Gulf countries in an effort to create a united front against Iran. Sens. James Risch (R-Idaho) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) recently introduced a bill that would allow the U.S. to create an air-defense alliance with the UAE, Iraq and other Gulf states.
If true, the UAE revelation is a further indication that “Global South states, even those seen to be firmly in the US camp, are increasingly pursuing their own interests, sometimes defying Washington's core preferences,” according to Sarang Shidore of the Quincy Institute.
A separate leaked file showed that the Wagner Group, a notorious Russian mercenary group, attempted to buy weapons from NATO member Turkey for use in Ukraine and Mali. The document did not indicate whether Wagner’s efforts were successful.