U.S., Egypt: Washington Threatens Sanctions Over Russian Arms Deal

3 MINS READApr 10, 2019 | 22:07 GMT
The Big Picture

The United States often deploys sanctions to assert its dominance on the world stage, which includes ensuring its rivals — such as Russia and China — don't undercut Washington's influence by fostering ties with its allies. Egypt is the latest country to find itself caught in the crosshairs of U.S. sanctions pressure for attempting to diversify its arm supplies to Russia, which could set a precedent for other U.S. allies engaging in similar strategies.

What Happened

During a Senate budget hearing on April 9, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States would penalize Egypt under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) should Egypt buy Russian Su-35 fighter jets. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators sent a letter to Pompeo before the hearing, urging him to pressure Egypt to avoid the arms deal while Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was in Washington. Pompeo responded to the senators' concerns by saying he believed Egypt understood the warning, and he said he was hopeful it would not go through with any such deal.

Why It Matters

The United States has so far been hesitant to use CAATSA-related sanctions against friendly countries for fear of irking its allies. As a result, there are signs countries have ignored the 2017 law, as evidenced by Turkey's current arms deal with Russia. But now, Washington is using CAATSA to threaten one of its strongest allies in the Middle East. In doing so, the United States is likely looking to boost CAATSA's credibility — using Egypt as an example to warn others that just because it's provided waivers in the past, doesn't mean it will do so in the future.

The United States' threat of imposing CAATSA-related sanctions against Egypt could be the start of a more robust U.S. push to combat Russia's global influence.

This is also the first time the United States has attempted to block an arms deal between Russia and Egypt in recent years, and could indicate the start of a more robust U.S. push to stem Moscow's global influence. In which case, Washington could begin coming down on other allies that are seeking to purchase military weapons from Russia, such as Saudi Arabia, India, Serbia and Algeria. The move also signals that the United States believes its relationship with Egypt is strong enough to withstand CAATSA-related sanctions, underlining the closeness displayed during al-Sisi’s recent visit with U.S. President Donald Trump.


CAATSA was initially passed into law to impose sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia in an effort to combat these countries' global influences. The first CAATSA-related sanctions were applied to punish China for importing Russian arms in September 2018. The act is currently being used against Turkey as it attempts to finish an arms deal with Russia to buy the S-400 missile system. Over the past two years, other U.S. allies have repeatedly received waivers protect them from coming under CAATSA-related sanctions.

In their letter, the U.S. senators also urged Pompeo to press al-Sisi on Egypt's human rights record and the detention of American citizens. Pompeo deflected these concerns at the Senate hearing, saying he did not want to characterize the Egyptian leader as a "tyrant."

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