RUSSIA has approved a draft agreement with Egypt for Russian warplanes to use Egyptian military bases, according to a document released yesterday.

Such a deal would allow Moscow to further increase its military footprint in the Middle East.

The directive, signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and published on the official portal of legal information, endorses the draft prepared by the Russian Defence Ministry and instructs it to sign the deal with Egypt when it is ready.

The Russia-Egypt deal, which would allow each country’s warplanes to use air bases of the other, is to last five years and could be extended further if agreed.

For Egypt, the deal is significant as President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s government has expanded military ties with Russia and signed deals to buy Russian fighter jets, helicopters and other weapons.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Cairo on Wednesday, noting that military co-operation between the two countries has increased recently as Egypt placed new orders for Russian weapons.

He also offered condolences for the massacre during Friday prayers at a village mosque in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula last week in which 305 people were killed – the deadliest attack by Islamic extremists in Egypt’s modern history.

Shoigu emphasised the need to strengthen co-operation to fight terrorism, saying it was “necessary to fight this evil together using all accessible means.”

The local affiliate of Daesh has not formally claimed responsibility for the mosque attack, though the men who gunned down the worshippers carried the black banner of the militant group. They have however claimed responsibility for the October 2015 downing over Sinai of a Russian passenger jet that killed all 224 people on board, mostly Russian tourists.

Daesh said it blew up the plane with a bomb smuggled on board, a claim confirmed by Russian investigators. Russia then cut commercial flights with Egypt, a heavy blow to the country’s vital tourism industry.

Moscow and Cairo have held talks on boosting airport security and resuming the air link, but no deal has yet been reached.