Russian President Vladimir Putin held high level talks with his Egyptian counterpart Abdul Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo this week as part of a two-day state visit. Putin and Sisi hope to strengthen ties following a deterioration in relations between each of their countries and the United States.
Talks will focus primarily on terrorism and economic cooperation; both countries face challenges posed by radical Sunni insurgents. Separatists in the Northern Caucasus killed 10 police officers in late December, while in Sinai terrorists with Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis have sworn allegiance to Islamic State and regularly target Egyptian security forces with suicide bombings, IEDs, and well organized assaults.
Egyptian President Sisi, right, shakes hands with Russian President Putin during their meeting in Cairo on Tuesday. (Photo: AP)
Last September, Cairo signed a preliminary agreement to buy $3.5 billion worth of arms from Moscow, including MiG-29 fighters and attack helicopters. Ground attack helicopters have proved an important part of Egypt’s strategy to combat insurgents in Sinai, but the U.S. has repeatedly delayed the delivery Apache attack helicopters due to human rights concerns.
During his trip, Putin also stressed economic relations between Russia and Egypt, saying bilateral trade between the two nations increased 80%, amounting to more than $4.5 billion in 2014. Nearly 3 million Russians visited Egypt last year, propping up the country’s hard hit tourism industry. But more importantly, Moscow agreed to build Egypt its first nuclear power plant. Containing four reactors and capable of producing almost 5,000 megawatts, the new station will alleviate rolling blackout that anger many Egyptian citizens during the summer.
Putin’s visits comes amid Russia’s growing isolation from European leaders over the conflict in Ukraine. In an earlier speech to the Duma, Putin said Russia would build new relations with South America, Asia and the Middle East, seeking to shore up support from countries that feel marginalized by the West. With Washington’s increasingly close ties to India, Moscow saw an opportunity in November to engage with Pakistan, selling arms and increasing trade ties with India’s rival. Even Greece’s new government has made overtures to Moscow hoping to find leverage for a new debt deal.