Egyptian army chief and likely new president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was on Thursday negotiating a $2-billion arms deal with Russia meant to replace subsiding assistance from old ally Washington.
Sisi arrived in Moscow on Wednesday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy for a second round of so-called “2+2” talks with their Russian counterparts.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had made a landmark trip to Cairo in November aimed at reviving ties that had remained stagnant since Soviet times.
“Our visit offers a new start to the development of military and technological cooperation between Egypt and Russia,” Sisi said at the start of Thursday’s meeting in a government mansion in the heart of Moscow.
“We hope to speed up this cooperation,” Sisi said.
Sisi later received support for his likely bid to be Egyptian head of state from President Vladimir Putin during a meeting at the Russian leader’s suburban Moscow residence.
“I know that you, mister defense minister, have decided to run for president of Egypt,” Putin told Sisi in televised remarks.
“It’s a very responsible decision…I wish you luck both from myself personally and from the Russian people.”
Sisi has not yet actually declared his presidential ambitions but is overwhelmingly expected to run in elections expected to be held later this year.
Top officials revealed no details of Thursday’s military discussions while signaling that all sides were interested in the speedy conclusion of a deal.
Russia’s defense chief Shoigu stressed that Moscow “was interested in seeing Egypt be a powerful and stable state.”
“In this connection, we need to discuss fairly important issues concerning military and technological cooperation – their current state and prospects for the future.”
The head of Russia’s state industrial holding company said after the Cairo meeting that Moscow was on the verge of reaching a landmark agreement to deliver air defense systems to Egypt’s army.
Rostec chief Sergei Chemezov said on November 18 that “some contracts (with Egypt) have already been signed – particularly one concerning air defense systems.”
But he later clarified that he was referring only to a framework agreement and not to firm delivery contracts.
“Because of arising funding problems, the Egyptian side is still discussing these contracts,” Chemezov said at the time.
Moscow’s authoritative Vedomosti business daily reported on November 15 that the deals under discussion were worth more than $2 billion and could be financed by Saudi Arabia.
Chemezov confirmed that Egypt’s new rulers were discussing financing options with their regional allies “and also want to ask Russia to extend them a corresponding loan.”
He did not say whether Russia was willing to provide Cairo the required assistance or explain what type of missiles the deal involved.
The Soviet Union was the main supplier of arms to Egypt in the 1960s and early 1970s. Cooperation between the two sides dropped after Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty and Cairo began receiving generous US aid.
But Washington suspended some of its military assistance to Egypt after the July ousting of democratically-elected Islamist president Mohammed Mursi.
Moscow has been keen to fill the resulting void and Shoigu made clear on Thursday that Moscow fully supported the tough measures taken by Sisi against Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement.
“We cannot but celebrate the adoption of the new Egyptian constitution,” the Russian defense minister told Sisi.
“We view your efforts at achieving stability as effective.”
Shoigu added that the two sides had touched on the possibility of Russian and Egypt conducting joint military exercises and the option of the African state’s officers undergoing military training in Moscow.
Since the army deposed Mursi, the Egyptian government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. More than 1,000 Mursi supporters have been killed by Egyptian forces since July in a brutal crackdown.
Protests have also been severely regulated since November.