MOSCOW — De facto Egyptian leader Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on Thursday got an endorsement from Russian President Vladimir Putin for his as-yet undeclared candidacy for president, but there was no immediate indication that a previously discussed $2 billion arms deal has been completed.
El-Sissi and Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy made a rare high-level visit to Moscow in an apparent bid to "diversify" Cairo's diplomatic allegiances. Egypt enjoyed close ties with the Soviet Union during the 1950s and '60s, but for the past four decades has been dependent on U.S. aid and collaboration in developing its defense capabilities.
However, since el-Sissi led a military coup to depose elected President Mohammed Morsi amid massive unrest in Egypt last summer, the Obama administration has withheld much of the annual $1.5 billion in military assistance traditionally supplied to Cairo.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Egypt in November, signaling the Kremlin's interest in rekindling the relationship that foundered during the height of the Cold War.
Putin's reception of el-Sissi and Fahmy seemed intended to send a message to the West that the Kremlin still has influence in the Middle East's most populous country and appears ready to supply el-Sissi's interim government with air defense systems and other military hardware that Cairo had previously looked to Washington to provide.
In the excerpts of the Kremlin meeting aired by Rossiya-24 television, Putin and el-Sissi expressed their mutual admiration and interest in boosting economic and military cooperation after the Kremlin leader wished el-Sissi success in the forthcoming presidential election.