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Putin Visiting Egypt

Posters of Russian President Vladimir Putin hang on light poles on Qasr El Nile Bridge in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 9, 2015.
Posters of Russian President Vladimir Putin hang on light poles on Qasr El Nile Bridge in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 9, 2015.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is starting a two-day state visit to Egypt at a time of major challenges and uncertainties for both Moscow and Cairo.

Putin's visit to Egypt comes at a time of strong political turbulence for both nations. Commentators in Moscow and Cairo are talking about a political, economic, and military rapprochement reminiscent of an earlier era.

The former Soviet Union, which built Egypt's Aswan High Dam, had strong ties with Cairo during the 1950s and '60s, until former President Anwar Sadat rebuilt frayed relations with Washington in the 1970s.

Egypt's red-carpet welcome for Putin marks what analysts in Cairo say is a growing need for the Arab world's most populous country to seek outside support in its conflict against terrorists in the Sinai and elsewhere.

Political sociologist Said Sadek said Moscow has experience Egypt could use.

“Russia has a long history of dealing with counter-insurgencies in Chechnya and a lot of places and [hence] the need for cooperation between the two countries in this field," he said.

Economic ties

Economic ties between Egypt and Russia are also growing. Bilateral trade between both countries reached $4.6 billion last year. Sadek noted both countries needed to cooperate economically in the face of pressures from other directions.

“The Russians are willing to use the ruble and the Egyptian pound in bilateral direct trade. Russian tourists are number one in Egypt today. [Moscow] did not issue any travel advisory to Egypt, unlike other countries. With sanctions against Russia, the Russians are [also] turning to Egyptian vegetables and fruit to [compensate for] European sanctions [against it],” he said.

Paul Sullivan, who once taught at the American University in Cairo and now teaches at Georgetown University in Washington, thought Egypt and Russia were not a perfect fit as allies.

Not a perfect fit

“The U.S. and Egypt are natural allies,” he argues, “[whereas] Egypt and Russia are not.” He stresses that Egypt's “past relations with Russia correspond with some very dark times in Egypt and when [its] economy was at its weakest.” Sullivan also warns that Egypt should not tie its fate to that of Putin, whose tenure as Russian leader could be limited.

Egyptian TV noted that Putin would visit a steel plant outside Cairo, built by the former Soviet Union in the 1960s, as well as a stretch of the Suez Canal where Egypt is planning to build a free trade zone. The TV report also indicated that a number of bilateral agreements would be signed on Tuesday. It was not clear, however, if there would be any arms deal.