Russia is hosting Egypt's powerful Defence Minister Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, signalling, yet again, Moscow's sharpening focus on deepening its engagement with West Asia, North Africa and the Levant.
The visitors from Cairo will hold talks with their counterparts --Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu --- on Thursday, Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reported. This would be the second meeting that is being held in what has been described as the 2+2 format, following the similar one in Cairo that was held in November last, where the composite defence and foreign ministry delegations had met. The Arabic website of the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram is quoting military sources as saying that the visit will result in the finalisation of a weapons deal between the two countries.
The timing of Gen. El-Sisi's visit to Moscow is significant as it comes among speculation in Cairo that the defence minister--who had led the removal of elected President Mohamed Morsy in July last, following a flood of protests---could run for presidential polls that are expected shortly.
Ties between Russia and Egypt appeared visibly on the upswing, after the United States announced that it was holding back on the delivery of the $1.3 billion annual military aid to Cairo following Mr. Morsy's exit. During the November meeting with the Russian delegation, Mr. Fahmy went on record to state that his country wanted to restore ties with Moscow, on "the same high level that used to exist with the Soviet Union". He had, however qualified his remarks by saying that Egypt was not pursuing a zero-sum foreign policy, signaling a diversification of ties, which, during the presidency of Hosni Mubarak--Egypt's former President who had been ousted in February 2011--had been well known for the primacy of its primary pro-Washington focus.
The relationship between Egypt, a pivotal state in North Africa, and Russia, had peaked during the time of the Gemal Abdel Nasser, Egypt's first republican president, but had waned in the heat of the Cold War during the presidency of his successor, Anwar Sadat.
The high-level dialogue with the Egyptians is being pursued in the backdrop of Moscow's deep engagement with the government in Syria, which is in the cross-hairs of the U.S. and its Gulf allies. On Tuesday, Russia accused the West of trying to achieve "regime change" in Damascus, following a western-backed draft resolution in the UN Security Council on the Syrian humanitarian crisis. After the removal of Muamaar Gaddafi, the leader of Libya in October 2011, Russia and China, opposing "regime change," have on three earlier occasions vetoed UNSC resolutions that targeted the government of President Assad.
As part of its deepening ties with countries in the Levant and North Africa, Russia is also shoring up its relationship with Algeria, Libya's neighbour. On Tuesday, Mr. Lavrov, hosting Ramtane Lamamra, Algeria's foreign minister, in Moscow, announced that Russia will impart more dynamism to its ties with Algeria in the "energy and military-technical" fields.
Next week, Mr. Lavrov travels to Kuwait for a meeting with his counterparts from the Gulf countries, Kuwait's official news agency, KUNA reported. A Kuwaiti official said that discussions on Syria will be part of the February 18 talks. Analysts say that the dialogue could improve the quality of the on-going inter-Syrian dialogue that is being held in Geneva between the Moscow backed government delegation and the opposition that has been actively supported by the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar. On Thursday, Russian Ddeputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov will hold talks in Geneva with Wendy Sherman, the US Uunder Secretary of State for Political Affairs, along with the UN and Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, in an effort to energise the flagging inter-Syrian dialogue.
Keywords: Egypt-Russia ties