Russia and Egypt in 'historic' talks

Sergei Lavrov (centre) sitting opposite Egyptian officials in Cairo (14/11/13) The talks are the highest level between Russia and Egypt for years

Top officials in Egypt have hailed talks with Russian ministers in Cairo as "historic".

The head of the Egyptian army, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, said the talks signalled the start of a new era of enhanced military co-operation.

There are on-going discussions about a possible arms deal that could be worth as much as $2bn (£1.2bn), though no agreement has been reached.

It is the highest level visit to Egypt by a Russian delegation in years.

It follows the US decision to cut defence aid to Egypt in response to the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi.

But Egypt's Foreign Minister, Nabil Fahmy, insisted that he was not looking for a "substitute for anyone".

Mr Fahmy said Russia had too much leverage to be an alternative to someone else.

Analysis

The upheavals of the Arab Spring have helped bring about a revival in Russian fortunes. After years of looking to the West for their defence contracts, the really big Arab spenders - Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states - are now keen to diversify.

This is as much for political as technical reasons. Shaken but not toppled by the revolutions of 2011, Gulf Arab rulers have been angered by the speed with which the West abandoned its former partner, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

Much as they disapprove of Moscow's support for Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad, Arab rulers have noticed that unlike the West's indecisive approach, Russian policy has been unwavering from the beginning. They like that.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Russia was against any foreign intervention in internal affairs.

"We respect Egypt's sovereignty and the rights of Egyptian people to determine their future," he said.

Relations between Cairo and Moscow cooled decades ago, but they are now warming up, says the BBC's Orla Guerin in Cairo.

The flagship of Russia's Pacific Naval Fleet, the cruiser Varyag, is on a six-day visit to Alexandria. It is the first Russian warship to visit Egypt since 1992.

As well as Mr Lavrov, Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was in Cairo for the talks.

Egypt's foreign military backers

  • The US: In addition to providing $1.3bn (£810m) it has also trained many senior Egyptian officers in America
  • The EU: According to 2011 official EU figures, Europe annually sells about $405m (£254m) worth of weapons to Egypt
  • France, Spain and Germany are reported to be the main EU donors
  • Other key military donors are believed to be Brazil, Russia and China
  • Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait have all provided cash to Egypt - estimated to be $12bn this year alone - but it is not clear how much of this - if any - was military assistance

Earlier this week, Nabil Fahmy told Russia's state-owned RT television that deliveries of Russian arms were being considered, Russian news agency Ria Novosti reported.

"The issue of purchasing new Russian weapons should be carefully examined," he said.

Russian officials described the talks as touching on military and technical co-operation - which usually means arms sales, our correspondent says.

In October, the US said it was suspending a large part of the $1.3bn (£810m) in aid it gives to the Egyptian military.

It followed a crackdown by the authorities on supporters of ousted President Morsi that left hundreds of people dead.

However, the US - Egypt's main backer since the 1970s - has stopped short of labelling President Morsi's removal from power a coup, as doing so would trigger the legal requirement to cut off aid.

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