Russia's Putin in Cairo for talks with Egypt's Sisi

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (second right) presents Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi with a Kalashnikov AK-47 rifle before talks in Cairo (10 February 2015)Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The two leaders exchanged gifts on Monday evening, with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi receiving an assault rifle

Russian President Vladimir Putin is holding talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, at the start of a two-day visit to Cairo.

Both men are seeking to boost bilateral ties, with Mr Putin emphasising Egypt's status as Russia's "trusted partner".

He presented Mr Sisi with a Kalashnikov AK-47 rifle when he arrived on Monday.

Mr Putin is a key ally of the former army chief, who the West has criticised for cracking down on dissent since the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi.

At least 1,400 supporters of Mr Morsi and his Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, have been killed in clashes with security forces since July 2013. More than 16,000 others have been detained.

On Tuesday, three home-made bombs exploded at police stations in Egypt's second city, Alexandria, injuring 10 people, officials said. Two other blasts in the west of the Mediterranean city damaged a bus.

A group calling itself Revolutionary Punishment said it had planted the bombs in response to what it termed "violations" by the government.

'Dynamic' relations

Mr Putin arrived in Cairo late on Monday, attending attending a cultural show at Cairo's opera house with Mr Sisi.

In an interview with Egypt's state-run al-Ahram newspaper, the Russian leader hailed "dynamic" bilateral relations, saying that trade increased by almost 50% in 2014 compared with the year before.

Media reaction, by BBC Monitoring

Banners with pictures of the Egyptian and Russian leaders can be seen festooned across Cairo's main streets and bridges. The warm welcome is reflected on television and in the press. On social media, the hashtag #Putin_in_Egypt has attracted more than 2,000 tweets. Some are positive, but others criticise President Sisi for going to the opera with Mr Putin just a day after a deadly stampede at a Cairo football stadium.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Banners with Mr Putin's and Mr Sisi's faces have been put up across Egypt's capital Cairo

In Russia, the popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda says that "compared to Putin, the Egyptian president is a newcomer to politics", but "good chemistry" appears to be forming between the two. A commentator in the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Veniamin Popov, says: "With the Americans taking a hostile position towards Egypt's current president, the development of ties with us will help build his strength."

Mr Putin also suggested the two countries would discuss ending the use of the US dollar in bilateral trade, switching to national currencies instead.

Mr Sisi meanwhile took the opportunity to praise his counterpart's stance on Egypt in an interview with the Russian state-owned newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

"In recent months special value has been attached to the position adopted by President Putin, who supports Egypt in matters relating to the fight against terrorism and is aware of the real situation in our country," he said. "It is on such understanding that our relations need to be built."

Russia is reportedly seeking to increase arms sales to Egypt, which reacted angrily in 2013 to a decision by the US to suspend some deliveries following the crackdown on Morsi supporters.

When the Russian defence and foreign ministers visited Cairo in November, Russian media said the two countries were close to signing a $3bn (£2bn) deal for MiG-29 fighters and attack helicopters.

The two presidents are also expected to discuss Syria, Iraq and Libya, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr Putin's visit comes amid a growing crisis in eastern Ukraine, as diplomats try to reach a peace deal to end the fighting between government troops and pro-Russian rebels that has left 5,000 dead.

Russia is accused by Ukraine and the West of sending its troops across the border and arming the separatists - a claim denied by Moscow.