President Vladimir Putin arrived on Monday in Egypt for a two-day visit as Russia seeks to expand its reach in the Arab world’s most populous country, amid continual domestic conflicts within the north African country.
The visit by Putin is the first to Egypt in a decade and comes after a 2011 popular uprising that ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, whom Putin met during his previous trip in 2005.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi welcomed Putin on arrival at Cairo’s international airport where the two leaders held talks for half an hour, officials said.
From the airport they proceeded to Cairo Opera House in the capital’s central district of Zamalek for a cultural evening.
Experts say Putin’s visit is also aimed at showing that he is not isolated internationally, despite the crisis in Ukraine.
“The leaders will pay special attention to ramping up trade and economic ties between the two countries,” the Kremlin said ahead of the visit.
They will hold formal talks on Tuesday and are expected to sign agreements after which Putin and Sisi will hold a joint news conference, Sisi’s office announced.
They are also expected to discuss Iraq, Syria and Libya, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Russia had hosted Sisi’s predecessor Mursi during his one-year presidency, despite categorizing the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as a “terrorist group” in 2003. In this context, Russia was also one of the first countries to endorse Sisi’s presidential bid last year.
Posters of Putin were put up on Cairo’s main roads greeting the Russian leader in Russian, Arabic and English.
Plans for a nuclear power plant, arms deals
In the same vein, Sisi said that Cairo and Moscow had agreed plans to jointly build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant.
A memorandum of understanding to build the facility was signed by Egyptian and Russian officials during Putin’s visit to the country.
Experts suggest during Putin’s visit military discussion and arms deal negotiations will take place by the two countries’ representatives.
The Soviet Union was the main supplier of arms to Egypt in the 1960s and early 1970s. Cooperation between the two sides dropped after Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty and Cairo began receiving generous US aid.
Sisi himself visited Russia when he was defense minister soon after ousting Mursi amid deteriorating relations with Washington, and followed it up with another trip in August 2014 as president.
At their meeting last summer at Putin’s holiday residence in Sochi, the two discussed Russia supplying weapons to Egypt.
Cairo also hosted the Russian defense and foreign ministers in November — the first such visit since the Soviet era — for discussions on an Egyptian arms purchase plan.
At the time, Russian media said the two sides were close to signing a $3-billion deal for Moscow to supply missiles and warplanes including MiG-29 fighters and attack helicopters.
However, in recent months Washington has warmed to Cairo again and resumed its annual $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt, also delivering Apache helicopter gunships to fight jihadists in Sinai.
Egypt’s military has been battling an insurgency in the region ever since it overthrew Mursi. The government declared a state of emergency in parts of North Sinai after an October 24 suicide attack near al-Arish killed 30 soldiers in the deadliest assault on security forces since Mursi’s ouster.
Militant groups claim their attacks are in retaliation for a government crackdown targeting Mursi’s supporters that has left hundreds dead and thousands jailed.
The Muslim Brotherhood says it is a peaceful movement but authorities accuse its members of being involved with a Sinai Peninsula-based Islamist insurgency that has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers since Mursi’s overthrow.