AFP – Egyptian army chief and likely new president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meets top Russian officials on Thursday to negotiate a US$2-billion arms deal that is meant to replace subsidised assistance from old ally Washington.
Sisi arrived in Moscow on Wednesday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy for so-called “2+2” talks with their Russian counterparts.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrvov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu had made a landmark trip to Cairo in November aimed at reviving ties that had remained stagnant since Soviet times.
Diplomats in Moscow said Thursday’s talks would focus on regional security issues such as the Syria crisis as well as trade and economic relations.
But Moscow officials have confirmed that a large part of the discussions will focus on striking a massive new Russian arms delivery deal.
The head of Russia’s state industrial holding company said after the Cairo meeting that Moscow was on the verge of reaching a landmark agreement to deliver air defence systems to Egypt’s army.
Rostec chief Sergey Chemezov said on November 18 that “some contracts (with Egypt) have already been signed — particularly one concerning air defence systems”.
But he later clarified that he was referring only to a framework agreement and not to firm delivery contracts.
“Because of arising funding problems, the Egyptian side is still discussing these contracts,” Chemezov said at the time.
Moscow’s authoritative Vedomosti business daily reported on November 15 that the deals under discussion were worth more than US$2 billion and could be financed by Saudi Arabia.
Chemezov confirmed that Egypt’s new rulers were discussing financing options with their regional allies “and also want to ask Russia to extend them a corresponding loan”.
He did not say whether Russia was willing to provide Cairo the required assistance or explain what type of missiles the deal involved.
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.
But Washington suspended some of its military assistance to Egypt after the July ousting of democratically-elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Moscow has been keen to fill the resulting void.