Russian President Vladimir Putin has wished Egypt’s military chief victory in the nation’s presidential vote, even though he has yet to announce his bid – a strong endorsement signalling Moscow’s desire to expand its ties with a key US ally in the Middle East.
Without naming the United States, the Kremlin used Egyptian Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi ’s visit to Moscow criticise what it regards as US interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
Russia’s ties with the US have been badly strained by disputes ranging from Syria’s civil war, to missile defence plans in Europe, to Moscow’s human rights record.
Mr Putin’s public endorsement of Field Marshal el-Sissi is unlikely to cause a stir in Egypt, where an announcement that he is running in the election is a matter of when, not if.
“I know that you have made a decision to run for president,” Mr Putin said at the start of his meeting with the military chief. “That’s a very responsible decision: to undertake such a mission for the fate of the Egyptian people. On my own part, and on behalf of the Russian people, I wish you success.”
Field Marshal El-Sissi didn’t mention his presidential ambitions in brief opening remarks, but emphasised his focus on ensuring security, saying that the country’s military is capable of providing it.
The 59-year old, who rose to prominence after the ousting of elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, is popular among a large segment of Egyptians and is widely expected to announce a candidacy for presidential elections that are likely due in late April.
Mr Putin’s statement could be a reflection of widespread predictions in Egypt that the career infantry officer will win a landslide in the upcoming presidential vote. It also reflected the Russian leader’s intention to forge close relations with Egypt under the Field Marshal.
Mr Putin is known to have been less than warm toward Mr Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood – Egypt’s oldest and most powerful Islamist group – has been a guidance force for Islamic groups across much of the world in the last 50 years or more.
Anlaysts say Field Marchal el-Sissi wanted to send a signal to Washington, while Mr Putin was eager to acquire a new ally in the Middle East.
Last month, the US Congress approved a spending bill that would restore $1.5bn (€1.1bn) in aid to Egypt, but only on the condition that the Egyptian government ensures democratic reform.
Field Marshal El-Sissi’s visit to Moscow, his first trip abroad since Mr Morsi’s ousting, comes amid reports of an arms deal with Russia to be funded mainly by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which is part of Egypt’s shift to reduce reliance on the United States.