Russia is hoping to capitalise on the current difficulties America is experiencing in its relations in the Middle East, beginning with efforts to launch greater cooperation with Egypt that could result in Moscow gaining access to the country's Mediterranean ports.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin is planning a possible visit to Cairo as a means of exploiting the current political unrest that has grown between Washington and Egypt since the ousting of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, in July.
Amid fears of renewed Cold War animosity between the US and Russia in the Middle East in the face of the Syrian crisis and trouble in Egypt, Putin is understood to be seeking to renew military ties with Cairo after US President Barack Obama decided to cut US military aid, UK newspaper The Times reported Sunday.
Russia's ties with Egypt were strong from the mid-1950s until 1972 when Cairo began pursuing a diplomatic relationship with the US -- a move that appeared to be driven by a US desire to improve its access to the Mediterranean.
According to The Times, the Russian navy currently has access to the Mediterranean via the small Syrian port of Tartus, but this access is seen as inadequate and could be jeopardised if the regime of President Bashar Assad -- a close ally of Moscow -- falls.
“Tartus is vulnerable and not good enough and the Egyptian ports are perfect for the Russian navy,” an Israeli defence source said, the Times reported.
Last week, an diplomatic delegation from Cairo arrived in Moscow to "lay the groundwork for a visit to Cairo by Putin," following a meeting last month between the Russian president and Egypt's foreign minister in Moscow last month, The Times reported.
Ahmed El Muslimani, an Egyptian presidential adviser, noted that the Russian leader’s stock had soared in Egypt in recent months, following Morsi's ousting. “The positive stance of President Vladimir Putin towards the June revolution was behind the rise in his popularity,” he said, according to The Times. During the 1960s and early 1970s, Russia had about 15,000 advisers and troops stationed in Egypt, the report added.
The foreign void in Egypt that is waiting to be filled by the Russians was made by Obama earlier in October when he decided to withhold the delivery of Apache attack helicopters, Harpoon missiles, tank parts and F-16 warplanes, as well as $260m in aid.
Egypt's new military rulers and interim government are seeking to get access to Russia's low-altitude jets, dvanced Tor anti-aircraft missiles and to upgrade their Soviet-era tanks.
Moataz Abdel-Fattah, a political science professor at Cairo University and former member of the Egyptian constituent assembly, told The Times that there was “a vacuum in the strategic relationship Egypt has with its allies” that opened up a “window of opportunity for Russia to fill”.
While the new Egyptian government has publicy stated it does not want Russia to replace the US, it has made clear that it is seeking to build relationships with other countries, including US rivals.
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