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Russia’s military intelligence chief reportedly arrived in Cairo earlier this week for high level talks with Egyptian officials, prompting some observers to warn that Moscow is seeking to replace the United States as Egypt’s top regional ally.
Security officials at Cairo International Airport confirmed to the Arabic media that Viackeslav Kondraskou, the chief of Russia’s military intelligence, had arrived on Monday for three days of talks with top Egyptian officials, including military leaders.
Kondraskou and other members of his delegation are reportedly scheduled to meet a number of Egyptian military officials to discuss security issues and other regional developments, according to reports in both English and Arabic.
Egyptian military officials have announced in recent weeks that they are seeking to grow closer with Russia after the United States cut off some of its aid to Cairo. The Egyptians say that they are particularly interested in purchasing Russian-made arms.
One Egyptian military official recently indicated that “Russia was being considered as a possible new source of advanced weaponry after Washington decided to freeze some of its annual military assistance to Egypt,” according to a World Bulletin report on Kondraskou’s visit.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials have expressed interest in boosting ties with Russia following the Obama administration’s announcement earlier this month that it would scale back aid to Egypt.
American lawmakers and regional experts have warned that the scale back in U.S. aid would severely damage America’s credibility and influence in the region.
The Obama administration plans to cut shipments of F-16 fighter jets, tanks, and other military supplies, as well as some $260 million in other aid. The move is viewed as punishment for the forceful removal of former President Mohamed Morsi from office.
“These actions make it tougher for us to influence them, not easier, because I think if you’re helping, you have some influence,” Rep. Eliott Engel (D., N.Y.) said on Tuesday. “If you’re […] pulling away, then their attitude is going to be, ‘Well, why do we have to listen to you?’”
Russia could help the Egyptian army replenish its military stocks once the United States cuts its own shipments.
Egyptian officials have already held meetings with Russian officials as they seek to revive a decades-old alliance that faltered when Cairo grew close to America in the Cold War era.
An Egyptian delegation visited Moscow last week to express “gratitude” towards Russia, according to Al Arabiya.
“The reason behind this visit is to show our gratitude for the cautious and objective positioning of Russia,” Mohamed Salmawi, the spokesman for Egypt’s constitutional panel, was quoted as saying.
“Besides, we also found that it is our duty to keep Russia informed of the current situation in Egypt […] because, Egypt is rebuilding itself at the moment,” Salmawi said.
Raouf Saad, the former Egyptian ambassador to Russia, said that the meeting was meant “to reinforce” relations between Egypt and Russia.
“The objective of this visit is to reinforce old relations between us and the Russian population. These historical relations prove that there is a friendship that lasted for over 70 years,” he was quoted as saying.
Russia, in turn, reportedly hopes to secure access to Egypt’s key ports.
Former military leaders warn that the Obama administration’s tough approach with Egypt is pushing it into Russia’s arms.
“U.S. inattention –or whatever the policy du jour may be– is giving the Russians the opportunity to reverse a full generation of U.S. statecraft,” said retired Army Col. Ken Allard, who recently spent three days in Cairo meeting with the top Egyptian military leaders.
“Power abhors any vacuum, and the Russians will be quick to exploit the opening,” he said.
The State Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment about Russia’s diplomatic outreach to Cairo.